The 5 Types of Power in Leadership

five types of power

Power means many different things to different people. For some, power is seen as corrupt. For others, the more power they have, the more successful they feel. For even others, power is of no interest at all. The five bases of power were identified by John French and Bertram Raven in the early 1960’s through a study they had conducted on power in leadership roles. The study showed how different types of power affected one’s leadership ability and success in a leadership role.

The five bases of power are divided in two categories:

Formal Power


Coercive power is conveyed through fear of losing one’s job, being demoted, receiving a poor performance review, having prime projects taken away, etc. This power is gotten through threatening others. For example, the VP of Sales who threatens sales folks to meet their goals or get replaced.


Reward power is conveyed through rewarding individuals for compliance with one’s wishes. This may be done through giving bonuses, raises, a promotion, extra time off from work, etc. For example, the supervisor who provides employees comp time when they meet an objective she sets for a project.


Legitimate power comes from having a position of power in an organization, such as being the boss or a key member of a leadership team. This power comes when employees in the organization recognize the authority of the individual. For example, the CEO who determines the overall direction of the company and the resource needs of the company.

Personal Power


Expert power comes from one’s experiences, skills or knowledge. As we gain experience in particular areas, and become thought leaders in those areas, we begin to gather expert power that can be utilized to get others to help us meet our goals. For example, the Project Manager who is an expert at solving particularly challenging problems to ensure a project stays on track.


Referent power comes from being trusted and respected.  We can gain referent power when others trust what we do and respect us for how we handle situations. For example, the Human Resource Associate who is known for ensuring employees are treated fairly and coming to the rescue of those who are not.

[To learn how Intuit QuickBase can become your source of power, check out What is QuickBase on YouTube.]

As you can see, you don’t have to be in a leadership or senior level role in an organization to have some form of power. In fact, the most respect is garnered on those who have personal sources of power. There is more respect for these individuals than for those who have power simply because they are the boss in the business. It has been shown that when employees in an organization associate the leadership’s power with expert or referent power, they are more engaged, more devoted to the organization and their role within it. Employees are also more willing to go the extra mile to reach organizational goals.

What is your source of power? And are you using the “right source” or simply throwing your weight around?  How effectively do you use your source of power to meet key goals and objectives? Please share your thoughts with others in the comments field below. Thank you!

This topic was revisited recently.  Check it out here and be sure to leave your thoughts and opinions on the topic in the comment sections!

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Posted in People Management | Tagged ,
  • DJ

     I agree mostly with the statement, however, I believe everyone has an interest in having power. Whether is to control another, a situation, a decision or a circumstance. Each of us desires some degree of power. In fact, ‘power’ is inately woven into all of our lives. While Ms. Abudi makes the statement that ‘for even others, power is of no interest at all,’ she does define personal power according to the textbook. But again, in reality, personal power extends beyond the workplace definitions. All of us wish to have a level of personal power in the most important areas of our lives.

  • Gina Abudi

    @DJ, I do think that there are situations within the workplace where there are some individuals who truly have no desire for power as with it comes responsibility. They may want to be able to be left alone to perform their roles, but that does not necessarily equate with power. While power certainly does extend beyond the workplace into the personal, the focus of this particular article was solely on the workplace; and in the workplace not everyone has a desire for a position of power – regardless of where the source of that power derives.

    Thanks for reading and for your comments.


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  • tintumon


    who bastard make this website idiot

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  • Raheel Sarfraz B-15944 BaLLB

    Thanx nice work

    • you suck

      thx, you too

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    Well, Ms. MBA with over 20 years of experience- You sure don’t know how a thing about grammar or proofing your work!

  • Shane

    Well, MR. JLTRENT, You lack proofing yourself, Reread your last comment. It lacks coherent sense. (Don’t know how a thing about grammar)

  • Tammy Stoner

    Meeting purpose gives us power. What do we arrive here on this earth to do?

    • Faith Wholeheartedly

      To live in a way that pleases our Heavenly Father. As soon as you tell Him you want to give yourself away to Him, dont just sit back and watch divine order in action, (things will start happening so be prepared because you have to have a test to have a testimony. (The test comes after the Word or lesson. Stay alert and prayed up!!! But dont freak out because His Word promises victory. or an A+) TELL SOME ONE AND TELL THEM TO TELL SOME ONE. When we are living with a relationship (not religion) with Our Father, its pleases Him AND you (because you will be rewarded for diligently seeking Him!). Thus your purpose fulfilled and your joy from that power is restored. you will feel like a babe again.. (not a kid spawn of a goat with horns like the enemy…) but a babe a little child that will grow spiritually closer to The Creator.

      dont feel too guilty when you fall short, because you will. thats when you have faith that it was in the Creator plans because you know you did all you could to do right. Love you Sister!!!

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  • Phil

    Is this supposed to be a site for helping each other find a common understanding? It seems you do not have anything to contribute so the easy way out is to ‘PUNCTUATE’ each other.
    Come on, let’s get down and brainstorm

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  • YW Purnomosidhi

    Good lesson about leadership. I really learn form your article.

    • you suck

      thats good, bro

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  • Yamkela Ymk Mbayise

    All the above are proved to be through thank you…

    • you suck

      no problem dude, hang tight!

  • kabelo

    i just want to find out the trust challenges a leader can experience, with adopting anyone of these leadership powers in an organisation.

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  • Charlie Comstock

    I agree with this article I like how you not only told us what the different types of power were but you also showed examples to make it that much easier. I also liked that you left questions at the end to keep us thinking as we went on with our daily lives. Love this blog very helpful and understanding thanks for the information!

  • Charlie Comstock

    In my business phycology Class I am learning about these different powers and what they mean and how they are used in a business workplace I’ve been trying to figure out for a while now which you believe or anyone believes is the best power to use/have ? Been thinking so myself can’t quite make up my mind any help ?

    • Eva Rykrsmith

      What are the benefits and drawbacks of each type of power? I see more benefits to personal power

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  • Duraan Yasin

    good I liked to revise these sources of power thanks.