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December 15, 2016
A Picture of Power and Leadership
  • We define leadership as an attempt to influence…and power as influence potential
    • In that regard “leading” is the art/act of exercising/leveraging power
  • Historically the most significant research on organizational power was conducted by French & Raven in the 1950’s. In essence, they identified 5 “bases of organizational power”:
    • Coercive Power
      • The leader’s ability to administer sanctions
    • Reward Power
      • The leader’s ability to provide rewards or formal recognition
    • Legitimate Power
      • The leader’s decision making authority
    • Referent Power
      • The degree of respect and trust followers develop for a leader
    • Expert Power
      • The degree of subject matter knowledge the leader possesses
  • Two other Power Bases were identified in the late 1960’s – early 1970’s
    • Connection Power
      • The leader’s association with other important and influential people
    • Information Power
      • Access the leader has to information of value
  • If you categorize the style/approach options of leaders as “DIRECTIVE – PARTICIPATIVE – EMPOWERING”, and compare the way those styles/approaches have traditionally been integrated with POWER, it would look something like this:
  • Recently conducted research would suggest the following:
    • While all seven bases of power are still both valid and relevant, Legitimate; Referent and Expert Power are clearly distinguished drivers of all three leadership approaches
    • Coercive; Reward and Connection power are effectively subsets of Legitimate Power and should primarily be leveraged when employing a DIRECTIVE approach
    • Information power has taken on a new meaning. As opposed to being defined as a function of “access” it has come to be recognized as the ability to prioritize relevant information
  • Consider the following graphic as an updated representation of the relationship between Power and Leadership Style:
  • Given the above, we offer the following random thoughts on Power and Leadership for your consideration:
    • In Machiavellian terms Legitimate Power is “bestowed upon you”
      • With each promotion you receive (or advance you make) there is an increased level of responsibility, accountability and decision making authority that comes with it
      • For whatever reason, when leaders refuse to use the power that has been given to them, they frequently lose it altogether
      • Leaders that don’t make effective use of their Legitimate Power frequently lose Referent Power as well (i.e. the respect and trust of others)
    • Referent Power is earned, usually over a period of time, “one transaction at a time”
      • How long does it take for someone to earn your trust? Your respect? The answers (of course) will vary but rarely are trust or respect earned “overnight”
      • Conversely, while Referent Power takes time to build it can literally be lost in an instant
      • While all seven bases of power are important, a strong base of Referent Power is essential for any effective leader
    • Expert Power also accumulates over time
      • There is almost no limit to the creative strategies you can employ to increase your base of relevant expertise
      • Expert power certainly includes formal education but is largely defined by a leader’s base of experience
      • A significant component of Expert Power is being able to discern information “worth knowing” from information that is “irrelevant”

We Are The Center For Leadership Studies – We Build Leaders™!


  1. Which base of power do you feel is your strongest source of influence potential?
    • Legitimate?
    • Referent?
    • Expert?
  2. Identify a tangible action you can take to increase the relative strength of the other two:
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