Leadership Power

Power is the ability to influence the behavior of others with or without resistance by using a variety of tactics to push or prompt action.

Power is the ability to get things done. People with power can influence others’ behavior to achieve a goal or objective. Others may resist attempts to make them do certain things, but an effective leader can overcome that resistance. Although people may regard power as evil or corrupt, it is a fact of organizational life and is neither good nor bad. Leaders can use power to benefit or constrain others, serve the organization’s goals, or undermine them.

Another way to view power is as a resource people use in relationships. When a leader influences subordinates, it is called downward power. We can also think of this as someone having power over someone else. On the other hand, subordinates can also exercise upward power by trying to influence their leader’s decisions. Indeed, leaders depend on their teams to get things done and, in that way, are subject to the power of team members.

The Six Sources of Power

Power comes from several sources, each of which has different effects on the targets of that power. Some derive from individual characteristics; others draw on an organization’s structure. The six types of power are legitimate, referent, expert, reward, coercive, and informational.

Legitimate Power

Also called “positional power,” this is the power individuals have from their role and status within an organization. Legitimate power usually involves formal authority delegated to the holder of the position.

Referent Power

Referent power comes from the ability of individuals to attract others and build their loyalty. It is based on the personality and interpersonal skills of the power holder. A person may be admired because of a specific personal trait, such as charisma or likability, and these positive feelings become the basis for interpersonal influence.

Expert Power

Expert power draws from a person’s skills and knowledge and is incredibly potent when an organization needs them. Narrower than most sources of power, the power of an expert typically applies only to the specific area of the person’s expertise and credibility.

Reward Power

Reward power comes from conferring valued material rewards or creating other positive incentives. It refers to the degree to which the individual can provide external motivation to others through benefits or gifts. This motivation may include promotions, pay increases, or extra time off in an organization.

Coercive Power

Coercive power is the threat and application of sanctions and other negative consequences. These can include direct punishment or the withholding of desired resources or rewards. Coercive power relies on fear to induce compliance.

Informational Power

Informational power comes from access to facts and knowledge others find helpful or valuable. That access can indicate relationships with other power holders and convey status that creates a positive impression. Informational power offers advantages in building credibility and rational persuasion. It may also serve as the basis for beneficial exchanges with others who seek that information.

These sources and uses of power can be combined to achieve a single aim, and individuals can often draw on more than one. The more sources of power to which a person has access, the greater the individual’s overall power and ability to get things done.

Power Tactics

People use a variety of power tactics to push or prompt others into action. We can group these tactics into three categories: behavioral, rational, and structural.

Behavioral tactics can be soft or hard. Soft tactics take advantage of the relationship between a person and the target. These tactics are more direct and interpersonal and can involve collaboration or other social interactions. Conversely, brutal tactics are harsh, forceful, and direct and rely on concrete outcomes. However, they are not necessarily more powerful than soft tactics. In many circumstances, fear of social exclusion can be a stronger motivator than physical punishment.

Rational influence tactics use reasoning, logic, and objective judgment, whereas nonrational tactics rely on emotionalism and subjectivity. Examples include bargaining and persuasion (rational), evasion, and put-downs (nonrational).

Structural tactics exploit aspects of the relationship between individual roles and positions. Bilateral tactics, such as collaboration and negotiation, involve reciprocity on the parts of both the person influencing and the target. On the other hand, unilateral tactics are enacted without any participation on the part of the target. These tactics include disengagement and fait accompli. Political approaches, such as playing two against one, take yet another approach to exert influence.

People tend to vary in power tactics, with different types opting for different tactics. For instance, interpersonally-oriented people use soft tactics, while extroverts employ more powerful tactics than introverts. Studies have shown that men use bilateral and direct tactics, whereas women use unilateral and indirect tactics. People will also choose different tactics based on the group situation and according to whom they are trying to influence. In the face of resistance, people are more likely to shift from soft to brutal tactics to achieve their aims.

A Leader’s Influence. http://oer2go.org/mods/en-boundless/www.boundless.com/management/textbooks/boundless-management-textbook/leadership-9/defining-leadership-68/a-leader-s-influence-340-1045/index.html Content and user contributions on this site are licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 with attribution required.

The Role of Influence in Leadership

Influence occurs when a person’s emotions, opinions, or behaviors are affected by others. It is essential to a leader’s ability to use power and maintain respect in an organization. Influence is apparent through peer pressure, socialization, conformity, obedience, and persuasion. The ability to influence is an essential asset for leaders and an important skill for those in sales, marketing, politics, and law.

In 1958, Harvard psychologist Herbert Kelman identified three broad varieties of social influence: compliance, identification, and internalization. Compliance involves people behaving the way others expect them to, whether or not they agree. Obeying the instructions of a crossing guard or an authority figure is an example of compliance. Identification is when people behave according to what they think is valued by those who are well-liked and respected, such as celebrities. Status is a crucial aspect of identification: when people purchase something highly coveted by many others, such as the latest smartphone, they are influenced by identification. Internalization is when people accept, either explicitly or privately, a belief or set of values that leads to behavior that reflects those values. An example is following the tenets of one’s religion.

How Leaders Use Influence

In an organization, a leader can use these three types of influence to motivate people and achieve objectives. For example, compliance is a means of maintaining order in the workplace, such as when employees are expected to follow the rules set by their supervisors. Similarly, identification happens when people seek to imitate and follow the actions of people they look up to and respect, for example, a more experienced co-worker or trusted supervisor. Internalization results when employees embrace the vision and values of a leader and develop a commitment to fulfilling them.

Leaders use these types of influence to motivate the behaviors and actions needed to accomplish tasks and achieve goals. Individuals differ in how susceptible they are to each type of influence. Some workers may care enormously about what others think of them and thus be more amenable to identifying the cues for how to behave. Others may want to believe strongly in their actions and seek to internalize values to guide them. In organizations and most parts of life, sources of influence are all around us. As a result, our behavior can be shaped by how others communicate with us and how we see them.

Sources of Power. http://oer2go.org/mods/en-boundless/www.boundless.com/management/textbooks/boundless-management-textbook/leadership-9/defining-leadership-68/sources-of-power-339-7332/index.html Content and user contributions on this site are licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 with attribution required.


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