Leadership and Power

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The concept of power is related to leadership because it is part of the influence process. Power is the capacity or potential to influence.

People have power when they have the ability to affect others’ beliefs, attitudes, and courses of action. Ministers, doctors, coaches, and teachers are all examples of people who have the potential to influence us. When they do, they are using their power, the resource they draw on to effect change in us.

The most widely cited research on power is French and Raven’s (1959) work on the bases of social power.

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In their work, they conceptualized power from the framework of a dyadic relationship that included both the person influencing and the person being influenced.

French and Raven identified five common and important bases of power: referent, expert, legitimate, reward, and coercive.

Referent Power : Based on followers’ identification and liking for the leader. A teacher who is adored by students has referent power.

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Expert Power : Based on followers’ perceptions of the leader’s competence. A tour guide who is knowledgeable about a foreign country has expert power.

Legitimate Power : Associated with having status or formal job authority. A judge who administers sentences in the courtroom exhibits legitimate power.

Reward Power : Derived from having the capacity to provide rewards to others. A supervisor who gives rewards to employees who work hard is using reward power.

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Coercive Power : Derived from having the capacity to penalize or punish others. A coach who sits players on the bench for being late to practice is using coercive power.

Each of these bases of power increases a leader’s capacity to influence the attitudes, values, or behaviors of others.

In organizations, there are two major kinds of power: position power and personal power. Position power is the power a person derives from a particular office or rank in a formal organizational system. It is the influence capacity a leader derives from having higher status than the followers have.

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Vice presidents and department heads have more power than staff personnel do because of the positions they hold in the organization. Position power includes legitimate, reward, and coercive power.

Personal power is the influence capacity a leader derives from being seen by followers as likable and knowledgeable. When leaders act in ways that are important to followers, it gives leaders power.

For example, some managers have power because their subordinates consider them to be good role models. Others have power because their subordinates view them as highly competent or considerate.

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In both cases, these managers’ power is ascribed to them by others, based on how they are seen in their relationships with others. Personal power includes referent and expert power.

In discussions of leadership, it is not unusual for leaders to be described as wielders of power, as individuals who dominate others. In these instances, power is conceptualized as a tool that leaders use to achieve their own ends.

Contrary to this view of power, Burns (1978) emphasized power from a relationship standpoint. For Burns, power is not an entity that leaders use over others to achieve their own ends; instead, power occurs in relationships. It should be used by leaders and followers to promote their collective goals.

In this text, our discussions of leadership treat power as a relational concern for both leaders and followers. We pay attention to how leaders work with followers to reach common goals.

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