Our modern concept of leadership tends to focus on the leader as a facilitator, collaborator and herder of cats. It’s not considered sensitive to talk about the use of power in the context of leadership.
But power is a critical tool that leaders ignore at their peril. Power is the ability to influence others to do something that they would otherwise not do. According to French and Raven, there are five types of power:
- Referent power — people do things because they like or admire you
- Expert power — people do things because they respect your knowledge as an expert in a particular area
- Legitimate power –people do things you want because you have formal authority designated to you by your position in the organization
- Reward power — people do things you want because you have the ability to reward them for that behaviour
- Coercive power — people do things you want because you have the ability to punish them if they don’t perform
Why do these types of power matter? According to a recent paper, the type of power you have will determine which types of power moves are effective. Thus assertiveness will work if you have legitimate power or coercive power, but probably won’t work well when you have expert or referent power. An emotional appeal might work best in a situation where you have reward power or referent power. Where you have expert power, reason might be a good power tactic.
Power tactics include behaviours such as reason, emotion, coalitions, friendliness, bargaining, assertiveness, appeals to internal or external higher authority and sanctions.
Characteristics of the group also matter when choosing power moves. Bigger groups make it difficult for one person to influence the decisions of the group, so very aggressive power moves will likely alienate people. Friendliness might work better in groups who are very familiar with each other. Groups high in cohesiveness (the extent to which groups work together) are more likely to respond to reason.
The bottom line? Make conscious choices when you employ power tactics. Be aware of your basis of power, the characteristics of the group and the decision being made. Then choose your tactics to fit the people and situation. You might find that you will become more effective in the workplace.
Source: John R. Carlson, Dawn S. Carlson and Lori L. Wadsworth. “The Relationship Between Individual Power Moves and Group Agreement Type: An Examination and Model. S.A.M Advanced Management Journal. Autumn 2000. 65, 4