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What is Power: Five Bases of Power

Updated: Feb 6, 2023

The concept of power relates to leadership because power determines the capacity and potential to influence—leaders' ability to influence the followers' beliefs, attitudes, and behavior determining factor in the leadership process. However, leaders are responsible for the power they possess and the resulting influence on followers' lives.

One of the most widely used research on power is by French and Raven's (1962) work on the bases of social power. Their work conceptualized power as a dyadic relationship between the person influencing and the person being influenced. French and Raven (1962) identified five common bases of power (a) referent, (b) expert, (c) information, (d) legitimate, (e) reward, and (f) coercive. Referent power results from followers' acceptance and liking of the leader. The referent power creates what French and Raven (1962) identification between the two parties where the follower finds "oneness" in the leader and therefore more receptive to influence.




The expert power is the followers' recognition of the leaders' competency and perceived knowledge. The expert power varies depending on the followers' perceived understanding of the leader and trust in their ability to lead. French and Raven (1962) argued that when the follower is not dependent on the leader, the expert power is purely information and called this information power. Information power is the leader's knowledge that followers need. The degree to which the leader chooses and can share the information with the follower determines the magnitude of influence.

The legitimate power is a function of leaders' formal status and ran

king in the organization's hierarchy. The legitimate power varies depending on the followers' susceptibility and flexibility in the organizational structure. In organizations, power-sharing is a part of the organizational norm; the legitimate power takes on a more democratic form than in more vertical organizations. The reward power is the byproduct of leaders' ability to reward followers. Additionally, the reward power depends on the leader's ability to remove or decrease negative valences (French and Raven, p. 154). In an organization that operates based on a solid incentive system, reward power is often one of the primary motivators for the followers. French and Raven (1962) argued that the transactional nature of this power base makes the leaders' ability to influence dependent on the magnitude and frequency of the reward. For example, the yearly salary increases that keep the followers motivated to work hard until the end of the fiscal year only helps the leader maintain power and influence if only the raise is perceived as proportionate to the followers' efforts to receive the reward. Any perception of unfairness can damage the leaders' degree of influence. Coercive power is like reward power in a way that the leader is in charge of controlling the valence. However, coercive power is the leader's capacity to penalize, punish, and sanction the followers. French and Raven argued that reward power can gradually free the follower from the need for a reward to perform according to the leader's will, while coercive power often does not empower the followers to gain independence.


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