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Referent Power In Leadership Essay Ideas

Organizations are made up of individuals that exercise greater or lesser degrees of power. Sometimes, authority stems from a person's title in the organization, or from specialized knowledge and expertise. Others may exercise power through interpersonal relationships or the force of their personality. And still others gain influence through an ability to grant access to important resources.

Legitimate Power

Legitimate power is also known as positional power. It's derived from the position a person holds in an organization’s hierarchy. Job descriptions, for example, require junior workers to report to managers and give managers the power to assign duties to their juniors. For positional power to be exercised effectively, the person wielding it must be deemed to have earned it legitimately. An example of legitimate power is that held by a company's CEO.

Expert power

Knowledge is power. Expert power is derived from possessing knowledge or expertise in a particular area. Such people are highly valued by organizations for their problem solving skills. People who have expert power perform critical tasks and are therefore deemed indispensable. The opinions, ideas and decisions of people with expert power are held in high regard by other employees and hence greatly influence their actions. Possession of expert power is normally a stepping stone to other sources of power such as legitimate power. For example, a person who holds expert power can be promoted to senior management, thereby giving him legitimate power.

Referent Power

Referent power is derived from the interpersonal relationships that a person cultivates with other people in the organization. People possess reference power when others respect and like them. Referent power arises from charisma, as the charismatic person influences others via the admiration, respect and trust others have for her. Referent power is also derived from personal connections that a person has with key people in the organization's hierarchy, such as the CEO. It's the perception of the personal relationships that she has that generates her power over others.

Coercive Power

Coercive power is derived from a person's ability to influence others via threats, punishments or sanctions. A junior staff member may work late to meet a deadline to avoid disciplinary action from his boss. Coercive power is, therefore, a person's ability to punish, fire or reprimand another employee. Coercive power helps control the behavior of employees by ensuring that they adhere to the organization's policies and norms.

Reward Power

Reward power arises from the ability of a person to influence the allocation of incentives in an organization. These incentives include salary increments, positive appraisals and promotions. In an organization, people who wield reward power tend to influence the actions of other employees. Reward power, if used well, greatly motivates employees. But if it's applied through favoritism, reward power can greatly demoralize employees and diminish their output.

About the Author

Paul Merchant started writing in 2005. His articles have appeared in “JSTOR Journals” and “Wileys Management Journals.” He is a certified public accountant and a qualified project management expert. Merchant holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication from the University of Nairobi.

Suggest an Article Correction

Power means many different things to different people. For some, power is seen as corrupt. For others, the more power they have, the more successful they feel. For even others, power is of no interest at all. The five bases of power were identified by John French and Bertram Raven in the early 1960’s through a study they had conducted on power in leadership roles. The study showed how different types of power affected one’s leadership ability and success in a leadership role.

The five bases of power are divided in two categories:

Formal Power

Coercive

Coercive power is conveyed through fear of losing one’s job, being demoted, receiving a poor performance review, having prime projects taken away, etc. This power is gotten through threatening others. For example, the VP of Sales who threatens sales folks to meet their goals or get replaced.

Reward

Reward power is conveyed through rewarding individuals for compliance with one’s wishes. This may be done through giving bonuses, raises, a promotion, extra time off from work, etc. For example, the supervisor who provides employees comp time when they meet an objective she sets for a project.

Legitimate

Legitimate power comes from having a position of power in an organization, such as being the boss or a key member of a leadership team. This power comes when employees in the organization recognize the authority of the individual. For example, the CEO who determines the overall direction of the company and the resource needs of the company.

Personal Power

Expert

Expert power comes from one’s experiences, skills or knowledge. As we gain experience in particular areas, and become thought leaders in those areas, we begin to gather expert power that can be utilized to get others to help us meet our goals. For example, the Project Manager who is an expert at solving particularly challenging problems to ensure a project stays on track.

Referent

Referent power comes from being trusted and respected.  We can gain referent power when others trust what we do and respect us for how we handle situations. For example, the Human Resource Associate who is known for ensuring employees are treated fairly and coming to the rescue of those who are not.

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As you can see, you don’t have to be in a leadership or senior level role in an organization to have some form of power. In fact, the most respect is garnered on those who have personal sources of power. There is more respect for these individuals than for those who have power simply because they are the boss in the business. It has been shown that when employees in an organization associate the leadership’s power with expert or referent power, they are more engaged, more devoted to the organization and their role within it. Employees are also more willing to go the extra mile to reach organizational goals.

What is your source of power? And are you using the “right source” or simply throwing your weight around?  How effectively do you use your source of power to meet key goals and objectives? Please share your thoughts with others in the comments share bar to the left. Thank you!

This topic was revisited recently.  Check it out here and be sure to leave your thoughts and opinions on the topic in the comment sections!

Posted in People Management | Tagged Leadership, power