In 1959, expert social psychologists John R.P. French and Bertran Raven released a study on group dynamics. They defined five distinct types of power that influence leadership: coercive, reward, legitimate, referent, and expert power.

French and Raven’s five types of power are often used in leadership training programs. By understanding the five types of power and how leaders gain influence over others, you can learn how to get the best out of your employees.

The Different Types Of Power

Here is what you need to know about the 5 types of power:

1. Coercive Power: “You Will Comply, Or Else”

comply types of power

One type of power used to influence others is coercive power. Through force, a person is to comply and do what they may not wish to do.

Coercive power can occur when the influencer has the power to threaten their target monetarily or socially. For example, in the workplace, a supervisor has the power to dismiss employees. Using coercive power, the supervisor may threaten their target. By implying their job is at risk if they do not follow orders.

The Threat Of Punishment

Sometimes punishment (or the threat of punishment) is necessary for a low-performing employee. People rely in coercive power and becomes ingrained in an organization’s culture. It creates an “us versus them” relationship between employees and managers. This technique may yield short-term results. (the target will do what they have to do), but it will cause dysfunction in the workplace. Too much reliance on coercive power can lead to a hostile, toxic work. Also, environment, resentment by employees, and high turnover. It should use with caution.

2. Reward Power: “Do What I Expect and Reap the Benefits”

types of power on benefits

Another type of power is reward power. It occurs when the influencer has the ability to reward or deny rewards to the target of their influence. This leadership tactic is very common in workplaces that reward employees for performance. Through incentive-based compensation such as bonuses and commissions. Reward power can lead to better performance.

In general, rewards are often monetary, but not always. Additionally, a manager may convey social approval by praising an employee during a meeting. Employees get rewards to the most desirable, high-visibility projects. Or, clients with more opportunity for recognition.

3. Legitimate Power: “We Have an Established Hierarchy”

types of power employee chart

Legitimate power arises when a leader gains recognition. And respect for their position of authority and job title. The relationship is strengthened through social and cultural norms. Which require people to be obedient to those who hold superior positions. It can count on by leaders initially, but it needs to be built through other power tactics such as rewards.

Leaders of organizations with a clear organizational structure and hierarchy rely on this tactic. For example, the military. However, in many modern businesses, organizations. They are increasingly “flat” in structure rather than hierarchal. And have a group dynamic that lends itself to information-sharing. Also, peer-to-peer support, and teamwork rather than total deference to a superior.

4. Referent Power: “You Can Be One of Us”

be one of us type of power

Referent power, or power by affiliation, is when the influencer uses flattery or sense of community to influence their target to behave according to their wishes. It is on the target’s attraction to the powerful person. The target of the influencer has respect for the institution and individuals who conferred authority to the leader. The target wants to belong to the group. An influencer who is charismatic and has a strong need for likeability will often use this leadership style to influence others.

5. Expert Power: “Follow Me Because I Know Best”

follow me types of power

An influencer gains power and influence over others by virtue of their expertise. As a result, the target recognizes and respects the leader’s superior knowledge, skills, and abilities. In the workplace, the leader may have a credential certifying their expertise. Consequently, employees will defer to them and trust them.

However, this expertise is not always genuine. It is on the target’s perception of the influencer as an expert. Some workplaces may rely heavily on expert power without considering other traits. Such as likeability and years of experience. For example, if managers possessing an MBA gain promotions over employees. Who have more rapport and direct, hands-on experience. The influencer may not be able to rely on expert power to maintain their influence.

Other Considerations

Every workplace has a unique culture. Leaders with different personalities exhibit different types of power.  It is important to understand that each type of power has a place. Managers use a combination of the power types. In some circumstances, coercive power is used to getting results from low performers. Leaders with emotional intelligence need to understand employees’ motivation. In so doing, it influences them and achieves their goals.

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