4 Power and Influence

Leadership Power

Power is the ability to influence the behavior of others with or without resistance by using a variety of tactics to push or prompt action.

Power is the ability to get things done. People with power are able to influence others behavior to achieve a goal or objective. Others may resist attempts to make them do certain things, but an effective leader is able to overcome that resistance. Although people may regard power as evil or corrupt, power is a fact of organizational life and in itself is neither good nor bad. Leaders can use power to benefit others or to constrain them, to serve the organization’s goals or to undermine them.

Another way to view power is as a resource that people use in relationships. When a leader influences subordinates, it is called downward power. We can also think of this as someone having power over someone else. On the other hand, subordinates can also exercise upward power by trying to influence the decisions of their leader. Indeed, leaders depend on their teams to get things done and in that way are subject to the power of team members.

The Six Sources of Power

Power comes from several sources, each of which has different effects on the targets of that power. Some derive from individual characteristics; others draw on aspects of an organization’s structure. Six types of power are legitimate, referent, expert, reward, coercive, and informational.

Legitimate Power

Also called “positional power,” this is the power individuals have from their role and status within an organization. Legitimate power usually involves formal authority delegated to the holder of the position.

Referent Power

Referent power comes from the ability of individuals to attract others and build their loyalty. It is based on the personality and interpersonal skills of the power holder. A person may be admired because of a specific personal trait, such as charisma or likability, and these positive feelings become the basis for interpersonal influence.

Expert Power

Expert power draws from a person’s skills and knowledge and is especially potent when an organization has a high need for them. Narrower than most sources of power, the power of an expert typically applies only in the specific area of the person’s expertise and credibility.

Reward Power

Reward power comes from the ability to confer valued material rewards or create other positive incentives. It refers to the degree to which the individual can provide external motivation to others through benefits or gifts. In an organization, this motivation may include promotions, increases in pay, or extra time off.

Coercive Power

Coercive power is the threat and application of sanctions and other negative consequences. These can include direct punishment or the withholding of desired resources or rewards. Coercive power relies on fear to induce compliance.

Informational Power

Informational power comes from access to facts and knowledge that others find useful or valuable. That access can indicate relationships with other power holders and convey status that creates a positive impression. Informational power offers advantages in building credibility and rational persuasion. It may also serve as the basis for beneficial exchanges with others who seek that information.

All of these sources and uses of power can be combined to achieve a single aim, and individuals can often draw on more than one of them. In fact, the more sources of power to which a person has access, the greater the individual’s overall power and ability to get things done.

Power Tactics

People use a variety of power tactics to push or prompt others into action. We can group these tactics into three categories: behavioral, rational, and structural.

Behavioral tactics can be soft or hard. Soft tactics take advantage of the relationship between person and the target. These tactics are more direct and interpersonal and can involve collaboration or other social interaction. Conversely, hard tactics are harsh, forceful, and direct and rely on concrete outcomes. However, they are not necessarily more powerful than soft tactics. In many circumstances, fear of social exclusion can be a much stronger motivator than some kind of physical punishment.

Rational tactics of influence make use of reasoning, logic, and objective judgment, whereas nonrational tactics rely on emotionalism and subjectivity. Examples of each include bargaining and persuasion (rational) and evasion and put downs (nonrational).

Structural tactics exploit aspects of the relationship between individual roles and positions. Bilateral tactics, such as collaboration and negotiation, involve reciprocity on the parts of both the person influencing and the target. Unilateral tactics, on the other hand, are enacted without any participation on the part of the target. These tactics include disengagement and fait accompli. Political approaches, such as playing two against one, take yet another approach to exert influence.

People tend to vary in their use of power tactics, with different types of people opting for different tactics. For instance, interpersonally-oriented people tend to use soft tactics, while extroverts employ a greater variety of power tactics than do introverts. Studies have shown that men tend to use bilateral and direct tactics, whereas women tend to use unilateral and indirect tactics. People will also choose different tactics based on the group situation and according to whom they are trying to influence. In the face of resistance, people are more likely to shift from soft to hard tactics to achieve their aims.

A Leader’s Influence. http://oer2go.org/mods/en-boundless/www.boundless.com/management/textbooks/boundless-management-textbook/leadership-9/defining-leadership-68/a-leader-s-influence-340-1045/index.html Content and user contributions on this site are licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 with attribution required.

The Role of Influence in Leadership

Influence occurs when a person’s emotions, opinions, or behaviors are affected by others. It is an important component of a leader’s ability to use power and maintain respect in an organization. Influence is apparent in the form of peer pressure, socialization, conformity, obedience, and persuasion. The ability to influence is an important asset for leaders, and it is also an important skill for those in sales, marketing, politics, and law.

In 1958, Harvard psychologist Herbert Kelman identified three broad varieties of social influence: compliance, identification, and internalization. Compliance involves people behaving the way others expect them to whether they agree with doing so or not. Obeying the instructions of a crossing guard or an authority figure is an example of compliance. Identification is when people behave according to what they think is valued by those who are well-liked and respected, such as a celebrity. Status is a key aspect of identification: when people purchase something highly coveted by many others, such as the latest smartphone, they are under the influence of identification. Internalization is when people accept, either explicitly or privately, a belief or set of values that leads to behavior that reflects those values. An example is following the tenets of one’s religion.

How Leaders Use Influence

In an organization, a leader can use these three types of influence to motivate people and achieve objectives. For example, compliance is a means of maintaining order in the workplace, such as when employees are expected to follow the rules set by their supervisors. Similarly, identification happens when people seek to imitate and follow the actions of people they look up to and respect, for example a more experienced co-worker or trusted supervisor. Internalization results when employees embrace the vision and values of a leader and develop a commitment to fulfilling them.

Leaders use these types of influence to motivate the behaviors and actions needed to accomplish tasks and achieve goals. Individuals differ in how susceptible they are to each type of influence. Some workers may care a great deal about what others think of them and thus be more amenable to identifying the cues for how to behave. Other individuals may want to believe strongly in what they do and so seek to internalize a set of values to guide them. In organizations and in most parts of life, sources of influence are all around us. As a result, our behavior can be shaped by how others communicate with us and how we see them.

Sources of Power. http://oer2go.org/mods/en-boundless/www.boundless.com/management/textbooks/boundless-management-textbook/leadership-9/defining-leadership-68/sources-of-power-339-7332/index.html Content and user contributions on this site are licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 with attribution required.


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Cultivating Your Leadership Capabilities by Graduate Studies, Granite State College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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