The bases of power cannot be discussed if we do not know what power itself means. Many people have different definitions of power depending on the context of the usage or the aspect of life it is being talked about. For instance, power in physics is the ability to do work, or power to a gym instructor is the strength gained as a product of exercises. However, we are not talking about that. We are interested in how power relates to our life experiences and what are the bases of power?
What is Power?
Power is the influence that leaders have over their followers. It can also mean the authority a leader has over his followers. An individual may have and use power, but a leader cannot be without power. The ability to influence their followers to achieve the team’s goal and improve their performances is what makes them leaders, and this cannot be done without power. Without power, the leaders look like one of the majorities. Their power is measured by the extent of the influence and motivation they have on their followers to achieve a peculiar goal even when they don’t want to do it.
While power and leadership might play different roles in some aspects, they are interwoven. I have seen people describe power as the ability to control people or their activities, but leaders use it to inspire and motivate their followers to achieve the best out of them. Leadership studies are in various styles with diverse nature and definitions.
What is a leader without power? Although not everyone knows what to do with power when they have it, an individual might be one of the most diplomatic and great personalities when still being a follower but might lose their heads when they get power. Nicole Lipkin, the author of the book “What keeps leaders up at night,” says in the book that “Power tends to get to people’s heads; We are not trained to handle power well.”
SIX (6) BASES OF POWER
Bases of power can be defined as the approach that leaders utilize to impact or influence their followers. There were first the five (5) bases which were identified and analyzed by social psychologists John R. P. French and Bertram Raven in 1959, and six (6) years later, Bertram Raven added the sixth (6th) base. Bases of power can be categorized into two power sources which are: Positional Power Sources and Personal Power Sources.
POSITIONAL POWER SOURCES OF BASES OF POWER
This is a given power or trust in the followers or employees that the leader or the manager can make the right call or decisions. It comes from an elected, selected, or appointed position of power. This comes from the belief that a person has the formal right to make demands and expect others to be compliant and obedient.
It is a product of election (often in government or a big organization) or selection (also in a big organization having considered being eligible for the position). Nicole Lipkin added that “If you have this power, it’s essential that you understand that this power was given to you (and can be taken away)’ so don’t misuse it.”
These things often happen in government or any organization. When a person wins an election to be in a post or has been selected to be in a leadership position, if the majority believes the person deserves it, there will be a smooth working relationship between them, but if otherwise, the movie is a bad one of the working relationships, teamwork and the growth of the company. Legitimate power only works when their authority is acknowledged, and their positions are accepted by the followers (majorities).
2. Coercive Power:
Another basis of power we are considering is Coercive power. It uses the threat of force to gain compliance and obedience from the followers. The main idea behind this is getting people to do things irrespective of their opinions. The main goal is compliance. This idea is power-based. In some terms, it is regarded as Punishment power because it involves force, threat, or punishment to attain its goal.
In the long run, coercive power will make a leader lose respect and loyalty from his followers. Such a leader will be leading with fear no matter how good his intentions are. The working environment becomes very hostile and hot for workers and followers. Coercive power is needed at some point during hard times for the organization, but the bad thing is you can’t build credibility with coercive power. People will see such a leader as a bully and power-drunk.
It reduces the working ability in people and also their self-esteem. As a leader, you can punish a worker or a follower for misconduct or indiscipline, but when you employ the major tools of coercive power, which are threats and punishment, people will lose interest.
3. Reward Power:
This power is based on the leader’s ability to provide rewards to motivate their followers. It is a reward for someone’s ability to comply with the organization’s rules and regulations and achieve something meaningful through that. In this type of power, the leader can give out rewards (Tangible or psychological). Tangible rewards could include promotion, office space, time off from work, a hike in salaries, and incentives. Psychological rewards could include help to such individuals, praise, recommendations, and recognition.
This kind of power helps to improve team spirit and productivity. Unlike the aforementioned bases of power, reward power increases the chances of likeness for the leader among the followers, thereby gaining respect, compliance, and obedience when he gives orders. This is a practicable example we are all familiar with. If people know that you will reward them for doing something, there is a high probability that they will do it effectively.
The issue with this basis of power is that when the rewards don’t have much value in the followers’ sight, unlike before, the power weakens. And also, you don’t get to promote people every time or increase their salaries to balance the company’s financial state or organization.
4. Informational Power:
This is a short-term power that doesn’t necessarily build influence or credibility. It involves having control over vital information that others need or want. In this modern age, we are at right now where information is vital can place the one who has it in a position of power.
Information can be used as a weapon to manipulate, extort, share or attain some more important positions. You can also help others with it by providing them with the necessary information that they need.
PERSONAL POWER SOURCES OF BASES OF POWER
1. Referent Power:
Referent power has been over the years the best basis of power that a leader should adopt because it’s all about the quality of the relationship developed with others and how the relationship is built. This type of power results from a person’s perceived attractiveness, worthiness, and right to others’ respect.
It comes from people liking and respecting a particular person due to some traits. This is very common with celebrities. They have referent power. That is why they can influence people to buy some things or become influencers for some products or organizations. In an organization where the leader has referent power, his presence makes everyone feel good, obedient, and reliant.
Although, referent power can be easily abused because, in most cases, you don’t do anything to earn it. Someone likable by everyone may lack integrity and loyalty. Someone who does nothing to earn the likeness from people can do anything when he gets the power. He might use the position for personal advantages. Using referent power singularly by a leader is not a good strategy for respect and longevity. When combined with expert power, it makes the leader very admirable and becomes a role model.
2. Expert Power:
This type of power uses knowledge and skills to understand every situation at hand, suggest viable solutions, and make solid judgments to gain people’s respect and trust. One of the best ways to build and maintain expert power and improve your leadership skills is by showing convenience, good decision-making, rational thinking, and solution-providing contents.
Someone’s professional knowledge and competence give him or her expert power. A leader’s credibility increases when others can notice and trust his judgments and decisions. Building expert power is an effective foundation for a good leader.
The power comes directly from attained knowledge, skills, and years of experience. He or she won’t look like a novice or a half-baked leader who is directing the followers. The people will feel their expertise and will regard the authority when they make decisions. The great thing about this kind of power is that nobody can take it away from you because it is the knowledge that you have. To remain an expert, continuous learning and improvement will help you to keep your status and influence.
In conclusion, understanding these bases of power will help you understand the dynamics of power as a leader. You can choose to function as a partner when working with followers, a coach, or a boss.