Power and Influence of leadership

Recall our definition of leadership, which is the ability to influence people to achieve goals. Particularly for leaders in- volved in major change initiatives,  the effective and appro- priate  use of power is crucial. One way to understand how leaders get things done is to look at the sources of leader power and the interpersonal  influence  tactics leaders use.

Power is the potential ability to influence the behavior of others.49   Sometimes the terms  power and influence are used synonymously,  but the two are distinct in important ways. Basically, influence is the effect  a person’s actions have on the attitudes,  values, beliefs, or behavior of others. Whereas power is the capacity to cause a change in a person, influence may be thought of as the degree of actual change.

Power results from an interaction of leader and follow- ers. Some power comes from an individual’s position in the organization. Power may also come from personal sources that are not as invested  in the organization, such as a lead- er’s personal interests, goals, and values. Within organiza- tions, five sources of power are typical: legitimate, reward, coercive, expert, and referent.


The traditional manager’s power  comes from the organization. The manager’s position gives him or her the power to reward or punish subordinates to influence their behavior. Legitimate  power, reward power, and coercive power are all forms of position power used by managers to change employee behavior.

Legitimate Power. Power coming from a formal management position in an or- ganization and the authority granted to it is called legitimate power. After a person has been selected  as a supervisor, most workers understand that they are obligated to follow his or her direction with respect to work activities. Subordinates accept this source of power  as legitimate, which is why they comply.

Reward Power. Another kind of power, reward power, stems from the authority to bestow rewards on other people. Managers may have access to formal  rewards, such as pay increases or promotions. They also have at their disposal  such rewards  as praise, atten- tion, and recognition.  Managers can use rewards to influence subordinates’ behavior.

Coercive Power. The opposite of reward power is coercive power: It refers to the authority to punish or recommend punishment.  Managers have coercive power when they have the right to fire or demote employees, criticize,  or withdraw  pay increases.

For example, if Sanjay, a salesperson, does not perform  as expected, his supervisor has the coercive power to criticize him, reprimand him, put a negative letter in his file, and hurt his chance for a raise.


In contrast to the external sources of position power, personal power most often comes from internal  sources, such as a person’s special knowledge or personal characteristics.

A good example of personal power is Charles Firneno, math teacher and football coach at Benjamin Franklin High School in New Orleans. After the school was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and no one could get through to inspect the damage, Firneno took it upon himself to get things rolling. A former U.S. Marine helicopter pilot, Firneno put on his uniform and convinced National Guardsmen to let him through. Firneno laid out a plan for fixing the building and began mobilizing people to help. Although before the flood, Firneno had been held in rather low esteem by his faculty colleagues with more ad- vanced degrees, his commitment, knowledge, skills, and ability to mobilize people in a cri- sis quickly  won the support and respect of teachers, parents, and community  volunteers. Soon, Firneno was handed an extra set of keys to the building and the principal’s authoriza- tion to spend school funds as he saw fit, helping to get the school open in record time.50

Firneno’s power came from his special knowledge and skills and from his personal commit- ment to the school, rather than from a formal position of authority.

Personal power is the primary tool of the leader, and it is becoming increasingly impor- tant as more  businesses are run by teams of workers who are less tolerant  of authoritarian management.51  Two types of personal power are expert power and referent power.

Expert Power. Power resulting from a leader’s special knowledge  or skill regarding the tasks performed by followers is referred to as expert power. When  the leader is a true expert, subordinates go along with recommendations because of his or her superior knowl- edge. Leaders at supervisory levels often have experience in the production  process that gains them promotion.  At top management levels, however, leaders may lack expert power because subordinates know more about technical details than they do.

Referent Power. The last kind of power, referent power, comes from a leader’s personal characteristics that command followers’ identification, respect, and admiration  so they want to emulate the leader. Referent power does not depend on a formal title or posi- tion. When workers admire a supervisor  because of the way she deals with them, the influ- ence is based on referent power. Referent power is most visible in the area of charismatic leadership. In social and religious movements, for example,  we often  see charismatic lead- ers who emerge and gain a tremendous following  based solely on their personal power.


The next question is how leaders use their power to implement  decisions and facilitate change. Leaders often  use a combination of influence strategies, and people who are per- ceived as having greater power and influence  typically  are those who use a wider  variety of tactics. One survey of a few hundred  leaders identified more than 4,000 different tech- niques these people used to influence others.52

However,  these tactics fall into basic categories that rely on understanding the principles that  cause people to change their behavior and attitudes. Exhibit 11.9 lists seven principles for asserting influence. Notice that most of these involve the use of personal power rather than relying solely on position power or the use of rewards and punishments.53

  1. Use rational persuasion. The most frequently used influence strategy is to use facts, data, and logical argument to persuade others that a proposed idea, request, or decision is ap- propriate. Using rational persuasion can often be highly effective  because most people have faith  in facts and analysis.54 Rational persuasion is most successful when a leader has technical knowledge and expertise related to the issue at hand (expert power), although referent power is also used. That is, in addition to facts and figures, people also have to believe in the leader’s credibility.
  2. Make people like you. Recall our discussion of likeability from the previous chapter. People would  rather say yes to someone they like than to someone they don’t. Effective  leaders strive to create goodwill  and favorable impressions. When a leader shows consideration and respect, treats people fairly, and demonstrates trust in others, people are more likely to want to help and support the leader by doing what he or she asks. In addition, most people like a leader who makes them feel good about themselves, so leaders should never underestimate the power of praise.
  3. 3. Rely on the rule of reciprocity. Leaders can influence others through the exchange of benefits and favors. Leaders share what they have—whether  it is time,  resources, services, or emo- tional support. The feeling among people is nearly universal that others should be paid back for what they do, in one form or another. This unwritten “rule of reciprocity”  means that leaders who do favors for others can expect that others will do favors for them in 55
  4. Develop allies. Effective leaders develop networks of allies, people who can help the leader accomplish his or her goals. Leaders talk with followers and others outside of formal meetings to understand their needs and concerns  as well  as to explain problems and de- scribe the leader’s point of view. They strive to reach a meeting  of minds with others about the best approach to a problem  or decision.56
  5. Ask for what you want. Another way to influence others is to make a direct and personal request. Leaders have to be explicit about what they want, or they aren’t likely to get it. An explicit proposal is sometimes accepted simply because others have no better  alterna- tive. Also, a clear proposal  or alternative will often receive support if other options are less well  defined.
  6. Make use of higher authority.  Sometimes  to get things done,  leaders have to use their formal authority, as well  as gain the support  of people at higher levels to back them up. However,  research has found  that the key to successful use of formal authority is to be knowledgeable, credible, and trustworthy—that is, to demonstrate expert and referent power  as well as legitimate  power.  Managers  who become known for their expertise, who are honest and straightforward  with others, and who inspire trust can exert greater influence  than those who simply  issue orders.57
  7. 7. Reward the behaviors you want.  Leaders can also use organizational  rewards and punish- ments to influence others’ behavior. The use of punishment in organizations is controversial, but negative consequences almost always occur for inappropriate or undesirable behavior.

Leaders should not rely solely on reward and punishment as a means  for influencing others, but combined with other tactics that involve the use of personal power, rewards can be highly effective. At General Electric, for example, CEO Jeff Immelt is having success in shifting managers’ behavior by using rewards for managers who demonstrate an ability  to come up with innovative ideas and improve  customer service and satisfaction.58

Research indicates that people rate leaders as “more effective” when they are perceived to use a variety of influence tactics. But not all managers use influence in the same way. Studies have found  that leaders in human resources, for example, tend to use softer,  more subtle approaches such  as building  goodwill,  using favors, and developing allies, whereas those in finance are inclined to use harder,  more  direct  tactics  such as formal authority and assertiveness.59

Source: Daft Richard L., Marcic Dorothy (2009), Understanding Management, South-Western College Pub; 8th edition.

2 thoughts on “Power and Influence of leadership

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