Where does power come from? What gives an individual or a group influence over others? We answer by dividing the bases or sources of power into two general groupings—formal and personal—and then breaking each of these down into more specific categories.
Formal power is based on an individual’s position in an organization. It can come from the ability to coerce or reward, or from formal authority.
The coercive power base depends on fear of the negative results from failing to comply. It rests on the application, or the threat of application, of physical sanctions such as the infliction of pain, frustration through restriction of movement, or the controlling by force of basic
physiological or safety needs. At the organizational level, A has coercive power over B if A can dismiss, suspend, or demote B, assuming B values his or her job. If A can assign B work activities
B finds unpleasant or treat B in a manner B finds embarrassing, A possesses coercive power over B. Coercive power can also come from withholding key information. People in an organization who have data or knowledge others need can make those others dependent on them.
The opposite of coercive power is reward power, with which people comply because it produces positive benefits; someone who can distribute rewards others view as valuable will have power over them. These rewards can be either financial—such as controlling pay rates, raises, and bonuses—or nonfinancial, including recognition, promotions, interesting work assignments, friendly colleagues, and preferred work shifts or sales territories.
In formal groups and organizations, probably the most common access to one or more of the power bases is through legitimate power. It represents the formal authority to control and use organizational resources based on structural position in the organization. Legitimate power is broader than the power to coerce and reward. Specifically, it includes members’ acceptance of the authority of a position. We associate power so closely associated with the concept of hierarchy that just drawing longer lines in an organization chart leads people to infer the leaders are especially powerful, and when a powerful executive is described, people tend to put the person at a higher position when drawing an organization chart. When school principals, bank presidents, or army captains speak (assuming their directives are viewed as within the authority of their positions), teachers, tellers, and first lieutenants listen and usually comply.
Many of the most competent and productive chip designers at Intel have power, but they are not managers and have no formal power. What they have is personal power, which comes from an individual’s unique characteristics. There are two bases of personal power: expertise and the respect and admiration of others.
Expert Power Expert power is influence wielded as a result of expertise, special skill, or knowledge. As jobs become more specialized, we become increasingly dependent on experts to achieve goals. It is generally acknowledged that physicians have expertise and hence expert power: Most of us follow our doctor’s advice. Computer specialists, tax accountants, economists, industrial psychologists, and other specialists wield power as a result of their expertise.
Referent Power Referent power is based on identification with a person who has desirable resources or personal traits. If I like, respect, and admire you, you can exercise power over me because I want to please you. Referent power develops out of admiration of another and a desire to be like that person. It helps explain, for instance, why celebrities are paid millions of dollars to endorse products in commercials. Marketing research shows people such as LeBron James and Tom Brady have the power to influence your choice of athletic shoes and credit cards. With a little practice, you and I could probably deliver as smooth a sales pitch as these celebrities, but the buying public doesn’t identify with you and me. Some people who are not in formal leadership positions nonetheless have referent power and exert influence over others because of their charismatic dynamism, likability, and emotional effects on us.
From the above description of the Five Forms of Power, which bases of power are most effective?