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The following article
was written by Coleman Patterson and
appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.
Identifying five sources of power, June 23, 2006, 2D.
word association game on the word “power” often brings forth
such concepts as: manipulation, control, dominance, or
subordination—words that have negative connotations in our
society. While power, in many cases, tends to be viewed
negatively it is in reality neutral; it is neither good nor
bad. It is the way that power is used that determines
whether it is viewed in a negative or positive light.
Electricity is similarly neither good nor bad. Electricity
can be used beneficially to power houses, offices,
machinery, and tools that make people’s lives better.
However, electricity can also be used for harmful and
destructive purposes. Whether we view electricity as good
or bad often comes from an evaluation of its use.
organizational perspective, power is the ability to
influence. Influence refers to change—if something has been
influenced, it has been changed. Power is needed by
organizational leaders to make things happen. It is
important that organizational leaders understand various
types of power and when the different types of
power are most appropriate to use.
the most well known conceptualizations of social power was
developed in the middle of the 20th century by
researchers French and Raven. They identified five bases,
or sources, of power. Expert power comes from perceptions
of expertise or knowledge, referent power arises when one is
admired and respected by followers, legitimate power
emanates from the formal authority vested in one’s position
within an organization, reward power comes from the ability
to give rewards, and coercive power resides in the ability
to administer threats and punishment.
evaluation of French and Raven’s taxonomy reveals two actual
sources of leader power—those vested in the person and those
in the position. Expert and referent powers are personal
powers that are attributed to particular leaders by
followers. Legitimate, reward, and coercive powers come
with the organizational positions that individuals occupy.
Organizational leaders should try to develop as much power
as possible—both personal and positional. While it may
never have to be drawn on, it is good to have excess power
in reserve should it ever be needed.
Effective organizational leaders understand when to draw
upon and use the various types of power that they possess.
When mere compliance and obedience is required, coercive
powers might be sufficient. Administering rewards for
compliance might bring about a greater sense of follower
willingness and commitment than coercive power when the
rewards are viewed as desirable. The best follower outcomes
tend to arise with the use of the personal powers—expert and
referent. In such cases, compliance typically results as
well as feelings of commitment, satisfaction, and internal
reward. However, trying to influence uninterested,
unwilling, and unmotivated followers with personal powers
will not yield optimal organizational and follower
outcomes. Using coercive power to bring about compliance
from highly committed, willing, and involved followers will
likewise result in suboptimal follower outcomes—maybe even
including feelings of manipulation, control, dominance, and
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