How to Manage Power?


“Americans, as a rule, are not very comfortable with power or with its dynamics… And this misunderstanding is becoming increasingly burdensome because in today’s large and complex organizations the effective performance of most managerial jobs requires one to be skilled at the acquisition and use of power.” - John P. Kotter

Though Kotter mentions only about Americans, I feel this statement is true for all managers in the entire world. We need to know how to manage powers by a) knowing what the powers are? & b) how to use them appropriately in the corporate world.

Consider this scenario:

You have been promoted as a manager in your organization, what powers do you think you will have by default?

Generally, an individual has two types of powers upon becoming a manager – the legitimate power of the position and the expert power that led to their appointment (this may not be true in some cases :-)).

Also, manager gets reward power and coercive (punishing) power which generally accompanies legitimate power. Thus, managers may have four of the five powers by default.

Though they are two different words with different meanings, one leads to the other & they are intertwined. Power is defined as the ability to exert influence over others while authority is the foundation on which that power is built. But power does not necessarily imply a commonly accepted authority to exert influence over others.

A person’s power depends to a considerable extent on how the person is perceived by others. In other words, power and authority come from the person being influenced – not the person in the more powerful position. If the follower chooses to not follow them, they are no longer leaders.

“Some people have more net influence than others and hence … more power.” – Larison

The power and influence theories explain leadership effectiveness in terms of the amount and type of power that leader possesses and how he or she exercises power. Undoubtedly, among the most popular and widely accepted concepts of social/organizational power is the five-fold typology developed by French and Raven in 1959.

In their article, French and Raven (1959) identified five bases of power which an agent, O, can exert over a person, P. Those bases of power were:

1. Reward power,

2. Coercive power,

3. Legitimate power,

4. Expert power, and

5. Referent power.

five forms of power

He also discussed about the sixth type of power – informational influence/power, which was not classified as one of the primary bases of power. Hence it is omitted in studies about the bases of power.

Legitimate power

* The power a leader has as a result of his or her position

* Subordinate’s most likely outcome is compliance

* How to use this power?

* Be cordial, polite, and confident

* make appropriate requests

* follow proper channels

* exercise power regularly and enforce compliance

Coercive power

* The power a leader has to punish or control

* Subordinate’s most likely outcome is resistance

* How to use this power?

* Inform subordinates of rules and penalties

* understand the situation before acting & warn before punishing

* administer punishment consistently & punish in private

Reward power

* The power to give positive benefits or rewards

* Subordinate’s most likely outcome is compliance

* comes as part of formal authority

* Influence over wages and promotions

* How to use this power?

* Verify compliance and accomplishments

* offer rewards for desired actions and behaviors

* offer credible rewards that are desired by subordinates

Expert power

* The influence/power a leader can exert as a result of his or her expertise, skills, or knowledge

* Subordinate’s most likely outcome is commitment

* How to use this power?

* Act confident and decisive

* keep informed

* don’t threaten subordinates’ self-esteem – be approachable

* Willing to share your knowledge with others

Referent power

* The power of a leader that arises because of a person’s desirable resources or based on charisma, admired personal traits

* Subordinate’s most likely outcome is commitment

* The referring individual voluntarily molds him or herself to the referent person

* How to use this power?

* Treat subordinates fairly

* defend subordinates’ interests

* be sensitive to subordinates’ needs & feelings

Finally, anyone knows about connectional power?

Though connectional power is not dealt under the bases of power, I think giving a brief idea about it at this place would be appropriate. Connectional power is a variation of referent power, which reflects the influence that leaders possess as a result of whom they know and the support they engender from others as a result.

Hayden suggests the following keys to exercise power effectively & successfully. They are to:

1) be sensitive to the sources of power and be consistent with the expectations of others;

2) recognize the costs, risks, and benefits of the different bases of power and draw on whichever is appropriate to the situation and person;

3) appreciate that each power base has merit;

4) possess career goals that allow development and use of each type of power;

5) act maturely and exercise self-control, avoiding impulses and egotistical displays; and

6) understand that power is necessary to get things done

One thought on “How to Manage Power?

  1. very nice and concise resource. Detailed nicely and easy to understand. I feel I understand much better the French & Raven typology of power.

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