North Central Business Journal News
THE SOURCES OF EFFECTIVE POWER
(November 2000 issue)
by Sandra Kay Neal, Ph.D.
Power is the ability to get others to do what
you want. It is essential
for effective leadership. There are five sources of power potentially
available to a leader. A wise manager harnesses all the sources
available to ensure that his/her employees do what is needed for the
company to succeed.
Legitimate power is the authority granted
by the company to a particular position. A manager automatically
has legitimate power by virtue of the job title. Unfortunately, too
many people in leadership positions count on legitimate power to get things
done. But legitimate power is the weakest sources of power available.
If a manager only utilizes legitimate power, the employees will do the
bare minimum and nothing else.
Reward power comes from the ability
to do positive things for others. In many companies where the receptionist
controls access to the CEO, the receptionist ends up with reward power
even though there is no legitimate power attached to the position.
A manager who uses reward power facilitates his/her employees getting that
which they need or want, both in terms of bonuses as well as supplies or
opportunities to do valued tasks.
Coercive power is the ability to hurt
others through firing, demotion,
fines, disciplinary action, non-valued tasks, etc. Coercive power
quite effective in the short-term but tends to backfire when used as
primary power source. Coercive power often requires that the
supervisor using it must be physically present, which reduces that person's
ability to do all the tasks of the job. A wise leader utilizes coercive
Expert power derives from the knowledge
which the person possesses. In companies which use the rotating manager
tactic, new managers frequently lack expert power compared to the employees
they supervise. That allows one of the employees to have a greater
source of power than the manager. It behooves managers to learn to
do the tasks of their employees so that they add expert power to their
legitimate power. This is particularly important if they lack other
sources of power.
Referent power comes from being liked
by one's subordinates. This doesn't mean that managers need to be
buddies with their subordinates, but it does mean that managers need to
be valued by their subordinates as people. Referent power comes from
treating subordinates with respect and thoughtfulness. This
is the strongest source of power. When employees like their manager,
they are willing to go beyond their job description to be helpful, even
if that manager doesn't have any other source of power.
Leaders who are frustrated because their employees
are not doing what the leaders wish are encouraged to assess their own
power sources. If they are relying on legitimate power, they need
to develop other sources of power. In many union shops, reward and
coercive power are not available to supervisors, which means they really
need to develop expert or referent power. Expert power takes time
to develop. But referent power can be created through fair treatment
of employees. The more sources of power a leader has available, the
more effective that leader will be in getting employees to do their job
Sandra Kay Neal holds a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational
Psychology and has 19 years experience helping organizations solve human
resource issues. Her company, Synergistic Organizational Solutions,
specializes in aiding small businesses. Dr. Neal can be reached at