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North Central Business Journal News

(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 of power
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 is often
quite effective in the short-term but tends to backfire when used as the
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 power sparingly.

     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 appropriately.

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 sos_hr@localaccess.com.

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