Power in leadership helps teams reach greater levels of performance. Having the ability to lead and motivate others is valuable for anyone in a managerial position to inspire their teams to reach big goals.
Powerful leaders are usually extremely persuasive. In general, power is often seen as connected to credibility and influence. When you're influencing people, you capture their minds and hearts and move them to action.
If you have this power, it's essential that you understand that [it] was given to you – and can be taken away. Don't abuse it.
-Nicole Lipkin, author, What Keeps Leaders Up At Night
But not everyone knows what to do with power once they have it.
"Power tends to get to people's heads," says Nicole Lipkin, author of What Keeps Leaders Up At Night. "We're not really trained to handle power well."
In 1959, psychologists John French and Bertram Raven developed a framework for understanding different types of power. In her book, Lipkin writes about these concepts and why it's important for leaders to understand what type they're using.
Types of Power in Leadership
1. Legitimate Power
Legitimate power happens when someone is in a higher position, giving them control over others.
"If you have this power, it's essential that you understand that [it] was given to you – and can be taken away. Don't abuse it," Lipkin says.
2. Coercive Power
There's really no time or space for coercive power in the workplace, Lipkin notes. No matter how good of a leader you are, fear likely won't win respect and loyalty from your employees now or in the long run.
"Ultimately, you can't build credibility with coercive influence – [it can be] like bullying in the workplace," she says.
3. Expert Power
This power comes directly from your top-level skills and years of experience. Once you hold expert knowledge, your peers will likely regard you as such.
"If [someone] holds an MBA and a Ph.D. in statistical analysis, her colleagues and reports are more inclined to accede to her expertise," Lipkin says. "This gives [her] a great deal of influence."
The great thing about this type of power is that no one can take it away from you. It's the knowledge that you hold. However, to remain an expert, you need to continue learning and improving.
4. Informational Power
This is a short-term power that doesn't necessarily influence or build credibility.
For example, a project manager may have all the information for a specific project, giving them "informational power." But it's hard for a person to keep this power for long, as eventually this information will be released. This should not be a long-term strategy.
5. Power of Reward
This power is held by those who can motivate people to respond to win raises, promotions, and awards. For example, managers hold a certain amount of reward power if they administer performance reviews that determine raises and bonuses for their underlings.
"When you start talking financial livelihood, power takes on a whole new meaning," Lipkin says.
6. Connection Power
This power creates influence by proxy and often results from solid networking skills. You can attain this type of power by gaining favor and being a resource to people.
"If I have a connection with someone you want to get to, that's going to give me power. That's politics in a way," Lipkin says. "People employing this power build important coalitions with others."
7. Referent Power
No matter what type of leader you are, referent power is one of the most valuable kinds of power. It's all about how you build and develop relationships.
"This power depends on personal traits and values, such as honesty, integrity, and trustworthiness," Lipkin notes. "People with high referent power can highly influence anyone who admires and respects them."
When people perceive you as powerful, they will more naturally rely on you. There's a lot you can achieve through that influence. Each of these types of power has advantages and disadvantages. As a leader, it's essential to understand the types of power in order to inspire and motivate others, while building trust and credibility with your team and beyond.
A version of this article was originally published on June 17, 2013.
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