7 Powers Leaders Can Use for Good or Evil

Be a better leader by understanding these 7 powers used to persuade and influence others.
June 17, 2013

Powerful leaders are usually extremely persuasive, and can easily influence others to buy into their purpose. In general, power is connected to credibility and influence. When you're influencing people, you're capturing their hearts and moving them. 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 specific types of power and why it's important for leaders to understand what type of power they're using.

Legitimate Power

This 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 this power was given to you (and can be taken away), so don't abuse it." Lipkin says.

"If Diane rises to the position of CEO and her employees believe she deserves this position, they will respond favorably when she exercises her legitimate power," Lipkin says. "On the other hand, if Diane rises to the position of CEO, but people don't believe that she deserves this power, it will be a bad move for the company as a whole."

Coercive Power

"There is not a time of day when you should use it," Lipkin tells us. "Ultimately, you can't build credibility with coercive influence—you can think of it like bullying in the workplace."

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No matter how good of a leader you are, if you're wielding coercive power, you are leading with fear, and this won't win the respect and loyalty from your employees for long.

Expert Power

This power comes directly from your top-level skills and years of experience. Once you hold this knowledge, your peers will regard you as an expert. 

"If Diane holds an MBA and a PhD in statistical analysis, her colleagues and reports are more inclined to accede to her expertise," Lipkin says. "This gives Diane a great deal of influence."

The great thing about this power is that no one can take it away from you. It's knowledge that you hold. However, in order to remain an expert and to keep your status and influence, you need to continue learning and improving.

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, and that will give her "informational power." But it's hard for a person to keep this power for long, and eventually this information will be released. This should not be a long-term strategy.

Power of Reward

"When you start talking financial livelihood, power takes on a whole new meaning," Lipkin says. This power is held by those who can motivate people to respond in order to win raises, promotions and awards.

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Lipkin gives this example: "Both Diane and Bob hold a certain amount of reward power if they administer performance reviews that determine raises and bonuses for their people."

Connection Power

This power creates influence by proxy and is all about networking. You can attain this power by gaining favor and being a source of information for the people you connect with.

"If I have a connection with someone that 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 ... Diane's natural ability to forge such connections with individuals and assemble them into coalitions gives her strong connection power."

Referent Power

This is the most important and real power that leaders should adopt, because it's all about the quality of the relationship developed with others and how those relationships are built.

"This power depends on personal traits and values, such as honesty, integrity and trustworthiness. People with high referent power can highly influence anyone who admires and respects them."

In short, when people perceive you in a power position, they are relying on you and there's a lot you can achieve through influence.

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