Leading Self

Module 1 Assignment 1

This exerpt is taken from the OpenStax textbook ‘Organizational Behaviour’ and is available for free download at http://cnx.org/content/col29124/1.5

Leadership as an Exercise of Influence

As we have noted, leadership is the exercise of influence over those who depend on one another for attaining a mutual goal in a group setting. But how do leaders effectively exercise this influence? Social or (interpersonal) influence is one’s ability to effect a change in the motivation, attitudes, and/or behaviors of others. Power, then, essentially answers the “how” question: How do leaders influence their followers? The answer often is that a leader’s social influence is the source of his power.

French and Raven provide us with a useful typology that identifies the sources and types of power that may be at the disposal of leaders:

  • Reward power—the power a person has because people believe that he can bestow rewards or outcomes, such as money or recognition that others desire
  • Coercive power—the power a person has because people believe that he can punish them by inflicting pain or by withholding or taking away something that they value
  • Referent power—the power a person has because others want to associate with or be accepted by him
  • Expert power—the power a person has because others believe that he has and is willing to share expert knowledge that they need (The concept of resource power extends the idea of expert power to include the power that a person has because others believe that he possesses and is willing to share resources, such as information, time, or materials that are needed.)
  • Legitimate power—the power a person has because others believe that he possesses the “right” to influence them and that they ought to obey. This right can originate in tradition; in the charisma or appeal of the person; and in laws, institutional roles within society, moralistic appeal, and rationality (that is, logical arguments, factual evidence, reason, and internally consistent positions).

Not all forms of power are equally effective nor is a leader’s total power base the simple sum of the powers at his disposal. Different types of power elicit different forms of compliance: Leaders who rely on coercive power often alienate followers who resist their influence attempts. Leaders who rely on reward power develop followers who are very measured in their responses to [what?]; the use of rewards often leads people to think in terms of “How much am I getting?” or “How much should I give?” or “Am I breaking even?” The use of referent power produces identification with the leader and his cause. The use of rationality, expert power, and/or moralistic appeal generally elicits commitment and the internalization of the leader’s goals.

Leaders who use referent and expert power commonly experience a favorable response in terms of follower satisfaction and performance. Research suggests that rationality is the most effective influence tactic in terms of its impact on follower commitment, motivation, performance, satisfaction, and group effectiveness.

Reward and legitimate power (that is, relying on one’s position to influence others) produce inconsistent results. Sometimes these powers lead to follower performance and satisfaction, yet they also sometimes fail. Coercive power can result in favorable performance, yet follower and resistance dissatisfaction are not uncommon.

Good leaders, whether formal or informal, develop many sources of power. Leaders who rely solely on their legitimate power and authority seldom generate the influence necessary to help their organization and its members succeed. In the process of building their power base, effective leaders have discovered that the use of coercive power tends to dilute the effectiveness of other powers, while the development and use of referent power tends to magnify the effectiveness of other forms of power. A compliment or reward from a person we like generally has greater value than one from someone we dislike, and punishment from someone we love (such as “tough love” from a parent) is less offensive than the pain inflicted by someone we dislike.

In sum, one key to effective leadership, especially as it pertains to the exercise of social and interpersonal influence, relates to the type of power employed by the leader. Overall leader effectiveness will be higher when people follow because they want to follow. This is much more likely to happen when the leader’s influence flows out of intrinsic such as rationality, expertise, moralistic appeal, and/or referent power.

Key Takeaways

Leadership is also about having a vision and communicating that vision to others in such a way that it provides meaning for the follower. Language, ritual, drama, myths, symbolic constructions, and stories are some of the tools leaders use to capture the attention of their “followers to be” to evoke emotion and to manage the meaning “of the task (challenges) facing the group.” These tools help the leader influence the attitudes, motivation, and behavior of their followers.


  • After reading this chapter, describe how you might have seen others in the organization act out the 5 types of power suggested from French and Raven.
  • Which source comes naturally for you in your leadership experiences? Why?
  • Which source would seem the hardest to employ for you? Why?





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Entrepreneurial Leadership for the Trades Copyright © by Chad Flinn and Tim Carson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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