The Five Bases Of Interpersonal Power and How They Work In Organizations
Leadership is the process by which a person exerts influence over other people and instigates, motivates and guides a group towards the organizational goals. The person who wields such influence is called the leader. Every organization needs leaders and managers to direct the groups towards the attainment of goals. When leaders are effective, the influence they exert over others help a group or organization achieve its performance goals But when the leaders are ineffective, their influence does not contribute to, and often detracts from goal attainment. This takes us towards the aspect of power. In this paper the five basic elements of interpersonal power will be enlightened. Also, the way these elements are incorporated within an organization will also be examined side by side.
Leaders in today’s globally expanding work environments need help and assistance from subordinates as well as peers and external groups in carrying out the tasks and achieving the organizational goals. in this respect, they need to be influential and must possess a persona that can illicit good performance from all the stakeholders within the organization.
There are a number of leadership styles, theories and concepts that relate to the characteristics of an effective leader but no matter what one’s leadership style is, a key component of effective leadership is found in the power that the leader has to affect other people’s behavior and get them to act in certain ways. Therefore, power can be defined as the control that a person has over his/her environment and behavior of others. Power is an important aspect when it comes to leaders or managers. (Jones, George, 2001)
A schema of Five categories of power were developed by social psychologists, French and Raven which described the five basic types of power that the leaders or power holders rely upon. Effective leaders take steps to ensure that they have some of each type and that they use the power that they have in beneficial ways. The different kinds of power that a leader withholds include, legitimate, reward, coercive, expert and referent. These are stated in detailed below.
First, legitimate power, which is also known as position power is the authority that the manager has by virtue of his or her position and duties in an organizations hierarchy. A leader’s personal leadership style also influences how the legitimate power would be used. Legitimate power should not be used in a negative manner i.e. the position that a leader has in the organization should not be misused in order to exert unconstructive influence over others. Legitimate power is considered the most apparent and the most important type of power.
Reward power is the ability of the leader to give or withhold tangible rewards such as pay rises, bonuses and intangible assets such as verbal praise or respect. It is a well known fact in the organizational science, motivation to perform at a high level is gained mainly by variety of rewards. Being able to give or withhold rewards based on performance is a major source of power that allows a manager to have a highly motivated workforce. An example that can be related to this is the fact that in retail organizations, car dealership or travel agencies, reward power can be applied to motivate the subordinates as the subordinates in these kind of organizations often receive commission on whatever they sell plus the rewards for the quality for their customer service, which motivates them to perform at their best. Effective managers or leader in organization use the reward power in such a way that their subordinates feel that their rewards signal that they are doing a good job and their efforts are appreciated. On the contrary, ineffective managers use their reward power in a rather controlling manner that indicates to subordinates that the manager has the upper hand. Reward power can also be increased by managers. However, too much use of the reward power may result to its abuse and thus may become ineffective. (Jones, George, 2001)
Another form of power that a manager has access to is Coercive power. Coercion is basically the act of intimidating or pressurizing a person by force or authority to behave in a certain way. Coercive power is therefore the ability of a manager to punish others. This punishment can range from verbal reprimands, to reductions in pay or working hours, to actual dismissal. Punishments have negative side effects over subordinates or rather any individual. In a work place, punishment can lead to effects such as resentment and retaliation by the workers and hence should be used only when necessary. Managers who tend to use coercive power more often tend to be ineffective as leaders and may be at risk of their position in the firm. Excessive use of the coercive power hardly ever produces high performance and is often considered unethical in many organizational conventions. Sometimes it leads in mental pressure and stress for the employees. It is argued that better results can be gained by the use of reward power as opposed to coercive power as it is more pleasant and respectful to follow the positive approach of motivation and leadership rather than the negative, pessimistic and distrustful approach. Thus, coercive power may seem to be obvious but it is the most ineffective out of the types of power that a leader possesses. A real life example of the abuse of coercive power can be illustrated by the unpleasant incident that was faced by the CEO of a factory equipment manufacturing company, Giddings and Lewis Inc, William J. Fife who was fired from his position due to his heavy reliance on coercive power. Fife often verbally criticized and embarrases other managers in meeting and this use of punishment by Fife made the managers complain to the board of directors who, after a careful consideration of the issue, asked Fife to resign. (Munro, 2007)
The base of interpersonal power in an organization is the expert power. Expert power is based on the special knowledge, skills and expertise that a leader possesses. This type of power may be limited to the particular area in which the expert has training and proficiency. The nature of the expert power varies, depending on the leader’s level in the hierarchy of the organization. First-level and middle level managers often have technical expertise relevant to the tasks that their subordinates perform. Their expert power gives them considerable influence over their subordinates. Some managers derive expert power from their technical expertise. For example, Andrew Grove, CEO of Intel, has a PhD in chemical engineering and is very knowledgeable about his business. Likewise, Bill Gates, the chairman of Microsoft, has expertise in software design. Nevertheless, there are managers who lack technical expertise but they compensate this by their abilities as good decision makers and strategists. Effective leaders make sure that they have the adequate amount of expert power they need to perform their roles in the organization. They need to stay up to date with the latest development and changes in technology, the organization as well as the general environment. For this purpose, they may require training and education from time to time. (Ivancevich, et al., 2005)
Referent power is considered the most informal kinds of power. Referent power is derived from the personal characteristics of the leader. It is the power that is resultant from others respect, admiration and loyalty. It is based on the interpersonal interaction between the leaders and subordinates. Leaders who are likable and possesses qualities that seem pleasant to others are more likely to be followed and obeyed they seem to have referent power. Referent power is the most easy to adopt and can make any manager an effective leader. Referent power can motivate employees a warm and caring approach which make them feel important and often get them to do things that are beyond their call of duty. It is easy for managers to take steps in increasing their referent power through adapting a friendly attitude and getting to know the subordinates and showing interest and concern for them.
The first three types of power namely, legitimate, reward and coercive power base are considered as formal power as they are associated with the hierarchy and the position of the leader in the organization. While other kinds of power which are expert power and referent power are informal as they are reciprocal with each other.
All five of the bases of interpersonal power are interrelated with each other. The interrelations should be clear to the leaders so that they can make best use of these powers in extracting the best performance from their subordinates. Its is also important for the power users to understand the extent to which each kind of power must be use as it is necessary to maintain a balance, use these tool in the most appropriate situations and never abuse or exploit the power the authority.
As the markets are expanding and globalization is taking place, the environment of organizations is becoming more complex and complicated. Achieving organizational effectiveness requires a lot of struggle, hard work and confrontation. Leaders are responsible for driving a group towards the attainment of goals, hence, they have the authority to influence, motivate, inspire and encourage the subordinates in working at their best.
Successful leadership depends upon how effectively the leader acquires and exercises Power. Power is not enough, the leaders must be aware of the most suitable manner of using power in gaining maximum productivity with a positive influence which benefit the organization in the long run. (Michelson, n.d)
In conclusion, it is important to understand that leaders are faced with complications of coping with a highly diverse working environment with people from all kinds of background and perceptions. And in order to manage and flourish in these conditions it is vital that they develop effective power bases. However, ineffective use of power leads in less productivity and inefficiency.
Ivancevich , J.M, J.L Gibson, J Donelly, J.H Donelly & R Konopaske (2005). Organizations: behavior, structures, processes. McGraw-Hill.
Jones, G.R, & George, J.M (2007). Contemporary management. McGraw-Hill companies.
Michelson (n.d), B.J Leadership and power base development. Retrieved September 29, 2008, Web site: http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/au-24/michelson.pdf
Munro, J.H (2007). Organizational leadership. McGraw-hill
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