There are generally 6 ways to classify the power that an individual exercises. This short article is a quick introduction.
- Coercive power
- Rewarding power
- Legitimate power
- Referent power
- Expert power
- Informational power
Coercive power is that which is employed by despots and dictators and is rooted in fear and punishment. It is ephemeral and can only last a short while.
The power of reward though not coercive is also temporary since humans cannot be kept motivated by dangling treats in front of them.
Legitimate power comes with an official designation and a title. You don’t really respect the individual but defer to the title and the potential influence on your situation that can be exerted by a person wearing that title. Once again legitimate power is not something that is permanent.
Referent power moves into the realm of charismatic leadership. You follow someone because you want to. An individual with referent power does not ask for your respect but earns it by the sheer force of their personality. An influencer who uses referent power could make you feel good by sharing the same values and philosophies and empathizing with you.
Expert power comes from being an expert in your chosen area. Everyone defers to you because you are the ultimate authority when it comes to questions in your area of expertise. This doesn’t necessarily make you a good leader only that you have gained some respect in a niche area. People listen to you because they know you are correct and you know what you are talking about.
Informational power is the result of having access to information. Someone with information need not necessarily be at the highest rung of leadership but is respected and possibly feared due to the amount of information they control or have access to. Such an individual could then choose to share or hide the information.
A good leader combines all these elements into a perfect mixture suited to the environment they are operating in. Each type of power could be used in varying degrees by all good leaders however coercive leadership should be used rarely.