Tuesday, June 5, 2012

French and Raven's Five Sources of Power - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly


Five Sources of Power - French and Raven


We all have power to some degree and exert that power in everyday life. John R. P. French and Bertram Raven in 1959 developed an organisational study on power, and came up with five forms of power. Others have suggested adaptations of these leadership teachings, but French and Raven offer the foundational understanding of power. These cover the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to power and influence. Maybe you know some people who exhibit some of these.

The five sources of power are legitimate power, coercive power, reward power, expert power and referent power. Let me explain briefly these five forms of power.

(Also have a look at the TOP 100 Leadership Tips here.)

Legitimate Power (Positional Power)

Legitimate power is the power that comes out of the position that is held. Some examples are CEOs, parents, politicians, fire chiefs, etc. The mere fact that you have that position allows you to have positional power.

John C. Maxwell says that leaders who operate solely out of their position are really on the lowest level of leadership and will only empower people so much. Legitimate power is like the first level of leadership; leading from your position. It is a form of power, where people follow because of 'the position' and not because you have inspired them, or because of your expertise. The power that exists within legitimate power derives itself primarily from the position someone holds.

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Coercive Power

Coercive power is the most destructive use of power, that has short term advantages but will create terrible problems in the long term. Coercive power is what it infers - using coercion to get the results that are sought. This form of power might look like a demanding boss, who says, 'I want that on my desk by Friday, and no arguments... remember who's boss?' When we consider examples of coercive power, we might conjure up pictures of family abuse, autocratic business leaders, or political dictators.

I have seen first hand the effects of coercive power. Whether it be micromanagement that disempowers an employee, or strong words from the boss wanting an employee to fulfil a particular task.

The effects of this kind of negative coercive power from an employer to an employee are:
  • Employees will end up disliking their job
  • Employees will themselves become negative
  • Employees end up gossiping and 'debriefing' all too often
  • Employees spend much of their time seeking mentors and support
  • Employees look for another job
  • Employers gain short term outcomes from coercive power
  • Employers lose the loyalty and respect of employees
  • Coercive, forthright leadership is possibly satisfying for the employer
  • The employer feels in control when using 'coercive' power tactics
  • The employer has a low opinion of the quality and potential of the employee
Let's look at the next form of power that Raven and French mention.

Reward Power

Reward power is power that bases itself on the gifts and bonuses that one gives another. When a boss offers a pay rise to an employee, there is a sense that the boss has power in this relationship, albeit a positive one for the employee. The boss is using reward power in this instance. A parent knows too well the short term advantages of reward power, especially when attempting to discipline and guide children. If you are a parent, you no doubt would have tried saying, 'If you finish your dinner, I'll give you some icecream' (Reward = icecream!). Maybe you've said, 'If you put away those toys, we'll go down the park for awhile...' (Reward = playtime!).

Reward power at first glance is a positive form of power, though it is limited. If our ability to influence someone and the power that is exerted within this relationship is based soley on rewarding them, then we have limited leadership capacity. What do you do for an employee down the track when they already have a pay rise, employee of the month, and free tickets to the cinemas? Reward power is limited, and can at times be used to manipulate; although rewards and benefits when used occassionally can and do work well.

Expert Power

When you are knowledgeable and skilled in a particular area, generally you have power or leadership influence within that particular subject. Have a quick glance at the power and influence these people have and their particular fields of expertise:

The list goes on. The point is this - When you are knowledgeable in a particular area. When you are gifted in a particular subject, you have power based on the expertise you have. 

Let me explain. Recently we have had ambitions to begin a Community Garden at our Salvation Army premises. Recently the local Council organised a photo shoot with myself, the Council, other Non-for-profit groups and a Gardening Celebrity from Television. When this guy got out from the car, you could sense the power. I'm trying to sound weird here, but you know what I mean, you could sense the influence this man had. It was in the air! Now, this man had influence and 'power' in the relationships with others, because of his expertise in gardening. He had implemented lots of gardening ventures around Australia, funded many projects and has project managed many horticultural events and projects. His influence came from expert power.

(Check out the TOP 100 Leadership Tips here).

Referent Power

Referent power could better be named Charismatic Power. It is the power/influence that someone has because of their charisma, their bubbly personality, their appeal and their likeability. Maybe you are thinking about someone right now, who fits this bill. Maybe it's you? Referent power can be abused very easily, and this is a danger. People can rise to popularity, rise up the ranks in an organisation, expand their influence, etc, because of their charismatic ability to have people follow them. This referent power as such, says nothing about the persons character, integrity, life choices as such, and thus CAN be (but not necessarily), a superficial kind of power.

I know of friends who have charisma. I probably have it to a degree too. Though, if I rely solely on power that derives itself from charisma, I set myself up for issues with humility, and abuse of that power.

Use referent power carefully.


Godly Power

John R. P. French and Bertram Raven in 1959 did not offer Godly power as a source of power. This is my inclusion. Could I rename this, the six source of power, instead of five?

It is true to say, that you can be influential in life, make a great difference to society, transform organisational workplaces and the like, and not have Godly power. Though, if you are a follower of Jesus, you understand that Godly power is the most important. Acts 1:8 in the Bible says, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you... to be an effective witness to the truth.

Any desire to have an eternal impact on your community, with a message that transcends human structures and capacities, then you need Godly power. Godly power, given to you in Christ, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, ensures that you are not leaning on your own power for influence.

With Godly power, the tables are turned. Coercive power is out the window. Positional power comes from the positions in which God ordains. Referent power is used only as a way to point to God and expert power is used humbly before God, that always directs people beyond yourself to the Creator. Reward power is used only as God intends for you to be a blessing to others, not in a self-gratifying way, that means you reward others because YOU want to be influential and significant.

There you are. That's the five sources of power from French and Raven, including my addition of a sixth power, that of, Godly power.

Let me conclude this leadership synopsis with some words from Romans 12:2 - Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.
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Join the discussion at Disciples in Training on Facebook.

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