Sunday, May 2, 2010

Leadership: The Power of Influence

Leadership is about power.  A leader needs to lead and is only a leader with followers.  Getting people to follow you in a direction they are going anyway is not leading.  The challenge is to get people to follow in a direction they might not otherwise go.  Leaders must have a sense of direction, often referred to as vision.  They must share this vision and get others to buy into it and actively help achieve it.  If they can do this we call that power.

French and Raven, who authored "The Bases for Social Power" in 1959, are commonly cited in management texts for defining a model for how to influence people.  Here are the five significant categories of power:

Legitimate – The power of an individual because of the relative position and duties of the holder of the position within an organization. Legitimate power is formal authority delegated to the holder of the position.

Coercive – Power from the application of negative influences. It includes the ability to demote or to withhold other rewards. The desire for valued rewards or the fear of having them withheld that ensures the obedience of those under power. Coercive power tends to be the most obvious but least effective form of power as it builds resentment and resistance from the people who experience it.

Reward – The power to control some type of reward and offer it contingent upon being followed.   This could be a tangible reward like money or an intangible reward like praise. This power is obvious but also ineffective if abused. People who abuse reward power can become pushy or became reprimanded for being too forthcoming or 'moving things too quickly'.

Charismatic – When you have charisma, people simply want to follow you.  There is some sort of animal magnetism that exudes a force that moves people to do as you request.  A person may be admired because of specific personal trait, and this admiration creates the opportunity for interpersonal influence.

Expert – An individual's power deriving from the skills or expertise of the person and the organization's needs for those skills and expertise. Unlike the others, this type of power is usually highly specific and limited to the particular area in which the expert is trained and qualified.

As can be seen each of the powers is created by the followers belief, if the follower does not hold the requisite belief than then the leader is not able to influence them.

      - Legitimate power needs follower to believe leader has right to instruct them.
      - Coercive power needs follower to believe leader will punish them.
      - Reward power needs follower to believe leader will reward them.
      - Charismatic power needs follower to believe leader has desirable qualities.
      - Expert power needs follower to believe leader is an expert.

Whether the follower's beliefs are correct is irrelevant, the beliefs alone will determine the type of power, a leader has over the follower.

A good leader is apt to use all of these sources of power at one time or another.  I once heard a leader's use of influence is like singing.  If one only belts out one note there's no song. But if you have many notes, the song sounds like real music.

Leaders know how to lead, and leading means using power effectively.  Effective leaders learn over time how and when to use all of these sources of power.

What sources of power do you use?  Which sources do you find the most effective?


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