Types Of Power

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Types Of Power


The concept of power appears to be a crucial one in terms of the phenomenon of management in the current course of time. It is significantly influential and predetermining in terms of influence and authority positioning within the course of management.

There are several types of power according to the modern classification: reward power, expert power, coercive power, referent power, legitimate power and informational power. Actually, every type of the concept of power is regarded as the embodiment of certain aspect of the discussed phenomenon. Hence, it is quite difficult to identify the higher level of significance as far as every scope of managerial activity requires certain peculiarities to be taken into consideration. Therefore, every type of power is regarded as efficient and significant within the relevant scope of actual implementation and provided proper and constructive approach to the course of implementation. The currently presented paper dwells on the peculiarities and overall essence of each type of the concept of power if some are important than other.

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Defining Power

The identification and definition of the concept of power is a crucial point in terms of proper and relevant comprehension of the phenomenon. It is necessary to underline that the concept of power is a multidimensional and miscellaneous one. Therefore, there is no unified definition of the phenomenon, but the range of the correspondent and mutually complementary ones.

Hence, it is relevant to define the concept of power in the management scope. Power is often regarded as a synonym to the notion of influence. “As for authority, this is variously defined as the formally constituted power of position, legitimate power in general, power which is inferred as legitimate, since commands are obeyed, or power legitimated by pursuit of collective goals.” (Hales 1993). Pfeffer (1981) underlines that

The very pervasiveness of the concept of power … is itself a cause for concern about the utility of the concept in assisting us to understand behavior in organization… Most definitions of power include an element indicating that power is a capability of one social actor to overcome resistance in achieving a desired objective or result.

Furthermore, it is relevant to dwell on the definition of the concept of power provided by Buchanan and Badham (1999) who define the concept as the ability “to produce the intended effects in line with one perceived interest, to overcome resistance on the part of other social actors.”

Sources of Power

It is relevant to discuss the approach and theories in terms of discussion concerning the concept of power, its types and their peculiarities the stance provided by French and Raven (1959). The authors present the theories on power styles so significant, grounded and perspective that they have become quite widely use in the recent course of time by the effective leaders in the scope of management targeted to influence followers and achieved certain outcomes. Hence, French and Raven (1959) grouped sources of power as a factor of primary significance into 5 categories which tend to be basically classified into organization and personal power. The scope of organizational power comprises such power styles as reward, coercive and legitimate power, whereas the scope of personal power types includes expert and referent power. Every particular style is used by a leader in order to provide the necessary influence upon the followers incorporated in order to reach certain ramifications and desired results of the activity course. Though, in case power style is implemented in practice with the aim to achieve a significant level of productivity as well as increase employee morale, there appears to be overall satisfaction. Moreover, the concept of power is used in a positive manner. Though, the purpose to coerce people by means of incorporation of the certain power style presupposes the potentially negative outcomes as well as scarcely sustainable results of the activity in the long run. One more closely related notion appears to be discussed. It is the notion of empowerment according to which the concept of power is used to equip and mobilize the corporate employees.

It is also significant to analyze and dwell upon the classification provided by Handy, the British management theorist. He presents the typology that distinguishes between the resources and the potential methods of influence. Hence, the typology comprises such types of power as physical, resource, position and personal power, whereas the classification of the methods of impact involves 6 types: force, magnetism, ecology, rules and procedures, persuasion and exchange methods. They tend to correlate with the types of power significantly. Hence, Handy provides the following correlational pairs typology:

Physical – Force

Resource – Exchange

Position – Rules and procedures

Personal power – Magnetism or persuasion

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Furthermore, it is relevant to upon the conceptualization of power presented by Hales (1993). The author dwells on the concept of power as well as on the different levels of its interpretation and criticism which provides an objective and grounded picture for the relevant concept comprehension. Hales (1993) provides 5 key criticism points in terms of the classification of the power styles.

The first essential concern is the aspect of the reasons which eventually lead to conformity. It accounts for the reasons of responses from individuals to attempts to impact them… the second significant concern is the aspect of confusion in terms of conformity for extrinsic reasons and conformity for intrinsic reasons. It means the confusion of inner essence of the power and the outer ramifications which are potential in terms of certain power type.

Furthermore, Hales (1993) underlines the fact that the notions of punishment and reward (as central in terms of power impact and management process) should not be regarded as separate tools, but should be incorporated on the equal terms in order to provide higher level of efficiency of the power impact. The synergy is much more effective in the currently described terms.

The fourth criticism comprises the notion of legitimacy. This issue should be regarded as a particular dimension of all the styles of power presented in the classification, but not as a separate and distinct type. Furthermore, the last point of criticism concerns the actualization of the issue of power sources presented by French and Raven (1959). As a direct response to the aforementioned stance, Hales (1993) provides another classification of the types of power resources and distinguishes clearly between economic, knowledge, normative and physical power resources. This classification significantly contributes to the overall comprehension of the phenomenon of power in the context of management and organization.

Power Styles

Reward power

The choice of reward power style is preferred in case the leader tends to motivate and ‘highlight’ the followers and their achievements on the current stage of development. The reward notion may be released by different means provided there has been a promise to obey properly and timely the leader’s requests and directions. The reward type of power is actualized in the form of small incentives, awarding positioning or certain explicit promises made by the leader. Hence, there is direct connection within the system of actual performance and consequent reward. The most popular and efficient types of the reward according to this system comprise increase of salary or bonuses, extrinsic benefits, and promotions (Kerr& Slocum2005). Hence, the constructive alignment of the actual performance and the subsequent benefit is considered to be the core of reward power style.

Expert power

The type of expert power presupposes that the leader tends to administer the power by means of implementation of evidence, expertise and skills. The diversity of tools incorporated by the expert power type includes knowledge base as well as evidence based persuasion. Furthermore, proposals and innovative approach should also be taken into consideration. Moreover, it is essential to underline that the allocation of authority within the scope of power phenomenon appears to be based upon successful as well as perspective completion of the currently assigned tasks, incorporation in the course of professional activity certain specific skills which should be properly and constructively aligned with the relevant expert competencies (Barnett & Duvall 2005). The core of the efficiency of this style of comprises the skill base positioned as a valuable asset in terms of creation of the internal unity within the staff environment. Otherwise, such an approach may subsequently lead to forcefully provided acceptance of the notions or the policy of actual compliance that apparently lacks any motivation and may result in disunity within organizational goals (Bass 1985).

Coercive power

The coercive power style, according to French and Raven (1959), comprises such key constituent elements as punishment or the withdrawal of benefits which are implemented in practice in case of certain non-conformity. The penalties and losses within the professional scope tend to vary in different companies, but generally they tend to be actualized in the form of withdrawal of newly gained position or status within the corporation, demotion or withdrawal of certain range of actual as well as potential benefits or incentives. The strong side of coercive power style tends to depend upon the perception of the employees on the power of the leader to wield this type of power. Furthermore, in case of excessive use of coercive power style in practice it may subsequently lead to low morale and dissatisfaction of the corporate staff.

Referent power

The success and efficiency of the referent power style is considered to be as follows: the major power wielder (i.e. leader) is expected to be perceived in a positive light by the corporate employees in terms of peculiar and significant characteristic features. Such an attitude of the staff tends to boost the intrinsic motivation and serves as one of the most vivid, persuasive and efficient samples to follow. The aforementioned power style is implemented either in order to improve the workplace environment in general, or to boost self-esteem and overall efficiency of the corporate performance and corporate staff.

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Legitimate power

According to Hellreigel, Slocum and Woodman (1982), this kind of power is considered to occupy a crucial place within the framework of leadership as far as the peculiar zone of responsibility attributed to the wielder of the power defines the scope of power. The scope of indifference is the zone within which the followers of the leader are ready to willingly follow the direction outlined by the leader, whereas outside this area the wielding of the legitimate power style tends to diminish significantly. Furthermore, the legitimate power style is quite different from the referent power style as far as it does not presuppose the performance of leader’s requests as a result of strong intrinsic motivation, whereas the performance is predetermined by sheer contractual obligations.

Informational Power

According to Hales (1993), the informational power style has been introduced by Raven (1965). Actually, the informational power style presupposes the following scenario: “the individual conforms in order to receive the desired information.” Hence, the major emphasis is put upon the knowledge as a source of power in the case of the informational power style.

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Are some more important than others?

The classification of the power styles as well as actual sources of power demonstrates the diversity of actualization of power the leaders tend to experience. Actually, effective leaders do not restrict their activity to single power style. It is apparent that there are different employees as well as different situations and cases in the course of corporate performance. Therefore, the successful and pro-active managers in the current course of time tend to incorporate a mix of power styles in the process of professional activity in order to achieve desired outcomes.  Such an approach tends to create an efficient, constructive and dynamic organization atmosphere within the corporate staff community and appears to be flexible and more convenient for the leader.

Furthermore, it is relevant to underline that successful leaders tend to use several types of power simultaneously properly and timely mixed for a certain situation. The dynamics of the overall atmosphere that has been consequently created appears to be highly effective and significantly constructive.


Thus, the concept of power is a multidimensional, controversial and very perspective phenomenon in terms of management and leadership performance provided proper, timely and professional implementation in the practice. The diversity of power styles and sources of power presents the variety of excellent opportunities of impact and target achievement. There are 6 key power styles identified in the paper: reward power, expert power, coercive power, referent power, legitimate power and informational power. Every power style tends to incorporate certain source of power in order to provide a desired impact upon the employees  with the primary target to achieve the previously set goal. Furthermore, the efficiency and constructiveness of leadership and impact upon the followers is gained by means of mixing several power styles, i.e. by individual approach to the solution of particular situations.

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