Power and Influence

By Hughes, R.L., Ginnett, R.C., Curphy, G.J.

Edited by Paul Ducham


Where does a leader’s power come from? Do leaders have it, or do followers give it to them? As we will see, the answer may be both . . . and more.

     Something as seemingly trivial as the arrangement of furniture in an office can affect perceptions of another person’s power. One vivid example comes from John Ehrlichman’s book Witness to Power. Ehrlichman described his first visit to J. Edgar Hoover’s office at the Department of Justice. The legendary director of the FBI had long been one of the most powerful men in Washington, DC, and as Ehrlichman’s impressions reveal, Hoover used every opportunity to reinforce that image. Ehrlichman was first led through double doors into a room replete with plaques, citations, trophies, medals, and certificates jamming every wall. He was then led through a second similarly decorated room into a third trophy room, and finally to a large but bare desk backed by several flags and still no J. Edgar Hoover. The guide opened a door behind the desk, and Ehrlichman went into a smaller office, which Hoover dominated from an impressive chair and desk that stood on a dais about six inches high. Erhlichman was instructed to take a seat on a lower couch, and Hoover peered down on Ehrlichman from his own loftier and intimidating place.

   On a more mundane level, many people have experienced a time when they were called in to talk to a boss and left standing while the boss sat behind the desk. Probably few people in that situation misunderstand the power message there. In addition to the factors just described, other aspects of office arrangements also can affect a leader’s or follower’s power. One factor is the shape of the table used for meetings. Individuals sitting at the ends of rectangular tables often wield more power, whereas circular tables facilitate communication and minimize status differentials. However, specific seating arrangements even at circular tables can affect participants’ interactions; often individuals belonging to the same cliques and coalitions will sit next to each other. By sitting next to each other, members of the same coalition may exert more power as a collective group than they would sitting apart from each other. Also, having a private or more open office may not only reflect but also affect power differentials between people. Individuals with private offices can dictate to a greater degree when they want to interact with others by opening or closing their doors or by giving instructions about interruptions. Individuals with more open offices have much less power to control access to them. By being aware of dynamics like these, leaders can somewhat influence others’ perceptions of their power relationship.

   Prominently displaying symbols like diplomas, awards, and titles also can increase one’s power. This was shown in an experiment in a college setting where a guest Lecture to several different classes was introduced in a different way to each. To one group he was introduced as a student; to other groups he was introduced as a lecturer, senior lecturer, or professor, respectively. After the presentation, when he was no longer in the room, the class estimated his height. Interestingly, the same man was perceived by different groups as increasingly taller with each increase in academic status. The “professor” was remembered as being several inches taller than the “student.”

     This finding demonstrates the generalized impact a seemingly minor matter like one’s title can have on others. Another study points out more dramatically how dangerous it can be when followers are overly responsive to the appearances of title and authority. This study took place in a medical setting and arose from concern among medical staff that nurses were responding mechanically to doctors’ orders. A researcher made telephone calls to nurses’ stations in numerous different medical wards. In each, he identified himself as a hospital physician and directed the nurse answering the phone to administer a particular medication to a patient in that ward. Many nurses complied with the request despite the fact it was against hospital policy to transmit prescriptions by phone. Many did so despite never even having talked to the particular “physician” before the call—and despite the fact that the prescribed medication was dangerously excessive, not to mention unauthorized. In fact, 95 percent of the nurses complied with the request made by the most easily falsifiable symbol of authority, a bare title. (See also Highlight 4.2.)

     Even choice of clothing can affect one’s power and influence. Uniforms and other specialized clothing have long been associated with authority and status, including their use by the military, police, hospital staffs, clergy, and so on. In one experiment, people walking along a city sidewalk were stopped by someone dressed either in regular clothes or in the uniform of a security guard and told this: “You see that guy over there by the meter? He’s overparked but doesn’t have any change. Give him a dime!” Whereas fewer than half complied when the requestor was dressed in regular clothes, over 90 percent did when he was in uniform.

    This same rationale is given for having personnel in certain occupations (such as airline crew members) wear uniforms. Besides identifying them to others, the uniforms increase the likelihood that in emergency situations their instructions will be followed. Similarly, even the presence of something as trivial as tattoos can affect the amount of power wielded in a group. One of the authors of this text had a friend named Del who was a manager in an international book publishing company. Del was a former merchant marine whose forearms were adorned with tattoos. Del would often take off his suit coat and roll up his sleeves when meetings were not going his way, and he often exerted considerably more influence by merely exposing his tattoos to the rest of the group.

     A final situational factor that can affect one’s potential to influence others is the presence or absence of a crisis. Leaders usually can exert more power during a crisis than during periods of relative calm. Perhaps this is because during a crisis leaders are willing to draw on bases of power they normally forgo. For example, a leader who has developed close interpersonal relationships with followers generally uses her referent power to influence them. During crises or emergency situations, however, leaders may be more apt to draw on their legitimate and coercive bases of power to influence subordinates. That was precisely the finding in a study of bank managers’ actions; the bank managers were more apt to use legitimate and coercive power during crises than during noncrisis situations. This same phenomenon is observable in many dramatizations. In the television series Star Trek, the Next Generation, for example, Captain Picard normally uses his referent and expert power to influence subordinates. During emergencies, however, he will often rely on his legitimate and coercive power. Another factor may be that during crises followers are more willing to accept greater direction, control, and structure from leaders, whatever power base may be involved.

The Milgram Studies


One intriguing way to understand power, influence, and influence tactics is to read a synopsis of Stanley Milgram’s classic work on obedience and to think about how this work relates to the concepts and theories discussed in this chapter. Milgram’s research explored how far people will go when directed by an authority figure to do something that might injure another person. More specifically, Milgram wanted to know what happens when the dictates of authority and the dictates of one’s conscience seem incompatible.

       The participants were men from the communities surrounding Yale University. They were led to believe they were helping in a study concerning the effect of punishment on learning; the study’s legitimacy was enhanced by the study being conducted on the Yale campus. Two subjects at a time participated in the study—one as a teacher and the other as a learner. The roles apparently were assigned randomly. The teacher’s task was to help the learner memorize a set of word pairs by providing electric shocks whenever the learner (who would be in an adjacent room) made a mistake.

      A stern experimenter described procedures and showed participants the equipment for Administering Punishment. This “shock generator” looked ominous, with rows of switches, lights, and warnings labeled in 15-volt increments all the way to 450 volts. Various points along the array were marked with increasingly dire warnings such as extreme intensity and danger: severe. The switch at the highest level of shock was simply marked XXX . Every time the learner made a mistake, the teacher was ordered by the experimenter to administer the next higher level of electric shock.

     In actuality, there was only one true subject in the experiment—the teacher. The learner was really a confederate of the experimenter. The supposed random assignment of participants to teacher and learner conditions had been rigged in advance. The real purpose of the experiment was to assess how much electric shock the teachers would administer to the learners in the face of the latter’s increasingly adamant protestations to stop. This included numerous realistic cries of agony and complaints of a heart condition—all standardized, predetermined, tape-recorded messages delivered via the intercom from the learner’s room to the teacher’s room. If the subject (that is, the teacher) refused to deliver any further shocks, the experimenter prodded him with comments such as “The experiment requires that you go on” and “You have no other choice; you must go on.”

      Before Milgram conducted his experiment, he asked mental health professionals what proportion of the subjects would administer apparently dangerous levels of shock. The consensus was that only a negligible percentage would do so—perhaps 1 or 2 percent of the population. Milgram’s actual results were dramatically inconsistent with what any experts had predicted. Fully 70 percent of the subjects carried through with their orders, albeit sometimes with great personal anguish, and delivered the maximum shock possible—450 volts!


French and Raven identified five sources, or bases, of power by which an individual can potentially influence others. As shown in Figure 4.1, these five sources include one that is primarily a function of the leader; one that is a function of the relationship between leaders and followers; one that is primarily a function of the leader and the situation; one that is primarily a function of the situation; and finally, one that involves aspects of all three elements. Understanding these bases of power can give leadership practitioners greater insight about the predictable effects—positive or negative— of various sorts of influence attempts. Following is a more detailed discussion of French and Raven’s five bases of social power.

Expert Power

Expert power is the power of knowledge. Some people can influence others through their relative expertise in particular areas. A surgeon may wield considerable influence in a hospital because others depend on her knowledge, skill, and judgment, even though she may have no formal authority over them. A mechanic may be influential among his peers because he is widely recognized as the best in the city. A longtime employee may be influential because her corporate memory provides a useful historical perspective to newer personnel. Legislators who are experts in the intricacies of parliamentary procedure, athletes who have played in championship games, and soldiers who have been in combat are valued for the lessons learned and the wisdom they can share with others. Because expert power is a function of the amount of knowledge one possesses relative to the rest of the members of the group, it is possible for followers to have considerably more expert power than leaders in certain situations. For example, new leaders often know less about the jobs and tasks performed in a particular work unit than the followers do, and in this case the followers can potentially wield considerable influence when decisions are made regarding work procedures, new equipment, or the hiring of additional workers. Probably the best advice for leaders in this situation is to ask a lot of questions and perhaps seek additional training to help fill this knowledge gap. So long as different followers have considerably greater amounts of expert power, it will be difficult for a leader to influence the work unit on the basis of expert power alone.

Referent Power

One way to counteract the problems stemming from a lack of expertise is to build strong interpersonal ties with subordinates. Referent power refers to the potential influence one has due to the strength of the relationship between the leader and the followers. When people admire a leader and see her as a role model, we say she has referent power. For example, students may respond positively to advice or requests from teachers who are well liked and respected, while the same students might be unresponsive to less popular teachers. This relative degree of responsiveness is primarily a function of the strength of the relationship between the students and the different teachers. We knew one young lieutenant who had enormous referent power with the military security guards working for him due to his selfless concern for them, evident in such habits as bringing them hot chocolate and homemade cookies on their late-night shifts. The guards, sometimes taken for granted by other superiors, understood and valued the extra effort and sacrifice this young supervisor put forth for them. When Buddy Ryan was fired as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles football team, many of the players expressed fierce loyalty to him. One said, “We’d do things for Buddy that we wouldn’t do for another coach. I’d sell my body for Buddy.”  That is referent power.

Another way to look at referent power is in terms of the role friendships play in making things happen. It is frequently said, for example, that many people get jobs based on whom they know, not what they know. This is true. But we think the best perspective on this issue was offered by David Campbell, who said, “It’s not who you know that counts. It’s what who you know knows about you that counts!” (personal communication).

Referent power often takes time to develop, but it can be lost quickly— just ask Tiger Woods. Furthermore, it can have a downside in that a desire to maintain referent power may limit a leader’s actions in particular situations. For example, a leader who has developed a strong relationship with a follower may be reluctant to discipline the follower for poor work or chronic tardiness because such actions could disrupt the nature of the relationship between the leader and the follower. Thus referent power is a two-way street; the stronger the relationship, the more influence leaders and followers exert over each other. Moreover, just as it is possible for leaders to develop strong relationships with followers and, in turn, acquire more referent power, it is also possible for followers to develop strong relationships with other followers and acquire more referent power. Followers with relatively more referent power than their peers are often the spokespersons for their work units and generally have more latitude to deviate from work unit norms. Followers with little referent power have little opportunity to deviate from group norms. For example, in an episode of the television show The Simpsons, Homer Simpson was fired for wearing a pink shirt to work (everybody else at the Springfield nuclear power plant had always worn white shirts). Homer was fired partly because he “was not popular enough to be different.”

Legitimate Power

Legitimate power depends on a person’s organizational role. It can be thought of as one’s formal or official authority. Some people make things happen because they have the power or authority to do so. The boss assigns projects; the coach decides who plays; the colonel orders compliance with uniform standards; the teacher assigns homework and awards grades. Individuals with legitimate power exert influence through requests or demands deemed appropriate by virtue of their role and position. In other words, legitimate power means a leader has authority because she or he has been assigned a particular role in an organization. Note that the leader has this authority only while occupying that position and operating within the proper bounds of that role.

    Legitimate authority and leadership are not the same thing. Holding a position and being a leader are not synonymous, despite the relatively common practice of calling position holders in bureaucracies the leaders. The head of an organization may be a true leader, but he or she also may not be. Effective leaders often intuitively realize they need more than legitimate power to be successful. Before he became president, Dwight Eisenhower commanded all Allied troops in Europe during World War II. In a meeting with his staff before the Normandy invasion, Eisenhower pulled a string across a table to make a point about leadership. He was demonstrating that just as you can pull a string, not push it, officers must lead soldiers and not push them from the rear.

   It is also possible for followers to use their legitimate power to influence leaders. In these cases, followers can actively resist a leader’s influence attempt by doing only work specifically prescribed in job descriptions, bureaucratic rules, or union policies. For example, many organizations have job descriptions that limit both the time spent at work and the types of tasks and activities performed. Similarly, bureaucratic rules and union policies can be invoked by followers to resist a leader’s influence attempts. Often the leader will need to change the nature of his or her request or find another way to resolve the problem if these rules and policies are invoked by followers. If this is the case, the followers will have successfully used legitimate power to influence their leader.

Reward Power

reward power involves the potential to influence others due to one’s control over desired resources. This can include the power to give raises, bonuses, and promotions; to grant tenure; to select people for special assignments or desirable activities; to distribute desired resources like computers, offices, parking places, or travel money; to intercede positively on another’s behalf; to recognize with awards and praise; and so on. Many corporations use rewards extensively to motivate employees. At McDonald’s, for example, great status is accorded the All-American Hamburger Maker—the cook who makes the fastest, highest-quality hamburgers in the country. At individual fast-food restaurants, managers may reward salespeople who handle the most customers during rush periods. Tupperware holds rallies for its salespeople. Almost everyone wins something, ranging from pins and badges to lucrative prizes for top performers. Schools pick teachers of the year, and professional athletes are rewarded by selection to all-star teams for their superior performance.

    The potential to influence others through the ability to administer rewards is a joint function of the leader, the followers, and the situation. Leaders vary considerably in the types and frequency with which they give rewards, but the position they fill also helps determine the frequency and types of rewards administered. For example, employees of the month at Kentucky Fried Chicken are not given new cars; the managers of these franchises do not have the resources to offer such awards. Similarly, leaders in other organizations are limited to some extent in the types of awards they can administer and the frequency with which they can do so. Nevertheless, leaders can enhance their reward power by spending some time reflecting on the followers and the situation. Often a number of alternative or innovative rewards can be created, and these rewards, along with ample doses of praise, can help a leader overcome the constraints his or her position puts on reward power.

    Although using reward power can be an effective way to change the attitudes and behaviors of others, in several situations it can be problematic. For example, the perception that a company’s monetary bonus policy is handled equitably may be as important in motivating good work (or avoiding morale problems) as the amounts of the bonuses. Moreover, a superior may mistakenly assume that a particular reward is valued when it is not. This would be the case if a particular subordinate were publicly recognized for her good work when she actually disliked public recognition. Leadership practitioners can avoid the latter problem by developing good relationships with subordinates and administering rewards that they, not the leader, value. Another potential problem with reward power is that it may produce compliance but not other desirable outcomes like commitment. In other words, subordinates may perform only at the level necessary to receive a reward and may not be willing to put forth the extra effort needed to make the may also lead to resentment and feelings by workers of being manipulated, especially if it occurs in the context of relatively cold and distant superior–subordinate relationships. Extrinsic rewards like praise, compensation, promotion, privileges, and time off may not have the same effects on behavior as intrinsic rewards such as feelings of accomplishment, personal growth, and development. There is evidence that under some conditions extrinsic rewards can decrease intrinsic motivation toward a task and make the desired behavior less likely to persist when extrinsic rewards are not available. Overemphasis on extrinsic rewards may instill an essentially contractual or economic relationship between superiors and subordinates, diluting important aspects of the relationship like mutual loyalty or shared commitment to higher ideals. These cautions about reward power should not cloud its real usefulness and effectiveness. As noted previously, top organizations make extensive use of both tangible and symbolic rewards in motivating their workers. Furthermore, all leaders can use some of the most important rewards—sincere praise and thanks to others for their loyalty and work. The bottom line is that leaders can enhance their ability to influence others based on reward power if they determine what rewards are available, determine what rewards are valued by their subordinates, and establish clear policies for the equitable and consistent administration of rewards for good performance.

  Finally, because reward power is partly determined by one’s position in the organization, some people may believe followers have little, if any, reward power. This may not be the case. If followers control scarce resources, they may use the administration of these resources to get leaders to act as they want. Moreover, followers may reward their leader by putting out a high level of effort when they feel their leader is doing a good job, and they may put forth less effort when they feel their leader is doing a poor job. By modifying their level of effort, followers may in turn modify a leader’s attitudes and behaviors. And when followers compliment their leader (such as for running a constructive meeting), it is no less an example of reward power than when a leader compliments a follower. Thus leadership practitioners should be aware that followers can also use reward power to influence leaders.

Coercive Power

Coercive power, the opposite of reward power, is the potential to influence others through the administration of negative sanctions or the removal of positive events. In other words, it is the ability to control others through the fear of punishment or the loss of valued outcomes. Like reward power, coercive power is partly a function of the leader, but the situation often limits or enhances the coercive actions a leader can take (see Highlight 4.3). Examples of coercive power include police giving tickets for speeding, the army court-martialing AWOL soldiers, a teacher detaining disruptive students after school, employers firing lazy workers, and parents reprimanding children. Even presidents resort to their coercive powers. Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., for example, described Lyndon Johnson as having a “devastating instinct for the weaknesses of others.” Lyndon Johnson was familiar and comfortable with the use of coercion; he once told a White House staff member, “Just you remember this. There’s only two kinds at the White House. There’s elephants and there’s ants. And I’m the only elephant.”

     Coercive power, like reward power, can be used appropriately or inappropriately. It is carried to its extreme in repressive totalitarian societies. One of the most tragic instances of coercive power was the cult led by Jim Jones, which unbelievably self-exterminated in an incident known as the Jonestown massacre. Virtually all of the 912 people who died there drank, at Jones’s direction, from large vats of a flavored drink containing cyanide. The submissiveness and suicidal obedience of Jones’s followers during the massacre were due largely to the long history of rule by fear that Jones had practiced. For example, teenagers caught holding hands were beaten, and adults judged slacking in their work were forced to box for hours in marathon public matches against as many as three or four bigger and stronger opponents. Jim Jones ruled by fear, and his followers became self-destructively compliant.

     Perhaps the preceding example is so extreme that we can dismiss its relevance to our own lives and leadership activities. Yet abuses of power, especially abuses of coercive power, continue to make the news, whether we are seeing reports of U.S. military abuse in Iraq or Taliban abuse in Afghanistan. On the other hand, such examples provide a dramatic reminder that reliance on coercive power has inherent limitations and drawbacks. But this is not to say disciplinary sanctions are never necessary; sometimes they are. Informal coercion, as opposed to the threat of formal punishment, can also change the attitudes and behaviors of others. Informal coercion is usually expressed implicitly, and often nonverbally, rather than explicitly. It may be the pressure employees feel to donate to the boss’s favorite charity, or it may be his or her glare when they bring up an unpopular idea. One of the most common forms of coercion is simply a superior’s temperamental outbursts. The intimidation caused by a leader’s poorly controlled anger is usually, in its long-term effects, a dysfunctional style of behavior for leaders.

     It is also possible for followers to use coercive power to influence their leader’s behavior. For example, a leader may be hesitant to take disciplinary action against a large, emotionally unstable follower. Followers can threaten leaders with physical assaults, industrial sabotage, or work slowdowns and strikes, and these threats can modify a leader’s behavior. Followers are more likely to use coercive power to change their leader’s behavior if they have a relatively high amount of referent power with their fellow co-workers. This may be particularly true for threats of work slowdowns or strikes.

Leadership Lessons from Abu Ghraib


Americans (and indeed people everywhere) were shocked by the pictures and reports emerging from the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad. What the U.S. military police guards did to the Iraqi prisoners was unconscionable. But we must look further up in the leadership hierarchy if we are to make sense of what happened and learn from it so we do not repeat these errors in the future. There are important leadership errors and lessons for us all.

    A short review of the history of leadership might be helpful. If your grandparents happened to study leadership anytime from 1900 until about 1950, they would have read Case Studies of famous leaders. This “great man” theory of leadership hoped to unearth the traits that differentiated great leaders from lesser leaders. For the most part, this quest for the underlying innate leadership abilities stopped in the late 1940s when Ralph Stogdill published his findings that there was no clear set of traits responsible for great leaders.

    From the 1950s to the 1980s, we decided that because leadership could not be comprehended by focusing solely on the leader, we should look at the relationship between the leader and the followers. As you will learn in Part 3 of this book, as the maturity and skills of the followers change, so should the behavior of the leader.

   In the mid-1980s we started to consider the leadership implications of research done about 25 years earlier. We began to acknowledge that even if it were possible to know everything about a leader and everything about her or his followers, another variable powerfully affected leadership and performance: the situation (the focus of Part 4).

    Two troubling studies clearly demonstrated this situational impact. The first, conducted by Stanley Milgram, was described in Highlight 4.2. The lesson learned was that reasonable, normal people, when put in a situation where authority told them to behave in a nefarious manner, for the most part did just that.

    Ten years after Milgram’s research, Phillip Zimbardo at Stanford University recruited students to serve as either “prisoners” or “guards” in a “prison” that was simulated in the basement of a campus building. Neither the guards nor the prisoners were given any instructions about how to behave. The experiment was to have lasted for approximately two weeks but was canceled after only six days because the “guards” were abusing their fellow student “prisoners” both physically and emotionally. It’s not that the student guards were bad people; rather, they were put in a power situation that overcame their own beliefs and values. Fortunately an occasional noble hero rises to stand on higher moral ground. But as leaders, we cannot rely on that. For the masses, the situation is a powerful determinant of behavior. Incidentally, the Stanford Prison Experiment has its own Web site at www.prisonexp.org should you care to learn more about it. .

    Knowing what Milgram and Zimbardo demonstrated, it is at least possible to comprehend how someone like Pfc. Lynndie England, who according to her family would not even shoot a deer, could have become caught up in such barbarism. This is not to excuse her behavior but to help us understand it. And if we should not excuse the behavior of an undertrained soldier, we should be even less willing to excuse the leadership that put her and others in this situation without clear behavioral guidelines. After all, we’ve known about these studies for over 50 years!

   Whether under the direction of authority as in the Milgram study, or under role assignments as in the Zimbardo study, the Abu Ghraib case showed a leadership vacuum that should not be tolerated.

   And what about the business world? Leaders cannot claim they want and expect teamwork and collaboration from their subordinates if they place them in a situation that fosters competition and enmity. Neither can leaders claim that they want creativity from their subordinates if they have created a situation where the slightest deviation from rigid rules brings punishment. And perhaps most importantly, leaders can not expect egalitarian behaviors if people are put in highly differentiated power situations. People in organizations are smart. They are less likely to give you the behaviors you espouse in your speeches and more likely to give you the behavior demanded by the situation in which you place them. The leader’s job is to create the conditions for the team to be successful, and the situation is one of the most important variables.

figure 4.1


Thus far we have been looking at how different Sources of Power can affect others, but that’s only one perspective. Another way of looking at the relationship between power and leadership involves focusing on the individual leader’s personality. We will look most closely at the role personality plays in leadership in an upcoming chapter, but it will be nonetheless useful now to briefly examine how all people (including leaders) vary in their personal motivation to have or wield power.

    People vary in their motivation to influence or control others. McClelland 38 called this the need for power, and individuals with a high need for power derive psychological satisfaction from influencing others. They seek positions where they can influence others, and they are often involved concurrently in influencing people in many different organizations or decision-making bodies. In such activities they readily offer ideas, suggestions, and opinions, and also seek information they can use in influencing others. They are often astute at building trusting relationships and assessing power networks, though they can also be quite outspoken and forceful. They value the tangible signs of their authority and status as well as the more intangible indications of others’ deference to them. Two different ways of expressing the need for power have been identified: personalized power and socialized power. Individuals who have a high need for personalized power are relatively selfish, impulsive, uninhibited, and lacking in self-control. These individuals exercise power for their own needs, not for the good of the group or the organization. Socialized power, on the other hand, implies a more emotionally mature expression of the motive. Socialized power is exercised in the service of higher goals to others or organizations and often involves self-sacrifice toward those ends. It often involves an empowering, rather than an autocratic, style of management and leadership.

    Although the need for power has been measured using questionnaires and more traditional personality inventories, McClelland and his associates have used the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) to assess need for power. The TAT is a projective personality test consisting of pictures such as a woman staring out a window or a boy holding a violin. Subjects are asked to make up a story about each picture, and the stories are then interpreted in terms of the strengths of various needs imputed to the characters, one of which is the need for power. Because the pictures are somewhat ambiguous, the sorts of needs projected onto the characters are presumed to reflect needs (perhaps at an unconscious level) of the storyteller. Stories concerned with influencing or controlling others would receive high scores for the need for power.

    The need for power is positively related to various leadership effectiveness criteria. For example, McClelland and Boyatzis 39 found the need for power to be positively related to success for nontechnical managers at AT&T, and Stahl 40 found that the need for power was positively related to managers’ performance ratings and promotion rates. In addition, Fodor 41 reported that small groups of ROTC students were more likely to successfully solve a subarctic survival situation if their leader had a strong need for power. Although these findings appear promising, several cautions should be kept in mind. First, McClelland and Boyatzis also reported that the need for power was unrelated to the success of technical managers at AT&T. Apparently the level of knowledge (that is, expert power) played a more important role in the success of the technical managers versus that of the nontechnical managers. Second, McClelland 43 concluded that although some need for power was necessary for leadership potential, successful leaders also have the ability to inhibit their manifestation of this need. Leaders who are relatively uninhibited in their need for power will act like dictators; such individuals use power impulsively, to manipulate or control others, or to achieve at another’s expense. Leaders with a high need for power but low activity inhibition may be successful in the short term, but their followers, as well as the remainder of the organization, may pay high costs for this success. Some of these costs may include perceptions by fellow members of the organization that they are untrustworthy, uncooperative, overly competitive, and looking out primarily for themselves. Finally, some followers have a high need for power too. This can lead to tension between leader and follower when a follower with a high need for power is directed to do something.

Individuals vary in their motivation to manage, just as in their need for power. Miner described the motivation to manage in terms of six composites:

• Maintaining good relationships with authority figures.

• Wanting to compete for recognition and advancement.

• Being active and assertive.

• Wanting to exercise influence over subordinates.

• Being visibly different from followers.

• Being willing to do routine administrative tasks.

     Like McClelland, Miner also used a projective test to measure a person’s motivation to manage. Miner’s Sentence Completion Scale (MSCS) consists of a series of incomplete sentences dealing with the six components just described (such as “My relationship with my boss . . . ”). Respondents are asked to complete the sentences, which are scored according to established criteria. The overall composite MSCS score (though not component scores) has consistently been found to predict leadership success in hierarchical or bureaucratic organizations. Thus individuals who maintained respect for authority figures, wanted to be recognized, acted assertively, actively influenced subordinates, maintained “psychological distance” between themselves and their followers, and readily took on routine administrative tasks were more apt to be successful in bureaucratic organizations. However, Miner claimed that different qualities were needed in flatter, nonbureaucratic organizations, and his review of the MSCS  supports this view.

     Findings concerning both the need for power and the motivation to manage have several implications for leadership practitioners. First, not all individuals like being leaders. One reason may be that some have a relatively low need for power or motivation to manage. Because these scores are relatively stable and fairly difficult to change, leaders who do not enjoy their role may want to seek positions where they have fewer supervisory responsibilities.

     Second, a high need for power or motivation to manage does not guarantee leadership success. The situation can play a crucial role in determining whether the need for power or the motivation to manage is related to leadership success. For example, McClelland and Boyatzis 47 found the need for power to be related to leadership success for nontechnical managers only, and Miner  found that motivation to manage was related to leadership success only in hierarchical or bureaucratic organizations.

     Third, to be successful in the long term, leaders may require both a high need for socialized power and a high level of activity inhibition. Leaders who impulsively exercise power merely to satisfy their own selfish needs will probably be ineffective in the long term. Finally, it is important to remember that followers, as well as leaders, differ in the need for power, activity inhibition, and motivation to manage. Certain followers may have stronger needs or motives in this area. Leaders may need to behave differently toward these followers than they might toward followers having a low need for power or motivation to manage.

    Two recent studies offer a fitting conclusion to this section about power and the individual’s motives and a transition to our next topic. Magee and Galinsky  not only have presented a comprehensive review of the nature of power in hierarchical settings but also have noted that the acquisition and application of power induce transformation of individual psychological process, with the result being manifested by actions to further increase power! This is not the first time this phenomenon has been observed (recall Lord Acton’s words about power and corruption). That power actually transforms individual psychological processes as an underlying cause of this phenomenon is fascinating.

    But just having power, by either situation or individual transformation, does not guarantee success. Treadway and colleagues 50 have presented research showing that while past work performance is a source of personal reputation and can increase an individual’s power, this increase does not necessarily translate into influence over others. Many fail to achieve this increased influence due to their lack of political skills for influence, and the application of influence is our next topic.


The IBQ is designed to assess nine types of influence tactics, and its scales give us a convenient overview of various methods of influencing others. Rational persuasion occurs when an agent uses logical arguments or factual evidence to influence others. An example of rational persuasion would be when a politician’s adviser explains how Demographic Changes in the politician’s district make it important for the politician to spend relatively more time in the district seeing constituents than she has in the recent past. Agents make inspirational appeals when they make a request or proposal designed to arouse enthusiasm or emotions in targets. An example here might be a minister’s impassioned plea to members of a congregation about the good works that could be accomplished if a proposed addition to the church were built. Consultation occurs when agents ask targets to participate in planning an activity. An example of consultation would be if a minister established a committee of church members to help plan the layout and use of a new church addition. In this case the consultative work might not only lead to a better building plan but also strengthen member commitment to the idea of a new addition. Ingratiation occurs when an agent attempts to get you in a good mood before making a request. A familiar example here would be a salesperson’s good-natured or flattering banter with you before you make a decision about purchasing a product. Agents use personal appeals when they ask another to do a favor out of friendship. A sentence that opens with, “Bill, we’ve known each other a long time and I’ve never asked anything of you before” represents the beginning of a personal appeal, whereas influencing a target through the exchange of favors is labeled exchange. If two politicians agree to vote for each other’s pet legislation despite minor misgivings about each other’s bills, that is exchange. Coalition tactics differ from consultation in that they are used when agents seek the aid or support of others to influence the target. A dramatic example of coalition tactics occurs when several significant people in an alcoholic’s life (such as spouse, children, employer, or neighbor) agree to confront the alcoholic in unison about the many dimensions of his or her problem. Threats or persistent reminders used to influence targets are known as pressure tactics. A judge who gives a convicted prisoner a suspended sentence but tells him to consider the suspension a “sword hanging over his head” if he breaks the law again is using pressure tactics. Finally, legitimizing tactics occur when agents make requests based on their position or authority. A principal may ask a teacher to be on the school’s curriculum committee, and the teacher may accede to the request despite reservations because it is the principal’s prerogative to appoint any teacher to that role. In practice, of course, actual tactics often combine these approaches. Rarely, for example, is an effective appeal purely inspirational without any rational elements.


As alluded to throughout this chapter, a strong relationship exists between the relative power of agents and targets and the types of influence tactics used. Because leaders with high amounts of referent power have built close relationships with followers, they may be more able to use a wide variety of influence tactics to modify the attitudes and behaviors of their followers. For example, leaders with referent power could use inspirational appeals, consultations, ingratiation, personal appeals, exchanges, and even coalition tactics to increase the amount of time a particular follower spends doing work-related activities. Note, however, that leaders with high referent power generally do not use legitimizing or pressure tactics to influence followers because, by threatening followers, leaders risk some loss of referent power. Leaders who have only coercive or legitimate power may be able to use only coalition, legitimizing, or pressure tactics to influence followers.

    Other factors also can affect the choice of influence tactics. People typically use hard tactics (that is, legitimizing or pressure tactics) when an influencer has the upper hand, when they anticipate resistance, or when the other person’s behavior violates important norms. People typically use soft tactics (such as ingratiation) when they are at a disadvantage, when they expect resistance, or when they will personally benefit if the attempt is successful. People tend to use rational tactics (the exchange and rational appeals) when parties are relatively equal in power, when resistance is not anticipated, and when the benefits are organizational as well as personal. Studies have shown that influence attempts based on factual, logical analyses are the most frequently reported method by which middle managers exert lateral influence 54 and upward influence. Other important components of successful influence of one’s superiors include thoroughly preparing beforehand, involving others for support (coalition tactics), and persisting through a combination of approaches.  

    Findings about who uses different tactics, and when, provide interesting insights into the influence process. It is clear that one’s influence tactic of choice depends on many factors, including intended outcomes and one’s power relative to the target person. Although it may not be surprising that people select influence tactics as a function of their power relationship with another person, it is striking that this relationship holds true so universally across different social domains—for business executives, for parents and children, and for spouses. There is a strong tendency for people to resort to hard tactics whenever they have an advantage in clout if other tactics fail to get results.  As the bank robber Willie Sutton once said, “You can get more with a kind word and a gun than you can get with just a kind word.” This sentiment is apparently familiar to bank managers, too. The latter reported greater satisfaction in handling subordinates’ poor performance when they were relatively more punishing. Highlight 4.4 offers thoughts on how men and women managers sometimes use different influence techniques.

    Although hard tactics can be effective, relying on them can change the way we see others. This was demonstrated in an experiment wherein leaders’ perceptions and evaluations of subordinates were assessed after they exercised different sorts of authority over the subordinates. Several hundred business students acted as managers of small work groups assembling model cars. Some of the students were told to act in an authoritarian manner, exercising complete control over the group’s work; others were told to act as democratic leaders, letting group members participate fully in decisions about the work. As expected, authoritarian leaders used more hard tactics, whereas democratic leaders influenced subordinates more through rational methods. More interesting was the finding that subordinates were evaluated by the two types of leaders in dramatically different ways even though the subordinates of both types did equally good work. Authoritarian leaders judged their subordinates as less motivated, less skilled, and less suited for promotion. Apparently, bosses who use hard tactics to control others’ behavior tend not to attribute any resultant good performance to the subordinates themselves. Ironically, the act of using hard tactics leads to negative attributions about others, which, in turn, tend to corroborate the use of hard tactics in the first place.

     Finally, we should remember that using influence tactics can be thought of as a social skill. Choosing the right tactic may not always be enough to ensure good results; the behavior must be skillfully executed. We are not encouraging deviousness or a manipulative attitude toward others, merely recognizing the obvious fact that clumsy influence attempts often come across as phony and may be counterproductive. See Highlight 4.5 for some interesting ways influence skills are applied in the political arena.

Gender Differences in Managing Upward: How Male and Female Managers Get Their Way


Both male and female managers in a Fortune 100 company were interviewed and completed surveys about how they influence upward—that is, how they influence their own bosses. The results generally supported the idea that female managers’ influence attempts showed greater concern for others, whereas male managers’ influence attempts showed greater concern for self. Female managers were more likely to act with the organization’s broad interests in mind, consider how others felt about the influence attempt, involve others in planning, and focus on both the task and interpersonal aspects of the situation. Male managers, on the other hand, were more likely to act out of self-interest, show less consideration for how others might feel about the influence attempt, work alone in developing their strategy, and focus primarily on the task.

    One of the most surprising findings of the study was that, contrary to prediction, female managers were less likely than male managers to compromise or negotiate during their influence attempts. The female managers were actually more likely to persist in trying to persuade their superiors, even to the point of open opposition. At first this may seem inconsistent with the idea that the female managers’ influence style involved greater concern for their relatedness to others. However, it seems consistent with the higher value placed by the women managers on involvement. Perhaps female managers demonstrate more commitment to their issues, and greater self-confidence that they are doing the “right thing,” precisely because they have already interacted more with others in the organization and know they have others’ support.

    While male and female managers emphasized different influence techniques, it is important to note that neither group overall was more effective than the other. Nonetheless, there may be significant implications of the various techniques for a manager’s career advancement. At increasingly higher management levels in an organization, effectiveness may be defined primarily by its fit with the organization’s own norms and values. Managers whose style most closely matches that of their superior may have an advantage in evaluations and promotion decisions. This may be a significant factor for women, given the highly skewed representation of males in the most senior executive ranks.

To Be or Not to Be . . . a Porcupine


We have said that there are no simple recipes for leadership. This is evident in the various ways power and influence are exercised in the halls of the U.S. Congress. In The Power Game, author Hedrick Smith offers numerous examples of how Washington, DC, actually works. For example, interpersonal relationships play a key part in one’s effectiveness; but there are many paths to interpersonal power and influence in government, as the following anecdotes point out.

    Barney Frank, a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, likens success in the House of Representatives to high school. Nobody in the House can give any other member an order, not even the speaker of the house. Neither can anyone be fired except by his or her own constituencies. That means, therefore, that those in Congress become influential by persuading people and having others respect but not resent them. In that sense it’s like high school. Sometimes, however, it may pay to be unlikable, at least in some situations. Former senator (and later secretary of state) Ed Muskie had a reputation for being a “porcupine”—for being difficult in the conference committees where final versions of legislation were hammered out. A former staff member said Muskie was the best porcupine of them all because nobody wanted to tangle with him. Muskie will “be gross. He’ll smoke a god-awful cigar. He’ll just be difficult, cantankerous.” One reason Muskie was so successful as a legislator was precisely that he could be nearly impossible to deal with. People would rather ignore him and try to avoid fights or confrontations with his notorious temper. Muskie knew how to be a porcupine, and he used that behavior to advantage in authoring critical legislation.


In our discussion here, an implicit lesson for leaders is the value of being conscious of what influence tactics one uses and what effects are typically associated with each tactic. Knowledge of such effects can help a leader make better decisions about her or his manner of influencing others. It might also be helpful for leaders to think carefully about why they believe a particular influence tactic will be effective. Research indicates that some reasons for selecting among various possible influence tactics lead to successful outcomes more frequently than others. Specifically, thinking an act would improve an employee’s self-esteem or morale was frequently associated with successful influence attempts. On the other hand, choosing an influence tactic because it followed company policy and choosing one because it was a way to put a subordinate in his place were frequently mentioned as reasons for unsuccessful influence attempts. In a nutshell, these results suggest that leaders should pay attention not only to the actual influence tactics they use—to how they are influencing others—but also to why they believe such methods are called for. It is perhaps obvious that influence efforts intended to build others up more frequently lead to positive outcomes than influence efforts intended to put others down.