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 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.
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 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 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, 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.