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In PRAISE of Power
Power may corrupt, but it's still a given.
Power is a universal trait of leadership.
Over time, through malevolent leaders or leaders with less than pure motive, power has become a dirty word, a weapon used to oppress others. But leaders without power are just followers. For example, in his book Leadership: Theory and Practice, Peter Northouse defines power this way.
Power is the capacity or potential to influence. People have power when they have the ability to affect others’ beliefs, attitudes, and courses of action. Judges, doctors, coaches, and teachers are all examples of people who have the potential to influence us. When they do, they are using their power, the resource they draw on to effect change in us.1
Defined this way, power just is. All leaders have it. All followers recognize it. So how can we arrive at a working tool for recognizing the different types of power when we see them?
Northouse draws on the work of French and Raven (1959) to label the five different types of power: referent, expert, legitimate, reward, coercive, and information. Reworking these five types of power into a memorizable acronym, you can remember: PRAISE.
Punishment Power (coercive) - Punishment power is pretty straightforward. It's the ability of the leader to punish followers. Again, this may sound altogether negative. But the ability of the state to punish murders is a power most citizens readily grant and for which they are grateful.
Reward Power (reward) - Reward power is the ability of the leader to reward followers. Think: raises, bonuses, accolades, and the like. When taken together, Reward and punishment power typically describe transactional leadership. And even if a leader only has these two types of power, they are extremely effective in shaping a team culture.
Authority Power (legitimate) - Authority power comes along with a title within a team. A pastor, a judge, a parent, a boss—all of these leaders have formal, designated power within an organized team. Usually, an authority will also be able to reward and punish, but even in the absence of rewarding and punishing, authorities bear power by their mere title.
Information Power (information) - Information power describes the type of leader with key information no one else has. At times, information power can be something like knowing the nuclear launch codes (crucial information). Or it could be the mail clerk who has been at the organization longer than anyone else. Despite his low authority power, he has institutional knowledge that no one else has and may (and should) be consulted for that key information in a way that adds value that the CEO might not have.
Symbolic Power (referent) - Symbolic power isn't power in name only. It is the power someone possesses when they serve as a symbol of what a particular team values as illustrative of what the team is about. This leader embodies leadership ideals within the context of team culture. Usually, this leadership power is bestowed because the leader is so well-liked. An illustration of this kind of leader is the beloved teacher who holds influence over students, not just because he is a teacher (authority power) but because he embodies the ideals of an excellent teacher and is adored by students.
Expert Power (expert) - Expert power is held by leaders who are subject matter experts in a particular field. For example, if you're watching the NBA2 playoffs and see a questionable call made by the refs, before the call is adjudicated (which can often take an ENTIRE commercial break, a rules expert will be brought in by the commentators to consult on what the expected outcome could be. This "rules expert" has no authority or power (not a referee, coach, owner, player, or commentator). His power is based solely on his expertise in the basketball rule book.
What Do We Do With This?
First, recognize that all five of these types of power are good components of leadership power. They also help us categorize different types of power that leaders may wield. Few leaders maximize all five types of power. Some may be woefully deficient in four categories, excelling in only one. As you track a particular leader's competency in these five areas, you'll also notice that an excellent leader will not only have but use leadership power in many of the five areas. If you're a leader, you may also want to pick one or more of the five types and assess how you effectively use that type of power.
Peter G. Northouse, Leadership (SAGE Publications, Kindle Edition), 52.
I’m not a big fan of the NBA at all. But my college-aged kids were home watching a game. I do like spending time with them.