“Power is the capacity or potential to influence. People have the power when they have the ability to affect others’ beliefs, attitudes, and courses of action…”

In this article we will be simply touching on the concept of power. The idea of management versus leadership will be written about in the following week, rather than in this post as promised, as this post will become lengthy. Follow me as we explore this concept of power in leadership

The concept of power is important in the discussion of leadership because it specifically relates to the leader’s influence. Examples of people who possess this power are people like pastors, doctors, coaches, and teachers. These people all have the potential to influence us. In any organisation this ‘power’ can be divided into two major categories: position power and personal power.

“Position power refers to the power a person derives from a particular office or rank in a formal organisational system.” Examples are Vice presidents or department heads. These positions, and others, have more power than staff personnel because of the position they hold within an organisation.

“Personal power refers to the power a leader derives from followers. When leaders act in ways that are important to followers, it gives leaders power.” Examples may be that a manager has influence over his subordinates because he makes a good role model, or morally upright, or is transparent etc. Another may be that the manager is viewed as highly competent or considerate by their subordinates. In both cases, the leaders’ power is ascribed to them based on their relationships with others.

Questions: Are you more influential because of your position or personal power? In what contexts is it okay to simply use your position or personal power to bring to be an influence and bring about change?

French and Raven’s (1959) work on the bases of social power is the most widely cited research on power. Their research on power was “conceptualized from the framework of a dyadic relationship that included both the person influencing and the person being influenced.” They identified five common and important types of power:

a) Reward- Leaders who use a system where incentives are used to increase productivity

b) Coercive- Leaders who use force to affect change through manipulating the penalties and rewards in their work environment

c) Legitimate- Leaders who gain influence by being exactly as they portray and purpose themselves to be without falsehood

d) Referent- Leaders who have influence through the referrals of others

e) Expert- Leaders who are ascribed power through their expertise and knowledge on a subject
They believed that each of these types of power increases a leader’s capacity to influence the attitudes, values, or behaviours of others.

Question: Have you yourself been a leader of any of the above ‘powers’ or have been influenced by any of the above ‘powers’, whether good or bad?

“It is not unusual that leaders are described as wielders of power, as individuals who dominate others. In these instances power is conceptualized as a tool that leaders use to achieve their own ends. Contrary to this view of power, Burns (1978) emphasises power from a relationship standpoint. For Burns, power is not an entity that leaders use over others to achieve their own ends, but instead it occurs in relationships and should be used by leaders and followers to benefit their collective goals.”

Question: Do you agree? Should the power of influence be used as something over people? Or should it be used to benefit others? Which way is more productive?

Just to remind everyone that much of the material in this article is from “Leadership… Theory and Practice” by Peter G. Northhouse (Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, London, pg 4-10).

Stay tuned… Next week will be looking at management versus Leadership…

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About Apo Malo

Apo is an active part of the ministries of his church where his heart for people is clearly evident. Apo has a degree in theology and is also an accomplished musician maintaining a part time teaching studio. Apo works as a carer for Anglicare and lives in Sydney, Australia.


  1. Robert Apps 31 March, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    I would be interested in you developing these paradigms in the context of leadership in the home and church. The Bible seems to suggest we should follow certain people b/c of their position but on on the other hand those people should, in their character, be worthy of such responsibilities.

  2. Apo 31 March, 2009 at 9:16 pm

    Thanks Robert for your response. I agree, that the Bible does say that we need to obey people because of their position. My aim though is not to focus on our responsibilities towards leadership, though important, but to simply explore the idea of leadership from these articles and discuss them. Having said that, I may in later posts explore our attitudes and actions towards leaders who occupy a position.

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