Bases Of Power

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Basis of Power
Brian R. Gates
BCOM 230
November 14, 2011
Katalin Ogle

Power—in a business environment—is defined as the potential for one individual to exercise influence over another individual. That potential may never be realized, but for an individual to possess power one can infer that other individuals are dependent upon the person who holds the power. Power can be derived from two basic sources: personal and formal. There are five bases of power that exist, and the base of the power ultimately affects how people react to that power.
Formal Power Formal power stems from an individual’s place in the hierarchy of an organization, and includes three bases of power: coercive power, reward power, and legitimate power. Coercive power results from the potential negative impact upon the dependent individual from the person holding power. Reward power is the exact opposite—with the power derived from the ability of the individual holding power to positively impact the dependent person. These two bases of power very often occur simultaneously. If a manager tells a subordinate to perform a certain action, there are potential outcomes derived from each of these power bases. If the subordinate successfully performs the action, the manager could give the subordinate a bonus, a raise, or a better position within the organization (reward power). If the subordinate does not successfully execute the directive, the manager can demote the subordinate or withhold bonuses (coercive power). Legitimate power—the third type of formal power—“represents the formal authority to control and use organizational resources” (Robbins & Judge, 2009, p. 452). Legitimate power generally encompasses the two other forms of power as well, but legitimate power goes one step further. An individual derives legitimate power from the acknowledgement and acceptance of other individuals within the organization of the position of authority held by the individual with power. Legitimate power can be seen in individuals who hold a superior position within the hierarchy of the organization; a general in the Army holds legitimate power over captains and lieutenants, just as the Chief Executive Officer of a company holds legitimate power over an administrative assistant or a records clerk.
Personal Power Personal power comes from the unique characteristics and abilities of an individual. Someone with personal power may not hold a prominent position within an organization; they do however possess skills or traits that others in the organization respect, admire, or require. The two varieties of personal power are expert power and referent power, and although each is quite distinct they may indeed occur together. “Expert power is influence wielded as a result of expertise, special skill, or knowledge” (Robbins & Judge, 2009, p. 453). Individuals who have expert power are those who are prone to be the best at the job they do. An individual with expert power may be the only person in an organization who may have the ability to perform a specific task—a specialist in his or her respective field. Referent power, unlike expert power, is influence that may be attributed to the personal traits of an individual’s character rather than his or her expertise. Referent power comes from the genuine desire to please the individual for no other reason than because the dependent individual respects and admires the person with power. Referent power could be loosely compared to a more subtle form of hero worship. An individual with referent power is someone who earns respect for who he or she is—not what the individual can do or the position the person may hold. Robbins and Judge (2009) relate that the bases of personal power tend to be more effective that