Bases of Power Essay When speaking on power, the Greek philosopher Aristotle once suggested “What lies in our power to do, it lies in our power not to do”. Although not always apparent, everyone possesses power in one form or the other. Power can be defined as the influence that one person has over another person. The influence an individual possesses can be extended to others through a variety of dissimilar stratagems. In 1959, social psychologists John French and Bertam Raven completed a comprehensive study on the bases of power and concluded that power can be separated into five distinct forms.
The five forms of power French and Raven defined are coercive, reward, legitimate, expert, and referent. This thesis will describe the five bases of power, which exist in the given scenario, describe the relationships between each base of power, and examine the dependencies that exist in the theoretical Corporation A. The first form of power that we will examine is coercive power. Coercive power is described as power that one person exerts over another through the threat of punishment. The person holding coercive power demands compliance with a request and threatens negative consequence if the demand is not met.
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The person holding power may threaten the employee with adverse working conditions or undesirable assignments, intimidate the employee with inferior performance ratings, or offer threats of demotion or termination if the employee does not comply with the request. Coercive power can take many forms and is unveiled in the Corporation A scenario. Coercive power is demonstrated in the given scenario by the marketing manager. The manager is coercing employees, who choose not work over 40 hours, with inferior performance evaluations.
The marketing manager has made it clear that only employees who work 40+ hour weeks will receive favorable performance evaluations. This also implies that an employee who chooses to maintain only a 40 hour work week can expect to receive a less than favorable review for what the manager judges as inferior performance. Although it is less obvious, the marketing department has the potential to use coercive power against the marketing manager. As much as the marketing employees are dependent on the manager for favorable performance reviews, the marketing manager is also dependent on the employees for workload production.
Collectively as a group, they have the potential to hold coercive power by threatening to limit their production, or quit if the policy of requiring an excessive work week for a favorable review is not abolished. In addition, coercive power can also exist within other forms of power. For example, coercive tactics could have been utilized by employee 2 when a shortened work week was negotiated with the accounting manager. As the only employee with the expertise to complete Corporation A’s financial documents, the certified public accountant could have coupled coercive force with expert power.
The CPA could have suggested that they would seek employment elsewhere if the shortened work week request was denied. This suggestion is purely hypothetical, however it is another good example of how coercive power could be employed by the subordinate against the person of authority The second form of power that French and Raven described in their study is reward power. Reward power is the precise opposite of coercive power. Rather than power through fear of consequences, reward power is based on the person in a position of power offering a reward for the successful compliance of a desired objective.
The employee may be presented with improved working conditions or given prestigious assignments. Similarly, he or she may be enticed with superior performance ratings, promotions, salary increases, or bonuses for the successful completion of the desired objective. Like coercive power, reward power can take many forms and is widespread in the Corporation A scenario. In the given scenario, several examples of reward power exist. The marketing manager exhibits reward power over the marketing group with the offering of a substantial year-end bonus for superior performance.
In addition, the accounting manager utilizes reward power to negotiate employee 2’s compressed work week. Reward power is also present within the sales department group as they collectively reward employee 3 with a team leader position. In all three of the reward power examples, dependencies exist to solidify the power. The marketing manager only possesses reward power provided the employee sees the bonus as a reward. If the employee values their time at home more than the income the bonus provides, then the reward power of the manager diminishes.
Likewise, if the accounting manager did not have the legitimate power to offer employee 2 a compressed work week, the manager would not hold reward power. In the final example, Employee 3 was dependent on the sales group for the reward. Had the group dismissed the sales pitch, reward power would not even be a consideration. The third form of power that is present in the given scenario is legitimate power. Legitimate power can be described as the power that one person has over another because they hold an authoritative position over that person.
Most organizations have a hierarchical structure of leadership and organizational leaders possess legitimate power equivalent to their position within the hierarchy. Legitimate power is intrinsic to positions of stature and is considered power by default. However, a leader’s legitimate power is acquired from occupying the position and not necessarily by who the leader is. An employee may recognize a leader because of their position but reject the leader beyond the authority of their position. Numerous examples of legitimate power exist in theoretical Corporation A.
In the give scenario, both the marketing and accounting managers have legitimate power inherited from their leadership positions in the corporation. Furthermore, employee 3 gains legitimate power from his or her appointment as the project team lead. In these examples, dependency is fairly straightforward. The two managers and employee 3 possess legitimate power and the dependency lies with the subordinate groups under these leaders. These leaders possess their power by position only and the subordinate groups may or may not extend their dependency on these individuals beyond the legitimate power relationship.
However, these leaders are also dependent upon their respective subordinates to adequately do their jobs, so the leader can maintain their position of legitimate power. The fourth type of power suggested by French and Raven is expert power. Expert power is extended to individuals who boast a unique skill set, are experts in their field, or possesses a high level of knowledge in their discipline. Expert power can be gained formally through education, degree, certification, or licensure, informally by knowledge gained through tenure in a particular discipline, or a combination of both formal and informal means.
The Corporation A scenario depicts two people who exhibit expert power. In the given scenario, both employee 1 and employee 2 have expert power. Employee 1 has gained expert power through his or her 12 year tenure with the corporation. In addition, the scenario suggests that employee 1 possesses a high level of knowledge within the department. The employee works weekend and continually stays late to ensure that work is completed accurately and on time. Employee 2 also possesses expert power due to his or her professional designation as a certified public accountant.
Employee 2 is the only person that can prepare the company’s financial reports and is depicted in the scenario as the company’s only accounting expert. Employee 1’s expert power is dependent upon the employee maintaining a high level of knowledge and work ethic. As other department employees gain experience and tenure, the difference between the level of employee 1’s expertise and the other employees will diminish, consequently diminishing employee 1’s expert power. The CPA’s expert power is dependent on maintaining his or her licensure as well as whether he or she remains the only CPA on staff.
If Company A decides to hire another CPA or if the employee does not maintain his or her professional license, the expert power of employee 2 will diminish significantly. The final type of power suggested by French and Raven is referent power. Referent power is often characterized as power that a person possesses due to their charismatic personality, positive attitude, and leadership by example. Referent power is based on respect that subordinates have for the person in power and a desire to identify with or mimic themselves after that person.
Employee 3 is a definitive example of a person with referent power. This employee is well liked by his or her peers, has a charismatic personality, a positive attitude, and a disposition that others are drawn to. The scenario reveals that referent power convinces the group that the new sales idea will be an overwhelming success. Employee 3’s overflowing enthusiasm is absorbed by other team members making them eager to begin work on the project. The fact that the department selects employee 3 to lead the team in the endeavor, is proof of the existence and strength of referent power.
Referent power is founded on a person’s charismatic personality and employee 3 is dependent on his or her charismatic personality in the given scenario. If for some reason employee 3 suffered some form of personal loss and no longer possessed the larger than life charisma, he or she would also no longer possess referent power. In addition, referent power is dependent upon how others perceive the person as worthy of mimicking. If the person possesses a charismatic personality but is known to be untrustworthy, produce poor work, or have serious ethical shortcomings, referent power would likely be diminished to the point of non-existence.
All five of the distinct forms of power, which French and Raven detailed in their study, exist in the Corporation A scenario. Often, one form of power exists within another form of power and power does not exist without dependency. The scenario clearly shows that dependency must exist in order for the power to be authentic. In one form or another, we all possesses power and exert influence on others. What form of power we possess and how we choose to use that power, defines our character. Abraham Lincoln once stated, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. “