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What are the Five Forms of Power?

What are the Five Forms of Power?

What are French and Raven's Five Forms of Power?

According to psychologists John French and Bertram Raven, "Power" refers to a leaders' ability to influence others to change their thoughts, feelings and behaviours and therefore, their results.

In 1959 French and Raven said that there were Five Forms of Power, and then in 1965, they added a sixth.

Four of the six Forms of Power are positive; and two are potentially harmful.

Four Positive Forms of Power:

1. Legitimate Power

Legitimate power stems from the fact that organisations are composed of decision-making hierarchies. High value decisions are made by people at the top of the hierarchy, (For example, on board ship, the Captain makes the major decisions).

Middle ranking decisions are made by people lower down the hierarchy; and trivial decisions are made by people at the bottom.

Organisations must function according to this principle because if they did NOT, then there would be chaos.

Consequently, Legitimate Power is an expectation that instructions issued by senior people in the hierarchy are carried out by people who are structurally subordinated.

2. Reward Power

People work with expectations that they derive rewards for their efforts.

If work is NOT rewarded, then their motivation to continue very quickly dissipates.

Leaders have power to motivate their staff by rewarding behaviours that create good results.

Reward Power is based upon purposefully rewarding (and thus incentivising) specific desirable behaviours.

Bad leaders fail to reward people for their good efforts.

Good leaders consciously, and quickly reward good behaviours.

If you want to be a good leader, consciously reward and incentivise good, right and fair behaviours.

3. Expert Power

Expert power is derived from the fact that success results from the expert application of correct knowledge.

People who are technical experts, have a cognitive authority over those who are uneducated.

Good leaders correctly use their Expert Power to influence people towards successful behaviours.

4. Referent Power

People judge leaders based upon everything the leaders do and say.

Over time, people form firm opinions about their leaders' character, competence and moral standing.

Referent power refers to the ability of leaders to influence others, based upon the team's positive opinions of their leaders' character.

Good leaders actively seek to build a bank of good will and commitment by virtue of their own behaviour, over an extended period.
When leaders gain the respect and commitment of the team, then they have acquired a valuable asset.

Good leaders cannot demand Referent Power; instead they must earn it.

We have looked at four good forms of power: Legitimate; Reward; Expert and Referent.

The Harmful Forms of Power:

5. Coercive Power

People work to avoid punishments.

Therefore, those who have the power to inflict punishments have coercive power to make people work.

Some leaders use this leadership style, because in the short term, it works. But long range, it always fails.

When people are "motivated" by coercive means, they resent it, and the leader soon becomes "the enemy". Consequently, people do the minimum they can get away with and often plot to remove the leader.

Bad leaders use coercive power often. They say, "Do it or else!"

Good leaders use coercive power very rarely.

6. Informational Power

In 1965, Raven added this extra power base.

People can make wise decisions only when they have access to all the relevant information.

Consequently, Leaders who control the flow of information to others, have Informational power.

Informational power can be used in legitimate and illegitimate ways.

  • Legitimate informational power recognises the fact that some information is reserved for those charged with making the decision: Information is NOT shared with those who don't have the right to see it.
  • Illegitimate informational power is a form of deception, that is based upon preventing people who DO have the legitimate right to see relevant information, from gaining access to it.

We live in the information age, and we see nowadays that there is a terrific war being waged in respect to the control of information and dis-information.

Good leaders allow others to access all relevant information, so they can make informed decisions.

About the Author: Chris Farmer


Chris Farmer is the founder of the Corporate Coach Group and has many years’ experience in training leaders and managers, in both the public and private sectors, to achieve their organisational goals, especially during tough economic times. He is also well aware of the disciplines and problems associated with running a business.

Over the years, Chris has designed and delivered thousands of training programmes and has coached and motivated many management teams, groups and individuals. His training programmes are both structured and clear, designed to help delegates organise their thinking and, wherever necessary, to improve their techniques and skills.

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