[Insert Header]

[Insert Picture]



n social science and politics, power is the capacity of an individual to influence the conduct (behaviour) of others. The term “authority” is often used for power that is perceived as legitimate by the social structure. Power can be seen as evil or unjust. This sort of primitive exercise of power is historically endemic to humans; however, as social beings, the same concept is seen as good and as something inherited or given for exercising humanistic objectives that will help, move, and empower others as well (e.g. Gates foundation on Polio eradication). In general, it is derived by the factors of interdependence between two entities and the environment. In business, the ethical instrumentality of power is achievement, and as such it is a zero-sum game. In simple terms it can be expressed as being “upward” or “downward”. With downward power, a company’s superior influences subordinates for attaining organizational goals. When a company exerts upward power, it is the subordinates who influence the decisions of their leader or leaders.

The use of power need not involve force or the threat of force (coercion). An example of using power without oppression is the concept “soft power,” as compared to hard power.

Much of the recent sociological debate about power revolves around the issue of its means to enable – in other words, power as a means to make social actions possible as much as it may constrain or prevent them. The philosopher Michel Foucault saw power as a structural expression of “a complex strategic situation in a given social setting” that requires both constraint and enablement.


The Essential Dialectic of Power is:

{Prestige-Knowledge ⇆ Knowledge-Prestige ⇵ Prestige-Prestige} ↻ Knowledge-Knowledge

Five bases

In a now-classic study (1959),[4] social psychologists John R. P. French and Bertram Raven developed a schema of sources of power by which to analyse how power plays work (or fail to work) in a specific relationship.

According to French and Raven, power must be distinguished from influence in the following way: power is that state of affairs which holds in a given relationship, A-B, such that a given influence attempt by A over B makes A’s desired change in B more likely. Conceived this way, power is fundamentally relative – it depends on the specific understandings A and B each apply to their relationship, and requires B’s recognition of a quality in A which would motivate B to change in the way A intends. A must draw on the ‘base’ or combination of bases of power appropriate to the relationship, to effect the desired outcome. Drawing on the wrong power base can have unintended effects, including a reduction in A’s own power.

French and Raven argue that there are five significant categories of such qualities, while not excluding other minor categories. Further bases have since been adduced – in particular by Gareth Morgan in his 1986 book, Images of Organization.[5]

Legitimate power

Also called “positional power,” legitimate power is the power of an individual because of the relative position and duties of the holder of the position within an organization. Legitimate power is formal authority delegated to the holder of the position. It is usually accompanied by various attributes of power such as a uniform, a title, or an imposing physical office.

Referent power

Referent power is the power or ability of individuals to attract others and build loyalty. It is based on the charisma and interpersonal skills of the power holder. A person may be admired because of specific personal trait, and this admiration creates the opportunity for interpersonal influence. Here the person under power desires to identify with these personal qualities, and gains satisfaction from being an accepted follower. Nationalism and patriotism count towards an intangible sort of referent power. For example, soldiers fight in wars to defend the honor of the country. This is the second least obvious power, but the most effective. Advertisers have long used the referent power of sports figures for products endorsements, for example. The charismatic appeal of the sports star supposedly leads to an acceptance of the endorsement, although the individual may have little real credibility outside the sports arena.[6] Abuse is possible when someone that is likable, yet lacks integrity and honesty, rises to power, placing them in a situation to gain personal advantage at the cost of the group’s position. Referent power is unstable alone, and is not enough for a leader who wants longevity and respect. When combined with other sources of power, however, it can help a person achieve great success.

Expert power

Expert power is an individual’s power deriving from the skills or expertise of the person and the organization’s needs for those skills and expertise. Unlike the others, this type of power is usually highly specific and limited to the particular area in which the expert is trained and qualified. When they have knowledge and skills that enable them to understand a situation, suggest solutions, use solid judgment, and generally out perform others, then people tend to listen to them. When individuals demonstrate expertise, people tend to trust them and respect what they say. As subject matter experts, their ideas will have more value, and others will look to them for leadership in that area.

Reward power

Reward power depends on the ability of the power wielder to confer valued material rewards, it refers to the degree to which the individual can give others a reward of some kind such as benefits, time off, desired gifts, promotions or increases in pay or responsibility. This power is obvious but also ineffective if abused. People who abuse reward power can become pushy or be reprimanded for being too forthcoming or ‘moving things too quickly’. If others expect to be rewarded for doing what someone wants, there’s a high probability that they’ll do it. The problem with this basis of power is that the rewarder may not have as much control over rewards as may be required. Supervisors rarely have complete control over salary increases, and managers often can’t control promotions all by themselves. And even a CEO needs permission from the board of directors for some actions. So when somebody uses up available rewards, or the rewards don’t have enough perceived value to others, their power weakens. (One of the frustrations of using rewards is that they often need to be bigger each time if they’re to have the same motivational impact. Even then, if rewards are given frequently, people can become satiated by the reward, such that it loses its effectiveness).

Coercive power

Coercive power is the application of negative influences. It includes the ability to demote or to withhold other rewards. The desire for valued rewards or the fear of having them withheld that ensures the obedience of those under power. Coercive power tends to be the most obvious but least effective form of power as it builds resentment and resistance from the people who experience it. Threats and punishment are common tools of coercion. Implying or threatening that someone will be fired, demoted, denied privileges, or given undesirable assignments – these are characteristics of using coercive power. Extensive use of coercive power is rarely appropriate in an organizational setting, and relying on these forms of power alone will result in a very cold, impoverished style of leadership. This is a type of power is commonly seen in fashion industry by coupling with legitimate power, it is referred in the industry specific literature’s as “glamorization of structural domination and exploitation.”[7]


The Complete Dialectic of Power is:

{Power-Knowledge ⇆ Charismatic-Prestige ⇅ Political-Affiliation} ↻ Wealth



The Equivalency Dialectic of Power is:

{Will ⇆ Energy ⇅ Power} ↻ Force