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A Perspective On Types Of Power That Empower Results In People Through Authority, Self, Social Influence

Power fuels action, guides choices, and sways behavior in all social interactions. It’s the invisible force steering events and their outcomes. In this article, I’ll share with you 15 types of power that stem from three key sources: authority, self-empowerment, and social influence. Each source significantly shapes the achievements and implementation of change. Mastering these powers can create a substantial impact personally and organizationally. Moreover, I’ll provide you with examples for each of these power types that will offer valuable insights into their sources and practical uses in everyday life.

The Sources Of Power: Authority, Self, And Social Influence.

types of power

In 1959, the social psychologists John French and Bertram Raven published a study on power called, “The Bases of Social Power”. This work is the definitive study on power. In fact, it has had a significant impact on the fields of social psychology and organizational studies. In this study and subsequent revisions they identified six bases of power. These sources of power included: reward, legitimate, coercive, referent, expert, and informational. Positively, these types of power have offered a useful framework for understanding power, especially in the workplace.

Also, French and Raven provide a useful definition of power. See below:

“… as the potential for influence (a change in the belief, attitude or behavior of a someone who is the target of influence)” 

For more on French and Raven’s ideas on power, see Mindtools’ French and Raven’s Five Forms of Power.

To truly grasp the essence of power, we must consider its roots. Indeed, an exploration of the essential foundations that permit different manifestations of power is critical. Below, are the definitions of the three fundamental sources of power: authority, individual empowerment, and social influence.

Three Sources Of Power
  • Authority. This source of power is usually granted through position or office. However, power based on authority can also come from an overpowering charismatic leader who compels others to follow them. Further, authoritative power types can just be a case of following tradition.
  • Self-Empowerment. These types of power are derived from an individual’s skills, convictions, illicitness, or even likeability.
  • Social Influence. These types of power are dependent on where an individual stands within a group or society. For instance, this can include how many social connections they have to influence. Also, how much an individual can influence information flows, put information into context, or shape agendas. Lastly, this could include the person’s proximity to powerful people.

Now, besides understanding the sources of power, we need to get a better understanding on how different power types operate based on its power base. Below I’ll provide examples of how power is used, both in the workplace and everyday life. As a result of these examples, you’ll gain a better insight into the sources of power and their real-world applications. Additionally, you’ll develop an understanding of how various types of power exhibit different levels of effectiveness based on the situation and individuals involved. First, let’s start with power types based on authority.

1. Types Of Power Examples Based On Authority.

Authoritative Power – 6 Types: Legitimate, Reward, Coercive, Charismatic, Longevity, Empowerment

Authority-based power is exemplified by a police officer enforcing the law, a judge delivering a verdict, or an elected official passing legislation. In the corporate world, a CEO implements a new company policy, or a school principal enforces academic standards. Also, authority can extend to a charismatic leader that holds sway over a population.  These scenarios highlight how positional power is used to uphold order, direct action, and ensure adherence to established rules and procedures. Below are 6 examples of power types that are based on authority.

a. Legitimate Power.

Legitimate power is grounded in formal authority. Specifically, the individual holds power by virtue of their position within an organization’s hierarchy. It is the recognized right to make decisions and to command respect and compliance from others. However, this type of power is dependent upon the system and hierarchical structures. For instance, as soon as the person no longer holds their power position, their power ends. Thus, legitimate power, in most cases, is temporary.

Examples of legitimate power include a judge in a courtroom wielding power when they deliver rulings based on the law. Specifically, their role within the judicial system grants them the authority to interpret legal statutes. Further, a judge makes binding decisions that affect the outcomes for individuals and the community. Also, the power of the judge is respected and adhered to. This is because it is an established part of the legal framework, and their decisions carry the weight of the judicial system’s backing.

b. Reward Power.

Reward power is the ability to grant or withhold rewards, such as promotions, raises, recognition, or praise. As a result, the type of power influences others’ behavior positively. In most cases, the source of reward power is authoritative in nature. Indeed, rewards are built into the fabric of most organizations. Further, reward power is transitory in most cases in that power fades overtime if rewards are not continued. Also, rewards are not equal in that some rewards may motivate some but not others. Thus, it is better to have a variety of rewards to optimize the power of rewards. Further, this reward power is considered the opposite of coercive power that I will discuss next.

Examples of reward power include a manager in a corporation who holds incentivizes employees to perform well and meet company goals. Another example is a sales director who offers bonuses to the top-performing salespersons or provides additional vacation days as a reward for meeting quarterly targets. 

c. Coercive Power.

Coercive power is the capability to enforce obedience through fear of punishment or negative consequences. Though necessary, coercive power is best used as a last resort and, if unchecked, can lead to abuse. In a positive sense, this type of power can set high expectations and encourage innovation when faced with limited resources. The cons to this type of power is that it can lead to job dissatisfaction. Further, it can stifle ambition to only achieve bare minimum, and set an environment where people will be reluctant to take ownership of their work.

As an example of coercive power, a police officer exercises this type of power by enforcing laws through issuing fines or making arrests. This power specifically relies on threatening repercussions to force compliance and prevent unwanted actions. While this form of power can effectively maintain order, overusing or applying it unjustly may lead to resentment and resistance.

d. Charismatic Power.

Charismatic power is derived from an individual’s personal appeal and ability to inspire. As a result, this type of power captivates others through their presence, communication, and leadership qualities. Charismatic power is authoritative in nature as it commands immediate obedience by forming a hierarchical relationship between the leader and follower. Indeed, this bond is both voluntary and robust. In fact, charismatic power is the most influential type of power. This is because it enables both organizations and people to act in ways they normally would not be able to do. From a workplace perspective, a charismatic leader engenders loyalty and enthusiasm. As a result, this leads to increased productivity and dedication to the organization’s goals.

An example of a charismatic power is a manager who motivates employees through their vision for the company’s future. Further, this charismatic leader secures employees’ personal commitment to the values exemplified. Indeed, this type of leader may not have direct authority over every employee. However their charisma enables them to influence the company culture and employee morale profoundly. 

e. Longevity Power.

Longevity power stems from the duration an individual spends in a position or within an organization. Due to longevity, individuals usually possess a profound comprehension of the organization’s operations, culture, and history. Often, tradition drives longevity power in organizations or societies. It can also result from the mindset of “we have always done it this way.”

For example, a long-standing member of a community organization might wield this power, as their extensive experience and institutional knowledge command respect and influence among its newer members. Indeed, their sustained presence and commitment to the organization’s mission can be a stabilizing force within the group.

f. Empowerment Power.

Empowerment power is the ability to enable others to act on their own authority and make decisions. It is exemplified by a leader who delegates responsibilities and trusts their team members to take ownership of projects. In this case, the team members have no authority within themselves, but are empowered by their leader to influence others. Another benefit of this type of power, is that those who exercise this empowerment power also are developing themselves to be leaders.

An example of empowerment power is a school principal who encourages teachers to develop their unique teaching styles and curriculums to enhance student engagement and learning. By empowering their staff, the principal fosters an environment of trust, innovation, and shared responsibility. Thus, this leads to a more dynamic and effective educational institution.

So, authority is a primary source of power as exemplified in the 6 types of power described above. For more discussion on authority, see my article, Types of Authority You Encounter In Everyday Life.

2. Types Of Power Examples Based on Self-Empowerment.

Internal-Based Power – 4 Types: Expert, Moral, Referent, Illicit

For instance, self-empowerment manifests when an entrepreneur turns a vision into a successful business venture. Indeed, it is through the person’s sheer determination and expertise that the business succeeds. Another example is when an athlete breaks records due to relentless training and mental fortitude. Further, when a student excels in their studies through discipline and dedication also showcases this personal power. Lastly, self-empowerment can come from illicit means such as blackmail, physical or mental threats, and other selfish acts to influence others. So, these examples demonstrate the power of individual attributes in achieving influencing others.  Below are 4 examples of power types that are based on an individual’s capabilities or characteristics.

a. Expert Power.

Expert power stems from an individual’s skills, knowledge, and expertise in a specific domain. As a result, the “expert” commands respect and influences others. This form of power underscores the value of deep expertise. This is because this power has the influence that leads and shapes decisions within a particular area of specialization. Also, this type of power is well suited to training others in order to pass specialized expertise to others.

For example, a distinguished heart surgeon holds expert power in the medical community due to their remarkable skills and successful history of complex surgeries. Consequently, colleagues, students, and patients seek guidance, advice, and treatment from this individual because they trust their specialized knowledge and capabilities. In fact, people take the surgeon’s recommendations and decisions in their field seriously, and these can influence medical practices and patient outcomes.

b. Moral Power.

Moral power is derived from an individual’s integrity, ethical standards, and the respect they achieve through their commitment to doing what is right. Specifically, an individual’s moral power lies in their ability to lead by example and inspire others to take action based on shared values and ethical principles. It is a potent form of influence that can bring about substantial change and mobilize collective efforts for the greater good. Moral power is most effective, when the individual also sets the example and follows through on what they say. Indeed, just encouraging someone to do the right thing does not necessarily translate into moral power.

As an example of moral power, take a social activist who, through their dedication to justice and fairness, becomes a moral beacon for a community or movement. Their unwavering stand on issues of human rights and equality can galvanize others to support the cause and follow in their footsteps.

c. Referent Power.

Referent power originates from an individual’s likability or desirability, which inspires others to identify with them. In fact, they see the person possessing referent power as a role model whom they want to emulate. This person essentially becomes an “idol” for others to follow. While this leader acts as an influencer, their influence only extends to the degree that people aspire to become like them.

For example, a beloved celebrity who is not only famous for their talents but also for their philanthropic efforts and relatable personality can influence fans and the public. People are drawn to them and are more likely to emulate their behaviors and support their causes.

d. Illicit Power.

Illicit power is another form of self empowerment, but it is either not legally permitted or does not stand up to moral or ethical standards. In many cases, this type of power is manifested similarly to authoritative power. Specifically, illicit power can both reward or punish like authoritative power, but it is illicit in nature. For example, illicit power can entice someone to do something unlawful or self-destructive. Or another example, illicit power could come in the form of a hacker ransoming a business by threatening to destroy critical data files.

3. Types Of Power Examples Based On Social Influence.

Social-Based Power – 5 Types: Informational, Connection, Centrality, Framing, Agenda

Social influence is powerfully illustrated by fashion trends set by celebrities that are then adopted by the public. Another example is a community leader whose advocacy for a cause inspires collective action. It is also seen in the widespread change in public opinion resulting from a viral social media campaign. These instances reveal the profound effects that social dynamics and the persuasive power of influential figures can have on the actions and beliefs of communities.  Below are 5 examples of power types that are based on social influence as well as where individuals stand within a society or group.

a. Informational Power.

Informational power arises from possessing knowledge that others deem valuable.  This power underscores the impact of possessing and the capability of disseminating this critical information to guide decision-making and strategic planning. Further, this type of power differs from expert power in that the information does not necessarily reside in the individual or is transient in nature. Thus, the power only holds while the information is secure. 

For example, a data analyst with access to market trends and consumer behavior insights holds informational power within a retail company. Further, the company itself can hold information power that can hold sway over others as long as the company is the sole holder of the information. 

b. Connection Power.

Connection power is found in the breadth and depth of an individual’s social network. It is the influence one has due to the relationships they maintain with key figures across various sectors and industries. Indeed, connection power demonstrates the significance of social capital and the role that relationships play in exercising influence and achieving objectives. This type of power aligns with the old saying, “It’s all about who you know”.

For example, a skilled networker, such as a lobbyist or a public relations executive, who has built a vast network of influential contacts, wields connection power. They can leverage these relationships to open doors, facilitate introductions, and broker deals, which can lead to opportunities and advantages for themselves or their clients. 

c. Centrality Power.

Centrality power is derived from an individual’s position within a network or organization that allows them to act as a pivotal point of communication and influence. Without a doubt, this type of power is about “being in the loop”. Furthermore, this type of power highlights the strategic importance of being at the nexus of interactions within a network.

For example, a project manager at the center of cross-departmental initiatives within a company has centrality power. Indeed, they are critical in the flow of information, coordination of tasks, and the integration of efforts from various teams. Their central role makes them instrumental in shaping project outcomes and influencing collaborative processes. 

d. Framing Power.

Framing power refers to the influence one has in shaping the context and interpretation of information, events, or narratives. Specifically, this power illustrates the significant impact that presentation and context can have on the interpretation and reception of information. When used in the extreme, this can result in fake news and disinformation.

For example, a media outlet possesses framing power when it chooses how to report a news story, thereby influencing public perception and discourse. Indeed, the angle they select and the language they use can frame the narrative in a particular light, affecting how audiences understand and react to the story. 

e. Agenda Power.

Agenda power is the ability to set the terms of a discussion and determine what topics are prioritized or ignored. Indeed, this form of power reveals how the control of agendas can direct the attention and efforts of a group. As a result, agenda power steers the course of action and influences outcomes. Further, agenda power ultimately can determine priorities and allocation of resources within an organization. When used in the extreme, this type of power can lead to political corruption.

For example of agenda power, an influential committee chairperson has agenda power when they decide which issues will be addressed during meetings and which policies will be pushed forward for consideration. By controlling the agenda, they shape the focus of discussions and the allocation of resources toward their chosen initiatives. 

More References.

For more discussion and references on types of power, see PsychologyToday’s The 10 Sources of Power and How Anyone Can Use Them, WikiJob’s Top 10 Types of Leadership Power, Angela M. Odom’s article, 7 Types of Leadership Power. Also, for more about the differences between power and authority, see ScienceOfPeople’s Power vs. Authority and my article, Power Versus Authority: 8 Sure Differences And Why It’s Important To Know.

For more from Unvarnished Facts, see the latest on these topics, accountability, conflict, fear, and politics.

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