Skip main navigation

The relationship between power and leadership

What is the link between power and leadership?

Welcome back. We hope you are enjoying the short course so far.

This week, you will apply your new understanding of leadership to examine your own abilities as a leader. But first we are going to look at the concept of power and its role in leadership.

When you think about the word power, what comes to mind? Power often has negative connotations, and is associated with words like ‘control’. We might also tend to associate power with assigned leaders more than emergent ones.

Although we have many examples to justify these associations of leaders who have used power unethically and immorally, power is actually used every day by organisations and leaders to get things done. It’s important to consider how power is acquired, when to use it and its potential impacts. The concepts of power and leadership are closely linked. Power can be considered as the ability to influence others (Lunenburg 2012). Power is used by leaders to attain group goals, and if you have knowledge about the operation of power in an organisation, it enhances your capacity to be an effective leader.

There are different types of power, which have been categorised by Northouse (2016: 10)

Type of power Explanation Example
Referent power Based on followers’ identification and liking for the leader A schoolteacher who is adored by their students has referent power
Expert power Based on followers’ perceptions of the leader’s competence A tour guide who is knowledgeable about a foreign country has expert power
Legitimate power Associated with having status or formal job authority A judge who administers sentences in the courtroom exhibits legitimate power
Reward power Derived from having the capacity to provide rewards to others A supervisor who gives rewards to employees who work hard is using reward power
Coercive power Derived from having the capacity to penalise or punish others A coach who sits players on the bench for being late to practise is using coercive power


Lunenburg, F.C. (2012) ‘Power and Leadership: An Influence Process’. International Journal of Management, Business, and Administration 15 (1), 1-9

Northouse, P.G. (2016) Leadership: Theory and Practice. Los Angeles: SAGE, 10

© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0
This article is from the free online

International Leadership: The Evolution of Management and Leadership Theory

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now