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Power and Leadership

In this article, we will encourage you to consider your own abilities as a leader. But first we are going to look at the concept of power and its role in leadership.
© Coventry University. CC BY-NC 4.0

In this article, we will encourage you to consider your own abilities as a leader. But first we are going to look at the concept of power and its role in leadership.

What is Power?

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
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