12 types of power for effective leaders (And how to gain it)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 5 September 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Power is a tool leaders use to engage, motivate and influence employees in the workplace. The sorts of power leaders use varies according to their staff based on their personality, skill and environment. Understanding this helps you learn how to use power as a positive force in the workplace. In this article, we discuss 12 types of power, list various reasons for using the different types of power in a professional setting and offer advice on how to gain the power to achieve desired outcomes.

What are types of power?

Here are 12 types of power which can be used in the workplace:

1. Legitimate power

Legitimate power is a type of formal authority given to a professional within a certain position in an organisation. Depending on their ranking, it gives them the authority to influence employees and make decisions within broader systems. Legitimate power is common in hierarchical organisations, such as the military, since subordinates respect rankings. Obtain legitimate power by demonstrating the unique skills and responsibilities required for a role. Legitimate power helps to organise large businesses and ensures that staff follow the same goals. It also creates a sense of order and structure in the working environment.

Related: Guide to power vs. influence (With definitions and methods)

2. Reward power

Reward power is the ability to reward others when they follow instructions and wishes. Professionals who motivate employees to respond to promotions, awards and pay rises hold reward power. Reward power is a bottom-up approach that reinforces a sense of personal and professional values. Reward power is also attainable and desired to keep morale high and encourage productivity. It ensures that employees form bonds with organisations, improving their output.

3. Expert power

Expert power is a professional's ability to show expertise in a situation and subject. It comes from deep technical knowledge and extensive experience in a particular field. Expert power allows staff to understand situations and issues and suggest solutions based on their knowledge and experience. This way, you earn respect and trust from colleagues and credibility in your work. Expert power helps departments diversify overall skills, ensuring they handle different projects and challenges. Leaders use expert power to influence colleagues across all levels of the organisation, steering its growth and development.

Related: Leadership as influence (Plus strategies to exert influence)

4. Referent power

Referent power is the ability to influence employees through personality and attractiveness. It occurs when a leader has strong interpersonal skills that garner staff admiration. Leaders with referent power usually take an interest in employees, listen when they speak and respond appropriately to develop interpersonal skills. Leaders use referent power to help others change their habits and obtain goals. This fosters open communication and a positive work environment while creating strong connections between leaders and employees. Employees gain referent power through qualities that inspire respect, honesty, integrity and trust in their colleagues.

Related: Guide: 15 good work qualities to help impress employers

5. Coercive power

Coercive power is the ability to persuade and convince staff to do something using unethical means or even force. It occurs when leaders imply and threaten employees with demotion, denied privileges and possible dismissal. Coercive power is direct and instructs staff on what to do and how to do it with strict compliance. Supervisors use coercive power to encourage employees to show up for their shifts. This ensures staff call in when sick, preventing issues for supervisors. Leaders use coercive power to control teams and ensure they uphold rules. They also use coercive power to maintain standards and increase productivity.

6. Informational power

Informational power is the ability to withhold and divulge powerful information. With informational power, leaders possess information that employees seek to influence decision-making and control credibility. For instance, staff with access to confidential financial reports and other viable information have informational power. They may withhold, manipulate, distort and conceal this information as they please. Employees with informational power usually develop a curiosity for important news and innovations in their field, making them valuable resources for their colleagues. Leaders tend to use informational power as a weapon or bargaining tool to help staff.

7. Connection power

Connection power is the ability for staff to gain favour with a powerful person, attaining influence. It involves networking and connecting with leaders who want to give you power. Employees forge connections with powerful individuals and assemble them into coalitions to gain strong connection power. They do this by being resourceful to gain favour from the leaders they connect with. Supervisors with connection power usually help teams obtain goals through their access to resources.

Related: What are the main leadership theories and leadership styles?

8. Charisma

Charisma is the nature of attractiveness and charm that compels teams to follow leaders. It inspires positivity and joyful feelings in the work environment. Charisma relies on the persuasive nature and engaging personality of supervisors to work effectively. Leaders with charisma articulate attractive visions, take personal risks and demonstrate environmental and follower sensitivity to inspire action within teams, increasing workplace productivity. Supervisors also use charisma and well-rounded leadership to inspire great change within the organisation. Staff with charismatic personalities tell stories and engage with colleagues to show their charisma.

Related: How to develop charisma (Definition and how to improve)

9. Moral power

Moral power is the ability to inspire action based on a set of values and beliefs. These values include integrity, fairness, community, service and respect for employees. Moral leaders have strong principles, and they strive to do what they say to maintain high standards. This increases employee loyalty since the leaders emulate their actions and beliefs. Supervisors normally use moral power to inspire teams to follow their example. They also use it to build trust through their ethics. If you wish to build moral power, consider establishing personal mission statements and philosophies.

10. Political power

Political power is the ability to control the behaviour of staff and influence the outcome of events. It allows leaders to control societies' functions, policies and cultures to use them to their advantage. Political power is inherent and derives from the consent of the governed, protecting and maintaining their rights. It arises from a leader's ability to work with staff and social systems to gain support and allegiance. Political power typically develops in state-owned organisations where certain political parties hold power and their supporters show power within different aspects of the organisation.

11. Founder power

Founder power exists when the founder of an organisation or movement has legitimate control of employees. In most cases, staff perceive founders as individuals with a deeper knowledge of the organisation and industry, which gives them founder power. Founder power influences how employees perceive the organisation and its products and services. Leaders use it to delegate tasks and set standards for performance. If you seek founder power, consider becoming an entrepreneur and starting a successful business.

Related: Founder vs. CEO: the differences between the two roles

12. Integrity power

Integrity power is the ability to implement core values within an organisation. It develops a firm ethical culture and holds employees accountable for respecting ethical behaviours and core practices. Leaders use integrity power to garner trust amongst their colleagues and ensure staff work more efficiently and honestly in the work environment. This results in increased employee performance, loyal customers and increased profits.

Tips for gaining power

Here are some useful tips for gaining power within the workplace environment:

1. Network across departments

Networking is the process of building and nurturing mutually beneficial relationships with colleagues. It allows employees to increase their opportunities within the organisation through professional contacts. Strive to develop good communications with other professionals in your industry to build strong and meaningful relationships with influential people. Use these connections later to get referrals and recommendations for job openings and promotions.

Related: 8 effective leadership tips and why they're important

2. Take initiative

Initiative refers to the process of assessing a situation and independently taking action to address it. It builds your credibility and reputation, letting employers and managers know they may rely on you to get things done. This, in turn, increases your power and ensures supervisors feel more comfortable in your ability to work independently. Take initiative by successfully anticipating company needs and acting without being asked. This increases your value as an employee and creates trust between you and your colleagues, increasing your power while broadening your skills.

3. Harness your influence over others positively

Influence is a crucial tool when gaining power, as it motivates others within the work environment to believe and act in a specific way. Use your influence to pursue and advance your career or sway, encourage, impact and guide other colleagues. If you're working in a managerial role, harnessing your influence over your team is vital to accomplishing desired outcomes.

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