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We are all politicians in the workplace

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Whether you believe it or like it, you are all politicians – in the workplace. The difference between the influencers and those being influenced is, the influencers are playing the game while the influenced are being played. Today we explore the source of workplace power.

Over fifty years ago, social psychologists John French and Bertram Raven studied the phenomenon of workplace power.

Despite the age of the research, the content is still being used to help employees to understand why some leaders influence them, why they accept leaders’ power and how leaders can develop new power bases to get the best from their people.

In 1959, French and Raven described five bases of power:

1. Legitimate: This comes from the belief that a person has the formal right to make demands, and to expect others to be compliant and obedient.

2. Reward: This results from one person’s ability to compensate another for compliance.

3. Expert: This is based on a person’s high level of skill and knowledge.

4. Referent: This is the result of a person’s perceived attractiveness and worthiness.

5. Coercive: This comes from the believe that a person can punish others for noncompliance.

Subsequently, Raven added another power base:

6. Informational – This result from a person’s ability to control the information that others need to accomplish something.

Someone said that you cannot be a leader if you don’t have followers. Followers either accept the leader’s power or give the power to them. By understanding French and Raven different forms of power, you can learn to use the positive ones to our benefit, while avoiding the negative power bases that managers can instinctively rely on.

In their 1958/1959 article, The Bases of Social Power, French and Raven grouped their five types of leadership power into two headings: Positional – three power sources and Personal – two power sources.

Positional Power are Reward Power, Coercive Power and Legitimate Power while Personal Power are Expert Power and Referent Power. Followers beliefs drive Position Power. The actual power that leaders possess in granting rewards, punishing or issuing orders are significant but not as significant as the beliefs that followers have about them.

Similarly, with Personal Power – Expert Power and Referent Power. The leader may not have superior expertise, but if his followers believe he has, they will grant him power over them, until they discover otherwise.

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