Five Types of Power in Leadership: Unleashing Influence for Greater Good


Power is a multifaceted concept in leadership, and not all types of power are created equal. Understanding the nuances of power is crucial for effective leadership. In this blog post, we will explore the five distinct types of power identified in leadership: Legitimate, Coercive, Expert, Reward, and Referent. Each type of power comes with its own characteristics and implications.

As Earl Shorris wisely said, “Men who cannot conceive a happiness of their own accept a definition imposed upon them by others.” As leaders, it is our responsibility to empower others to discover their own sources of power and contribute to a greater purpose.

Types of Power in Leadership


1. Legitimate Power

Closely associated with one’s title and position, it derives from formal roles. While legitimate power can be an effective tool for decision-making and delegation, it’s essential for leaders to remember that respect and trust must accompany this authority. Without the trust of their team, leaders may find their legitimate power eroding over time.


2. Coercive Power

Involving force or threats to influence others, coercive power is wielded as a means of control. However, it is imperative to note that relying solely on coercive power can create a hostile and resentful environment. Effective leaders recognize that building lasting influence involves more than just imposing their will on others.



3. Expert Power

Earned through knowledge and expertise, leaders with unique skills exert influence.  This type of power is built on a foundation of trust and respect, as team members look to experts for guidance and solutions. It’s essential for leaders to continuously develop and share their knowledge to maintain and strengthen their expert power.


4. Reward Power

The ability to offer incentives or rewards shapes influence. Leaders who can provide tangible benefits, such as promotions, bonuses, or recognition, can motivate their team members effectively. However, using reward power responsibly is vital. Over-reliance on rewards without addressing underlying issues can lead to short-term compliance but long-term dissatisfaction among team members.


5. Referent Power

Rooted in respect and admiration, referent power is linked to a leader’s charisma, integrity, and relationship quality. It is often associated with a leader’s charisma, integrity, and the quality of their relationships. Leaders who possess referent power can inspire loyalty and commitment from their team members. Building referent power involves cultivating authentic connections and consistently demonstrating ethical behavior.


Empowering Others for Greater Good

As leaders, our responsibility goes beyond merely wielding these types of power. We must guide and inspire our teams to harness their potential and discover their unique sources of power. By inviting individuals to learn, grow, and create, we enable them to commit to a purpose greater than themselves. This commitment, driven by intrinsic motivation, leads to the achievement of the greater good.

In the words of Earl Shorris,

“Men who cannot conceive a happiness of their own accept a definition imposed upon them by others.”

Let us empower our teams to define their own happiness through the responsible and ethical use of power, driving positive change in our organizations and society.