Amateurs want the wrong kind of power

In getting ready for my leadership communication class tonight, I have been thinking about power. After all, leadership implies power. Most management researchers differentiate among different bases of social power:

  1. Legitimate power (position, reciprocity, equity, & dependence)
  2. Reward power (personal & impersonal)
  3. Coercive power (personal & impersonal)
  4. Informational power (direct & indirect)
  5. Expert power (positive & negative)
  6. Referent power (positive & negative)

I’m not going to discuss all of these here. (If you want more, look at French & Raven’s work on bases of power.) Most of the items in the list are self-explanatory. The exception is probably “referent” power. It was originally described as a feeling of or desire for oneness. I call it personal relationship power.

My point here is that amateurs (that includes all bad bosses) often focus on attaining the first few items in the list. I’m pretty sure that’s why psychologist Robert Hogan was quoted as reporting,

Seventy-five percent of working adults say the worst aspect of their job — the most stressful aspect of their job — is their immediate boss. . . Bad managers create enormous health costs and are a major source of misery for many people.

(Several sources have recently written about Hogan’s research on the level of stress caused by bad managers: Huffington Post & USA Today).

So guess which types of power are usually most effective? That’s right: #5 and #6. And, because my focus is language and communication, my students will be talking about how language can be used to develop relationships — that sense of oneness — with organizational members in the workplace. This clip from the movie, Hoosiers, is one we’ll be talking about in class tonight. It’s exemplary of effective leadership communication in many ways. What do you think?

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