I have more power than the recently elected Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan and the new Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. After all, I have dual residency in both the UK and the Philippines and the only power these two people have over me is Legitimate Power — let me explain…
A president, mayor or prime minister has legitimate power. So does a CEO or even a fire chief. Electoral mandates, social hierarchies, cultural norms, and organizational structure all provide the basis for legitimate power.
This type of power, however, can be unpredictable and unstable. If you lose the title or position, your legitimate power can instantly disappear, because people were influenced by the position you held rather than by you.
Also, the scope of your power is limited to situations that others believe you have a right to control. If a fire chief tells people to stay away from a burning building, for example, they’ll likely listen. But if he tries to make two people act more courteously toward one another, they’ll likely ignore the instruction.
Relying on these positional forms of power alone can result in a cold, technocratic, impoverished style of leadership. To be a true leader, you need a more robust source of power than a title, an ability to reward or punish, or access to information.
The type of power that I am talking about that I have is expert power and referent power. Anyone is capable of holding power and influencing others — you don’t need to have an important job title or a big office. But if you recognize the different forms of power, you can avoid being influenced by those who use the less positive ones – and you can focus on developing expert and referent power for yourself. This will help you to become an influential and effective leader.
When you have knowledge and skills that enable you to understand a situation, suggest solutions, use solid judgment, and generally outperform others, people will listen to you, trust you, and respect what you say. As a subject matter expert, your ideas will have value, and others will look to you for leadership in that area.
What’s more, you can expand your confidence, decisiveness and reputation for rational thinking into other subjects and issues. This is a good way to build and maintain expert power, and to improve your leadership skills.
Referent power comes from one person liking and respecting another, and identifying with her in some way. Celebrities have referent power, which is why they can influence everything from what people buy to which politician they elect. In a workplace, a person with referent power often makes everyone feel good, so he or she tends to have a lot of influence.
Referent power can be a big responsibility, because you don’t necessarily have to do anything to earn it. So, it can be abused quite easily. Someone who is likeable, but who lacks integrity and honesty, may rise to power – and use that power to hurt and alienate people as well as to gain personal advantage.
Relying on referent power alone is not a good strategy for a leader who wants longevity and respect. When it is combined with expert power, however, it can help you to be very successful.