Case Study On Referent Power

Power means many different things to different people. For some, power is seen as corrupt. For others, the more power they have, the more successful they feel. For even others, power is of no interest at all. The five bases of power were identified by John French and Bertram Raven in the early 1960’s through a study they had conducted on power in leadership roles. The study showed how different types of power affected one’s leadership ability and success in a leadership role.

The five bases of power are divided in two categories:

Formal Power


Coercive power is conveyed through fear of losing one’s job, being demoted, receiving a poor performance review, having prime projects taken away, etc. This power is gotten through threatening others. For example, the VP of Sales who threatens sales folks to meet their goals or get replaced.


Reward power is conveyed through rewarding individuals for compliance with one’s wishes. This may be done through giving bonuses, raises, a promotion, extra time off from work, etc. For example, the supervisor who provides employees comp time when they meet an objective she sets for a project.


Legitimate power comes from having a position of power in an organization, such as being the boss or a key member of a leadership team. This power comes when employees in the organization recognize the authority of the individual. For example, the CEO who determines the overall direction of the company and the resource needs of the company.

Personal Power


Expert power comes from one’s experiences, skills or knowledge. As we gain experience in particular areas, and become thought leaders in those areas, we begin to gather expert power that can be utilized to get others to help us meet our goals. For example, the Project Manager who is an expert at solving particularly challenging problems to ensure a project stays on track.


Referent power comes from being trusted and respected.  We can gain referent power when others trust what we do and respect us for how we handle situations. For example, the Human Resource Associate who is known for ensuring employees are treated fairly and coming to the rescue of those who are not.

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As you can see, you don’t have to be in a leadership or senior level role in an organization to have some form of power. In fact, the most respect is garnered on those who have personal sources of power. There is more respect for these individuals than for those who have power simply because they are the boss in the business. It has been shown that when employees in an organization associate the leadership’s power with expert or referent power, they are more engaged, more devoted to the organization and their role within it. Employees are also more willing to go the extra mile to reach organizational goals.

What is your source of power? And are you using the “right source” or simply throwing your weight around?  How effectively do you use your source of power to meet key goals and objectives? Please share your thoughts with others in the comments share bar to the left. Thank you!

This topic was revisited recently.  Check it out here and be sure to leave your thoughts and opinions on the topic in the comment sections!

Posted in People Management | Tagged Leadership, power

When it comes to the business world, there are two particularly important aspects, which often go hand in hand; they are power and influence. Leaders of companies and organizations often show these two however; they are not limited to only CEO’s and high-level managers. When it comes to social power, the history dates back to social psychologists, John French and Bertram Raven, who proposed that there are five different bases of power: expert power, referent power, reward power, coercive power, and legitimate power. Each of these “bases” are unique in the way that they are all based on differing ways of influencing others. It goes without saying that each of the bases has its advantages and drawbacks. Social influence also plays a large role in determining the success of an organization. In 1980, a man by the name of David Kipnis conducted research, which found nine generic influence tactics that are used in the workplace. They are: rational persuasion, inspirational appeals, consultation, ingratiation, personal appeals, exchange, coalition tactics, pressure, and legitimate tactics. When comparing the topics of power and influence it is quite easy to see how the two are related and go hand in hand with one another. When looking at Steve Jobs, former CEO of Apple Inc., it is very easy to see how he used all of the different bases of power to create what is known today as the most valuable company in the world. His great deal of power, coupled with his great influence are truly what led to his success in Apple. It is evident that the results ended up speaking for themselves when you take a step back and look at it. Expert Power 3

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