Wielding Your Power

What Type of Power do you have?

Legitimate power is power an individual has based on the job position he or she fulfills within an organization or a role within society (Burns, Sorenson, Goethals, & Sage Publications, 2004, p. 1249). Managers require legitimate power in order to be manager and therefore exert control on their employees. Leaders can have legitimate power, but it isn’t necessary; informal leaders are able to lead a group simply based on their own merits, traits and skills. Over the course of my time within my organization, I have moved from simply being a manager whose only power was her title, to being a leader who can encourage her staff to do things without the use of her title.

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A leader with legitimate power has already been granted the ability to make decisions on behalf of his or her employees simply because of his or her job title. However, this doesn’t mean that the leader has control of the situation. If employees do not respect the leader’s decisions or choose to follow those decisions, the leader will only be a manager and will not see the success he or she strives to achieve. However, a leader with legitimate power can use that power as a stepping stone to gaining the trust of his or her team and therefore gaining another type of power, such as expert or referent power. Expert power is the power based on a leader’s perceived knowledge by his or her followers (Burns, Sorenson, Goethals, & Sage Publications, 2004, p. 1249). Referent power is power based on followers liking the leader and respecting his or her decisions (Burns, Sorenson, Goethals, & Sage Publications, 2004, p. 1249). Leaders can do this by asking for input from employees and valuing and implementing those suggestions. Cable (2018) discussed a food delivery service where leaders only exercised legitimate power and were not seeing the results they wanted from the delivery drivers. When the leaders asked for more input from those drivers and implemented their suggestions, the leaders gained referent power from the delivery drivers and performance improved.

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A leader without legitimate power would only be able to gain control of a group or team through referent power, expert power, or information power. Northouse (2016) describes information power as power a leader has because of the knowledge he or she has that others do not (p. 10). Leaders without legitimate power must gain the trust and support of others in order to start developing power within the group. Within my team at work, there are two or three employees who have developed expert power because of their knowledge of our systems and processes and their willingness to help others with their questions. These employees have no say in what our team does or performance goals, but their opinions are a major influencer of others and can sideline my decisions if they do not agree with me. These types of leaders can also be seen in movements, such as Black Lives Matter or Occupy Wall Street; the people involved do not have the power to make changes or implement policies, but they have gained control of their situations simply by exercising another type of power.


Burns, J. M., Sorenson, G. J., Goethals, G. R., & Sage Publications (2004). Encyclopedia of Leadership. Thousand Oaks, Calif: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Cable, D. (2018). How Humble Leadership Really Works. Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2018/04/how-humble-leadership-really-works?utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=hbr&utm_source=twitter

Northouse, P. G. (2016). Introduction. In M. Stanley, A. Rickard, L. Larson & M. Masson (Eds.), Leadership: theory and practice (pp. 1-18). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

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Daniel Fortune

Daniel Fortune is a successful business professional, entrepreneur, father, and lover of travel.

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