Not all Power is Created Equal

Power is a hot topic. Not all power is equal. Bertram Raven and John French identified five different power bases: legitimate, coercive, expert, reward, and referent.

Legitimate power is the type of power that comes with a title or position. Coercive power is one that imposes force on others, like the king who threatens to behead those who disobey. Expert power is the type of power that comes with knowledge or information that someone else does not have. Reward power comes from bestowing upon someone something of value, and referent power is the power of respect. Like anything else in this world, all forms of power can be for the greater good or for selfish and egoic purpose.

While empowerment may make some leaders nervous, it also makes some followers uncomfortable. In Scenes from Corporate Life, Earl Shorris wrote, “Men who cannot conceive a happiness of their own accept a definition imposed upon them by others.” We have been taught for too long to let others define our thoughts, feelings, jobs, lives, and meaning for us. What to think, what to wear, how to feel—is it any wonder we get nervous when we receive permission or power to design aspects for ourselves?

As leaders, we must teach. We teach and show others how to stand in this power. We invite them in to learn, to grow, to create, and to commit to a purpose greater than our own. When we create and commit to the larger purpose, we seek the greater good. We become a community of we and our instead of me and mine.

What is your best empowerment experience? I love to hear from you.

With love,

Content copyright 2012. Dr. Maria J. Church. All rights reserved.