Position and Sources of Power

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Position and Sources of Power

In 1959, French and Raven, both social psychologists, identified five bases of power. The classification was based on the source of power. Legitimate power stems from the common belief that an individual reserves the right to make demands, and consequently, expect others to obey and comply. Reward power on the other hand, is as a result of a person’s ability to compensate another for compliance (Hillman, 1995). The power that comes as a result of a person’s superior knowledge and skills is called expert power. Referent power stems from a person’s worthiness, attractiveness and respect from others. Power that is derived from the belief that an individual may punish others for noncompliance is called coercive power.

The five types of power each have a source. Irrespective of the type, the people exhibiting these powers may peddle their own interests. Therefore, the five types of power are susceptible to abuse by the person wielding it (Hillman, 1995). However, each type of power has a source. Coercive and legitimate powers agitate for compliance.

Coercive power is applicable in the classroom environment. For example, while in 8th grade, my math’s teacher once stated that failure to complete assignments in time by a student will lead to his or her expulsion from that class on that particular day. I think, the late freedom fighter, Nelson Mandela exhibited referent power. His endurance, patience and modesty endeared him to many. Personally, I respected Mandela and thought highly of him. Reward power can be inferred from gifts as a result of meeting a target or exemplary performance. During my high school years, I once topped my class. My mother bought me a laptop for that performance. With a host of honors and experience, my lecturer commands a lot of respect from the student population and members of staff. My lecturer therefore wields expert power. In college, we often have associations. These associations have leaders. The chairperson of sports league, for example, has the authority to call meetings and chair them. Such kind of authority is called legitimate power.


Hillman, J. (1995). Kinds of power: A guide to its intelligent uses. New York: Currency Doubleday.

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