Wednesday, July 2, 2014



In their seminal work on social power, French and Raven (1959) suggested the existence of five types or bases of power in social relationships. These five bases include reward, coercive, legitimate, referent, and expert. As the term suggests, reward power relates to a person's capacity to provide rewards. Coercive power relates to a person's capacity to provide punishment. Legitimate power relates to a person's capacity to provide direction, based on positional authority. Referent power relates to a an alignment of values and a person's subsequent capacity to influence people or situations on someone's behalf. Expert power relates to a person's capacity to successfully accomplish tasks or achieve outcomes.

Arguably, social power affects every outcome in every social exchange, within organizations (Terry, 1993; West, 2008). For example, when supervisors task subordinates with accomplishing procedures, they might do so upon the explicit basis of their legitimate power and possibly upon the implicit bases of their reward and coercive power.

In a recent study, several of my colleagues and I investigated the moderating effects of the perceived bases of social power upon the relationships between servant leadership and the outcomes of affective organizational commitment and supervisor related commitment (West, Boisselle, Gerhart, Hartsfield & Winner, 2015). Specifically, we examined whether the uses of high or low amounts of each of the bases of power, best facilitated the relationships between those factors. What we found, included that subordinates who display higher levels of affective organizational commitment, perceive that supervisors who best employ servant leadership, do so by applying relatively high levels of referent power and relatively low levels of all of the other bases of power. We also found that subordinates who display higher levels of supervisor related commitment, perceive that supervisors who best employ servant leadership, do so by applying relatively high levels of reward, coercive, and legitimate power and relatively low levels of referent and expert power.

What this means, includes that supervisors who employ servant leadership and who desire to develop higher levels of affective organizational commitment among their subordinates should primarily try to develop a sense of "oneness" with those subordinates. Even though it probably wouldn't hurt, this doesn't necessarily mean that supervisors need to become "bosom buddies" with their subordinates. Rather, supervisors should primarily work to achieve congruence (alignment) of organizational values and vision with their subordinates. Conversely, supervisors who employ servant leadership and who desire to develop higher levels of commitment to themselves, from their subordinates, should primarily set clear and fair standards for rewards and punishments and they should clearly establish and display their positional authority, as their authority applies to and within their given organizations.

French Jr., J. J. P., & Raven, B. H. (1959). The bases of social power. In D. Cartwright (Ed.), Studies in Social Power (pp. 150-167). Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan.

Terry, R. W. (1993). Authentic leadership: Courage in action. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

West, G. R. B. (2008). An alternative method to investigate organizational effectiveness: An adaptation and expansion of Robert Terry's model. Emerging Leadership Journeys, 1(1), 62-75. Retrieved from http://www.regent.edu/acad/global/publications/elj/issue1/ELJ_V1Is1_West.pdf

West, G. R. B., Boisselle, D., Gerhart, E., Hartsfield, M. K., & Winner, W. D. (2015). Servant leadership, commitment, and the bases of social power. Manuscript in preparation.

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