Review of power bases

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.

A brief review of the POWER BASES, so frequently referred to in management literature, may be useful in placing a Consultant’s role in proper context.

Power may legitimately be considered as emanating from the authority vested in the position a person holds.
Consultants have no positional authority in the client environment so the concept of power, may be considered to be in the client’s space. A more in depth look at power bases and their meanings may lead us to deduce that there is a more even distribution which can be used in the contracting process with clients. This concurs with Peter Block’s view that the most effective consulting relationships are those where the client and consultant have a “peer to peer” trust based relationship.

Hersey and Blanchard postulated a definition of power as “influence potential”. By contrast, authority is based on the power that is legitimized by virtue of an individual’s formal role in an organisation.

Two main bases or sources of power have been popularly accepted since the sixteenth century, when Machiavelli raised the question whether it is better to have a relationship based on love (personal power) or fear (position power).
Following on from Personal and Position Power there are seven bases of power which have been identified as potential means for successfully influencing the behavior of others. Those highlighted in red were added to the original 5.

A brief explanation of these specific power bases follows:-

Based on fear. The ability to induce compliance through fear of punishment or other undesired outcomes for the people being dealt with.
Based on the position held by a person. Legitimate with power induces compliance by others from their perception that the person has the right, by virtue of the position they hold. In an organisation or society, to expect that their suggestions will be followed.
Based on a person’s connections or friendships with influential others, who usually hold positions of legitimate power. Connection power induces compliance through the perception of others that failure to do so may incur disfavor with a powerful connection.
Based on person’s ability to provide rewards. Reward power induces compliance through others perception that he/she has the ability to provide a desired reward; gifts, sex, promotion, recognition, etc.
Based on a person’s personal traits. Someone high in referent power is generally liked and admired by others because of his/her personality. Compliance is induced in others through their admiration for, and identification with, that person.
Based on a person’s possession of, or access to, information which is perceived as valuable by others. Compliance is induced through others’ need for the information or wish to be “in on things.”
Based on a person’s acknowledged skill, expertise, experience and/or wisdom. A person high in expert power is seen as possessing the capacity to facilitate the work of others. Compliance is induced through the needs of others to make use of the expertise for their own purpose or direction.


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