Power in Leadership Types and Sources

Nathan Mahr, Shawn Grimsley
  • Author
    Nathan Mahr

    Nathan has taught English literature, business, social sciences, history, and writing for over five years. He has a B.A. in Comparative History of Ideas from the University of Washington.

  • Instructor
    Shawn Grimsley

    Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

Learn about leadership power. Identify the types and sources of power in leadership, learn what personal power is, and see examples of personal power. Updated: 07/19/2022

Table of Contents


What is Leadership Power?

Leadership power is the ability to control resources, people, and events to reach objectives and overcome obstacles. Power is important for leaders because it allows them to accomplish tasks and goals that would otherwise be impossible. This way, power can be a positive force that helps leaders and organizations achieve their goals. For example, power can get people to work together towards a common goal or motivate them to do their best.

However, power can also be misused by leaders. When leaders misuse their power, it can lead to negative consequences such as oppression, corruption, and abuse of power. Therefore, leaders must be aware of the potential risks of misusing their power while striving to use it responsibly. For example, leaders shouldn't use their power to unnecessarily control people or take advantage of them.

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  • 0:06 Power Defined
  • 1:38 Personal Power
  • 2:37 Multiple Bases of Power
  • 3:13 Lesson Summary
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Sources of Power in Leadership

The sources of power in leadership can vary depending on the context and characteristics of the individual. Sometimes, leaders have power because they are in a position of authority. For example, a manager might have power over subordinates because of the manager's position in the organization. In other cases, leaders might have power because they have expertise or knowledge that others do not have. For example, a doctor might have power over her patients because of the doctor's medical knowledge. Additionally, leaders can have power because they have personal qualities that make them influential or respected.

One of the most important sources of power is leaders' legitimacy in their position. This means that people recognize the leader's authority to lead and are willing to follow the leader's directives. Legitimacy can be based on factors such as election or appointment to a position, rank within an organization, or experience and expertise.

It is important to remember that power is not static. The amount of power that a leader has can vary depending on the situation. For example, a leader might have more power in a crisis than in a routine situation. Additionally, the power of a leader can vary depending on the people being led. For example, a leader may have significantly more power over subordinates than peers.

Types of Power in Leadership

Similar to sources of power, there are a larger variety of types of power that a leader may have at their disposal with various origins. The type of power most effective in any given situation will depend on the goals of the leader, what types of power they have available to them, and the context of the situation. Some of the most common types of power are formal power, position power, legitimate power, reward power, coercive power, and expert power.

Formal Power

Formal power is granted to a person by their appointed position, rank, or role within an organization. It can be the power granted to someone in a leadership role or the power inherent to a person's role in an organization. For example, a police officer has the formal power to arrest someone because it is a part of the police officer's job. Similarly, an engineer has the formal power to sign off on a design because it is a part of the engineer's job.

Formal power can be either positive or negative. On the positive side, formal power can help people to get things done quickly and to make self-guided decisions. On the negative side, formal power can be abused to control people or make decisions that are not in the organization's best interest. Formal power can also sometimes be seen as lacking in legitimacy, especially when it is used to make decisions that are not popular with the people who are affected by those decisions. It is important to note that power based on popularity is not based on formal power because it is not intrinsically derived from the manager's position.

Position Power

Position power is similar to formal power in that it is the power granted to a leader by their position or rank within an organization. However, this type of power is focused more on a leader's authority to make decisions and give directives that others in the organization are obligated to follow. An organization's structure or hierarchy typically grants position power to leaders. For example, a manager has formal power over subordinates because of the manager's position in the organization.

Position power can be a very effective form of power, as it gives leaders the ability to make decisions and take actions without needing to gain consensus from others. Additionally, position power can help ensure that decisions are made promptly, and tasks are completed efficiently. However, leaders with little oversight or accountability can also easily abuse position power. Additionally, position power can lead to a leader being isolated from others in the organization, as subordinates may be afraid to give input or feedback to a leader with position power.

Legitimate Power

Legitimate power is derived from a leader's legitimacy or the recognition that others have of a leader's right to exercise power. For a leader to have legitimate power, they must be seen as having the authority to make decisions and take actions. Legitimate power can come from various sources, such as election or appointment to a position, rank within an organization, or experience and expertise.

One advantage of legitimate power is that it typically has the inherent attribute of trust. Others recognize legitimate power as being held or used justly due to the leader's position, role, or expertise. As such, legitimate power often leads to voluntary compliance from followers, as people generally want to comply with those with the legitimate authority to make decisions. As with the other types of power, leaders can also abuse legitimate power if not used carefully or with some level of oversight. Additionally, legitimate power can sometimes come with the risk that a leader may become complacent or overconfident in their abilities.

Reward Power

Reward power is a type of power that leaders can use to influence the behavior of others by offering rewards. Rewards can take many forms, such as financial bonuses, promotions, or recognition. Leaders use reward power to motivate others to achieve desired outcomes or to encourage certain behaviors.

One advantage of reward power is that it can effectively motivate people to achieve desired results. Additionally, rewards can be used to recognize and reinforce desired behavior, which can help to create a positive feedback loop. On the downside, reward power can quickly lead to favoritism and a potential sense of entitlement among those rewarded. Additionally, using rewards excessively can lead to a reliance on external motivation, which can be detrimental in the long term.

Coercive Power

Coercive power is a type of power that leaders use to influence the behavior of others by threatening them with negative consequences. Coercive power typically forms threats, such as demotion, punishment, or even termination. Leaders use coercive power to force others to comply with their demands or to achieve desired outcomes.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the different types of leadership powers?

There are several types of leadership powers. Some of the most common types of leadership power include position power, legitimate power, formal power, coercive power, reward power, expert power, and personal power.

What are sources of power?

Sources of power are the places where power flows from. These sources can include expertise, a position of authority, personal attributes, or even personal or physical strength.

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