Referent Power in Leadership

Powerful Essays
Referent Power

I. Topic of Inquiry
It is important for managers to understand the sources of power and influence as they must rely upon the cooperation of subordinates in order to be successful. Strong managers rely upon more than just authority they also use leadership skills and power to obtain the most productivity from their staff. According to French and Raven (1959) there are five sources of power. Referent power seems to be the most influential and the least affected by change. To quote Paul Argenti,
“Coercive power relies on the fact that people fear you, and reward power is only effective so long as people value the rewards you have to offer. Legitimate power relies on your rank in the company hierarchy, and recent events such as white-collar downsizing have shown how quickly that can change for any level of management. Expert power lasts as long as no one else knows as much as you do. Referent power is the only source that seems maintainable”. (Argenti, 2002, p.94)

Furthermore, Gilbert Fairholm states that the “authority [of managers] is often more a function of their personalities and personal charisma than it is of their official positions”. (Fairholm, 2001, p. iv) This is not to say that a manager does not require formal authority. But, as implied by Locke (2003) the combination of authority and referent power can create considerable influence on subordinates. The potential for a high level of influence sparks my desire to understand what referent power is, how it is obtained, how it affects performance and the risks associated with using it.

II. Summary of Findings

Referent Power - What is it?
Robbins & Coulter define referent power as “Power that arises because of a person’s desirable resources or personal traits”. (Robbins & Coulter, 2007, p. 505) But the results of my research reveal that it is more so the influence that person A (the agent) wields over person B (the target person) due to the target’s desire to please the



Bibliography: Argenti, Paul A. (2002). The Fast Forward MBA Pocket Reference. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Chemers, Martin M. (1997). An Integrative Theory of Leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications. Cushman, Donald P. & King, Sara Sanderson. (1997). Continuously Improving an Organization’s Performance. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. Cushman, Donald P. & Smith III , Ted J., (Eds.). (1994). High-Speed Management and Organizational Communication in the 1990s. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. Druckman, Daniel & Swets, John A. (Eds.). (1998). Enhancing Human Performance Issues, Theories, and Techniques. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. DuBrin, Andrew J. (1995). The Breakthrough Team Player. New York, NY: AMACOM American Management Association. Fairholm, Gilbert W. (2001). Mastering Inner Leadership. Westport, CT: Quorum Books. French, J.R.P., & Raven, B.H. (1959). The bases of social power. In D. Cartwright (Ed.), Studies in Social Power. Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research. Hellelbein, Frances; Goldsmith, Marshall; Beckhard, Richard (Eds.). (1996). The Leader of the Future: New Visions, Strategies, and Practices for the Next Era. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Henderson, William Darryl & Moskos, Charles C Locke, Edwin A. (2003). The Blackwell Handbook of Principles of Organizational Behavior. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. Messick, David M. & Roderick, M. Kramer (Eds.). (2005). The Psychology of Leadership. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Nicholson, Nigel; Schuler, Randall S.; Van de Ven, Andrew H. (1998). The Blackwell Encyclopedic Dictionary of Organizational Behavior. Cambridge, MA.: Blackwell Publishers. Robbins, Stephen P. & Coulter, Mary. (2007). Management (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall. Shackleton, Viv. (1995). Business Leadership. London: Routledge. Thompson, David P. (1996). Motivating Others: Creating the Conditions. Princeton, NJ: Eye on Education Topping, PH.D, Peter A Weitz, Ely. (2004). Misbehavior in Organizations. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Tauber, Robert T. (1999). Classroom Management: sound theory and effective practice (3rd ed.). Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey. Yukl, G. A. (1989). Leadership in organizations (2nd ed.). Englewood, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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