Power and Authority – Meaning, Definitions, Types and Theories

Power and Authority

Power and Authority




Term ‘power’ has been derived from Latin word potere which means ‘to be able.’ Power is more concerned with leadership than managership. It is a means to influence attitude and behaviour of followers. Leaders must acquire power and should use it with care to create, modify, and sustain positive behaviour. To successfully influence the behaviour of others, the leader must understand the impact of power on his leadership style.


According to Jeffrey Pfeffer
Power is potential ability to influence be¬haviour, to change the course of events, to overcome resistance, and to get people do things that they would not otherwise do.

According to Bass Stogdill
Power refers to a capacity that A has to influence the behavior of B so that B does something he or she would not otherwise do.

According to Max Weber
The probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his own will despite resistance.

According to David Krackhardt
Power is the ability to get things done despite the will and resistance of others or the ability to ‘win’ political fights and outmaneuver the opposition.

Types/Bases/Sources of Power

The bases or sources of power can be divided into two general groupings- formal and personal—and these can further be divided into more specific categories:

1. Formal Power/Position Power
Formal power is based on an individual’s position in an organization. Formal power can come from the ability to coerce or reward, or from formal authority.

i. Coercive Power

The coercive power base is dependent on fear. One reacts to this power out of fear of the negative results that might occur if one failed to comply. It is the perceived ability to provide sanctions, punishment, or consequences for not performing. It may be in forms of harassment of any kind, cut in pay, transfer, suspension, demotion, or even termination of job. Coercive power involves all methods of embarrassment for people. Generally, coercive power is exercised by the manager against unproductive or disturbing elements, and to restore discipline in the organisation. This power must be used with care. There is possibility of damaging leader-member relations, frustration of people, or irreparable damage to organisation structure. In today’s business management scenario, this power has little to do. It may be personal or positional.

ii. Reward Power

The opposite of coercive power is reward power. People comply with the wishes or directives of another because doing so produces positive benefits therefore, one who can distribute rewards that others view as valuable will have power over those- others. These rewards can be either financial—such as controlling pay rates, raises, and bonuses, or nonfinancial—including recognition, promotions, interesting work assignments, friendly colleagues, and preferred workshifts or sales territories.”
Coercive power and reward power are actually counterparts of each other. If you can remove something of positive value from another or inflict something of negative value, you have coercive power over that person. If you can give someone something of positive value or remove something of negative value, you have reward power over that person.

iii. Connection Power

Connection power is based on leader’s connection with influential people. It is perceived association (or connection) of the leader with influential persons (may be high position holder with authority to reward or punish) in the organisation. Employees obey and respect (willingly or unwillingly) the leader because he has high voltage connection (link or relations) with powerful people (may be key position holders in organisation, prestigious people of other industries, politicians, union leaders, some dangerous people, or any other person) who can strengthen leader’s influence. People believe that owing to strong connection, the leader is able to do anything.

iv. Legitimate Power
In formal groups and organizations, probably the most frequent access to one or more of the power bases is one’s structural position. This is called legitimate power. It represents the formal authority to control and use organizational resources.
Positions of authority include coercive and reward powers. Legitimate power, however, is broader than the power to coerce and reward. Specifically, it includes acceptance by members in an organization of the authority of a position. When school principals, bank presidents, or army captains speak (assuming that their directives are viewed to be within the authority of their positions), teachers, tellers, and first lieutenants listen and usually comply.

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