Tactical Leadership: How to Recognize and Use Power Types in the Workplace

Regardless of your role in an organization, every employee has a unique relationship with their own power and that of others. Analyzing these not only brings clarity to your professional dynamic, but may also be the key to practically adjusting or improving it.

Reward Power

  • Recognizing Reward Power: This type is easily recognizable when an employee can draw a clear correlation between their actions and a reward. However, it becomes harder to identify when a) the reason for the reward is not overtly stated by the person giving it or b) if the reward itself is lacking.
  • Utilizing Reward Power: Management can avoid confusion by stating what constitutes a reward before, during, and after it’s been earned. To maintain incentive, a leader should also be sure to offer something that’s actually valued by the employee(s); think tangible rewards like raises and bonuses versus words of affirmation or company-funded team gatherings

Coercive Power

  • Recognizing Coercive Power: Employees can identify less obvious instances of coercive power by tracking threatening language or tone. For example, a manager might urge you to complete a task by using words that suggest a sense of urgency like, “immediately,” or, “at once.”
  • Utilizing Coercive Power: Obviously, this power type is the most likely to cause resentment among employees and should be avoided. When you must use coercive power, it’s best to reference and follow an established protocol with which the entire organization is familiar. Examining company policy ensures you’re not reacting too harshly on a whim and that you can fairly justify the action.

Legitimate Power

  • Recognizing Legitimate Power: Someone wielding legitimate power isn’t necessarily saying so. They might imply (and even think to themselves!) that they’re using a personal power type like referent or expert power (read on for these explanations). Be sure to examine what management is really bringing to the table.
  • Utilizing Legitimate Power: As the wise Tywin Lannister (any Game of Thrones fans?) once said, “any man who has to say, ‘I’m the king’ is no true king.” Remember: legitimate power is given and can therefore be taken away, and that it doesn’t mean much on its own.

Referent Power

  • Recognizing Referent Power: This power type is often used incidentally, rather than actively. For example, anyone with referent power can compel others to take on more than their share of a project just because they know team members won’t want to let them down — which can be a slippery slope towards coercion. Employees should take care to check in with themselves to make sure they’re helping each other out because they want to, and not because they feel they must.
  • Utilizing Referent Power: Honestly — don’t. Simply strive to treat everyone in an organization with respect, professionalism, and fairness without using your influence to, well, influence towards an outcome that serves your position or power.

Connection Power

  • Recognizing Connection Power: This type of power is generally only obtained through communication. When you share your professional strengths, values, and preferences with colleagues as well as management, you may find they know of the perfect opportunity for you.
  • Utilizing Connection Power: Connections are often a positive force for change in the workplace as they can be utilized by employees and teams at all levels of business. The key to using it effectively is with thorough awareness, understanding and communication once you’ve identified possible alignment.

Expert Power and Information Power

  • Recognizing Expert and Information Powers: A leader or colleague with expert power is trained in their field to the extent of being an authority on it, while someone with information power can only possess this information for a short time before passing it on. These types become hard to separate as they’re often utilized concurrently. For example, an HR representative is using their expertise on relationship dynamics when they identify the right person to join a team project, then use information power to relay the details of that project or new work arrangement.
  • Utilizing Expert Power: Anyone can temporarily wield information power, but maintaining expert power requires constant learning and teaching in equal balance. Continued learning is critical to maintaining this type of power while still staying open to being questioned and challenged, which allows for self-growth.




Workplace Conflict Coach, Trainer, and Mediator. Owner of ONE EIGHTY. To learn more, visit oneeighty.io

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Natalie Garramone

Natalie Garramone

Workplace Conflict Coach, Trainer, and Mediator. Owner of ONE EIGHTY. To learn more, visit oneeighty.io

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