The Three Powers of Leadership

Touching more on the topic of leadership, here’s something insightful and interesting that might help us understand the dynamics of the co-relation between leaders and followers that we can observe around us.

True Leadership influencesAccording to a best-seller book- Principle-Centred Leadership– by Stephen R. Covey, there are three basic levels of power and influence that leadership have over followers: coercive, utility, and legitimate powers.

Here is a brief summary of what these three powers are:

1. Coercive power is a manifestation of the psychology of fear on the part of the leadership/leader and the frightened masses. The former, due to lack of confidence in itself and in the people, unleashes psychological terror and when necessary the ‘big stick.’

The follower follows out of fear that something adverse might happen to him, if he does not. In this case, there is a fear that something bad might happen to him or something good might be taken away if he does not comply. The follower obeys the leader in order to avoid facing adverse consequences.

The follower’s loyalty is superficial and he just moves along for the sake of tagging along. Most of what he does is simply to ensure that his interest and comfort are not affected.

2. Utility power is based on a relationship where there are some benefits that will accure to the follower if he follows.

Both the leader and the follower has some interest to protect. The follower has something the leader wants such as time, energy, personal resources, talent and support. The leader too has something the follower wants such as information, money, promotions, inclusion, security and opportunity.

These followers believe that the leader can and will do something for them if they fulfill part of their bargain. Much of what happens in most organisations today are fueled by this utility power.

3. Legitimate power is based on trust and respect for the people. Unlike the two powers discussed above, legitimate power does not depend on fear and material reward, but rather because the follower tends to believe in the leader and what they are trying to achieve.

As Covey succinctly puts it, leaders with legitimate power “are trusted, respected, honored… And they are followed because others want to follow them, want to believe in them and their cause, want to do what the leader wants. This is not blind faith, mindless obedience, or robotic servitude; this is knowledgeable, whole-hearted, uninhabited commitment.”