Are Perceptions of Power Important to Understand?

Are Perceptions of Power Important to Understand?

In any leadership dynamic, there is a dominant impression that is made between the leader and those who report to that leader, either directly or indirectly. A leader can sometimes be a force that appears to be larger than life and frankly, intimidating. The question every leader should be asking is, “Are perceptions of power important to understand?” The answer to this question is a resounding yes, and should be heavily considered in a leader’s vision for a company.

At any given moment, a workplace has five different power dynamics in the workplace:

  • Reward power, which can be either impersonal or personal. Reward power offers a boon for employee performance that is beneficial to the company. The impersonal reward implies a fiduciary compensation for an employee, while the personal implies favor.
  • Coercive power, which is highly personal because it can equate to using bullying or scare tactics as motivation. This is almost always negative and should be avoided in most cases.
  • Referent power, which is power that comes through admiration. The danger of reverent power is that it can cause a sycophantic environment where the leader may only hear pleasing news.
  • Legitimate power, which relies on the rank or title of the position as the driving influence of power. Leaders should be cautious of merely relying only on their position as their source of power.
  • Expert power, which is the use of power that relies on the knowledge and expertise of the leader. The danger with expert power occurs when the expertise is withheld from an employee or team.

Although each of these dynamics may be present in the workplace and be employed from time to time, either individually or in tandem with one another, each also has a prescribed pratfall if not used properly or in moderation. Using any one of these dynamics improperly can lead to a lag in motivation and can decrease productivity in the workplace.

Regardless of the leadership’s thoughts on how a business should be run, leaders should also understand that perception is just as important, if not more so than delivery. If an employee has expectations that do not align with either the leader’s vision or that of the team, it can have a domino effect on the productivity.

Are perceptions of power important to understand? Yes, and so are the dynamics of power and becoming an effective leader. Regardless of the leadership style used, these perceptions shape the way in which a company runs.

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