Power refers to a capacity that ‘A’ has to influence the behaviour of ‘B’, so that ‘B’ does something he or she would not otherwise do. Probably, the most important power is that it is a function of ‘dependence’. The greater B’s dependence on ‘A’, the greater is A’s power in a relationship. Dependence in turn is based on alternatives that ‘B’ perceives and the importance that ‘B’ places on the alternatives that ‘A’ control. A person can have power over you only if He/she controls something you desire. For example, a teacher in school totally depends on the head teacher’s direction and resource support to facilitate his/her functioning. He/she recognises the power that the head teacher has over him/her. Suppose, after a few years, he/she is made incharge, now he/she can take some decisions on his/her own and less power is exerted over him/her by the head of the institution.
Take a moment to consider the people who have power over you. Where does this power come from? Social psychologists have identified at least six roots of power.
- Coercive power: This type of power relies on threats and punishment in order to influence because this type of power is easy to use and achieves quick results. It is used frequently. It has two critical drawbacks, however.
- The low-power person dislikes the high power person and is motivated to end the relationship as soon as that becomes possible.
- The use of coercive power requires that low power person be watched so that he/she does not try to deceive or avoid the grip of the high power person.
- Reward power: This relies upon positive reinforcement as a means of influence. In this case, the low-power person is motivated to stay in the relationship. Keeping a watch is not necessary. Reward power is costly to high-power individuals because low-power persons are influenced as long as the high-power person continues to possess rewards.
- Legitimate power: This exists when a person has a specific role, for example, as the head teacher, head boy or head girl in a school. One cannot ‘use up’ legitimate power, but this power is limited to specific domains.
- Expert power: Expert power is taken by an expert in a certain area. The use of expert power does not require that low-power persons be watched.
- Referent power: This comes to those who are liked and admired. When we want to be similar to those we admire, we change our behaviour to be like theirs. Referent power does not weaken, when it is used nor does it require surveillance.
- Information power: Information power is held by those who possess information that someone needs or wants. For example, a teacher can influence students because of the fund of information he/she has.
Simply, having power does not mean that a person will use it successfully. An important ingredient in successful leadership is knowing how and when to use power. A leader cannot depart too much from the norms and rules of the group. Sometimes power does seem to “go to the head” of the power holder. A number of forces may tempt people to take advantage of their power.
SOURCE: IGNOU MES-005: HUMAN RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT