Hierarchies and Power
Power often goes with status, but technically it is about having control
of critical resources. A stereotypical example is the accountant who may
not enjoy high status but can turn the money tap on or off. High power-
low status people may struggle to build effective teams because they
direct rather than influence people to do what is needed.
One of the most frustrating things about a group is if no-one appears to
be in charge. In such a situation a leader will usually emerge, and some
people will gain power by being allied with that leader. The larger the
group, the more complex and formal the structure tends to be. (It is
thought that the human need for social hierarchies developed from the
Palaeolithic times – and beyond – when a hierarchical structure was the
most effective model for protecting a tribe’s resources.)
Although much is written about flat organisations, there are usually
hierarchies between and within departments (flatarchies) and in most
groups there is a formal or informal power structure.
French and Raven's analysis of power bases^8 originally mentioned five
sources of power and has now been updated to seven.
1. Reward power is the ability to give positive or negative reinforcers.
This power base is strongest when the rewards are valued, the group
members depend on the powerholder for the resource, and the
powerholder's promises seem credible.
2. Coercive power is the capacity to dispense punishments to those
who do not comply with requests or demands.
3. Legitimate power stems from an authority's legitimate right to
require and demand compliance.
4. Referent power is based on attraction to, or respect for, the
powerholder. Charismatic leaders generally possess both legitimate and
5. Expert power derives from group members' assumption that the
powerholder possesses superior knowledge, skills, and abilities.
(^8) French and Raven’s bases of social power
If you are a younger
person taking on a
leadership role where
there are higher status
individuals, you can
emphasise your source
of power at the start.