What does the word ‘power’ mean to you? A fancy designation? Or a corner office? 

Most people in the corporate world associate power with leadership. But power doesn’t always stem from a title. There are various types of power such as physical, political, social, or financial power. 

Types of Power  

In the late-1950s, psychologists John French and Bertram Raven identified five different types of power. It is clear from the French and Raven bases of power that power is not only the prerogative of leaders. We all need different types of power to achieve our objectives. At the same time, we need to understand the various types of power to know which of these can impact our decision-making ability and how. Let’s delve into the French and Raven bases of power and find out what they are:

  1. Coercive Power

Coercive power comes from the idea that a leader can use threats to make people follow his orders. Coercive power is also linked to the idea of punishment and used in organizations in matters such as transfers, firing, and poor appraisals. Coercive power can instill fear in people and sometimes disrupt lives and future prospects. 

  1. Reward Power

Reward power is, as the name suggests, based on the idea of a reward. It is exercised by influencing people with material benefits such as a salary hike, important projects, and special training and promotions. It is one of the commonest types of power but is usually not concentrated in one person in large organizations as different teams take a collective call on such. 

  1. Legitimate Power 

Legitimate power is wielded by people who officially hold a position of power in a business organization or a government department. It stems from formal authority but is generally temporary as it is available only for the duration of a person’s stay in a  post.

  1. Expert Power

Among the different types of power, expert power is the most enduring as it is based not on a person’s title or position but on their skills and knowledge. An expert can use this power of knowledge to get things done his/her way. This is a power that you can increase with time and it is highly credible as well as respected. 

  1. Referent Power

Referent power is among the types of power that celebrities, movie stars, and social media influencers wield. Referent power works on the masses who like and follow their favorite celebrities and see them as their ideals. It is their popularity that can make them influence the decision-making process of their followers. Referent power is also sometimes called star power. Film stars and celebrities often wield their Referent power to make their fans buy various products and that’s why they are regularly seen in numerous advertisements.


Different types of power are wielded in different ways. However, the aim of power is usually to make others follow your command. Sometimes, coercive power is used to threaten others into following your instructions; other times, people use expert power to influence others through their knowledge. Celebrities use referent power to influence their followers. It is essential for effective leaders to understand the types of power and how to use them.

Harappa Education’s Navigating Workplaces course helps learners understand workplace dynamics so they can negotiate different types of power. It has a section on power structures that provides insights into the types of power people hold. Sign up for the course to start your leadership journey.

Explore topics such as How to Manage Crisis, McClelland's Theory of Needs & MBWA from our Harappa Diaries section in order to build trust-rich relationships at work.

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