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The Power Play #2: Legitimate Power

We continue our series on the bases of power as they relate to workplace dynamics and in our dealings with clients. Why is this important? Because as a leader in a position of power, your understanding of its impact will inform how you balance it in all relationships so that it works respectfully and to your advantage. To date, we’ve examined coercive power. In this blog, we’ll examine legitimate power, which is determined by the formal position one holds within an organization. Those in a position of legitimate power have the authority to make demands with the expectation that those of whom the demands are made will be compliant in following through on them.

The subordinates of someone in authority comply with orders given to them because they believe that the position or title gives their superior the right to use that power. For instance, a CEO assumes this power based on the organizational structure of the business or an appointment. A government leader assumes their power based on an electorate or appointment. Social hierarchies and cultural norms have an additional bearing on how both leaders and subordinates respond to directives. A CEO may justifiably expect compliance with matters related to strategic implementation. But orders that fall outside of their position – how employees are expected to commute to work, for instance – might be received with pushback because it falls outside of the scope of what subordinates perceive the CEO’s rightful power position to be.

Another drawback to positional power is that power is linked to the position rather than the person. Lose the position, lose the power.

Within a business organization, legitimate power can be enhanced by ensuring that the business has a clearly defined organizational structure, chain of command, and prescribed procedural guidelines. In client relations, it enhances the mantle of authority. But perception needs follow through. No amount of authority can be maintained without the aptitude, perspective, critical thinking and talent to back it up. These factors and the manner in which directives are given will either enhance or erode the position of power over time. Understanding these matters contributes to your efforts at seriously shifting your approach.


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