Power Bases: A Great Tool for the Leadership Coach - International Coaching Federation
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Power Bases: A Great Tool for the Leadership Coach

Posted by Dr. Katie Best | July 16, 2020 | Comments (3)

If you work with clients who are current or emerging leaders but who are not always confident in their leadership position, then  John R. P. French and Bertram Raven’s power bases can help. It is a common tool in leadership modules at business school but is routinely overlooked in coaching practice.

I use it to help current or emerging leaders focus on where they currently have power and where they would like to develop it.

French and Raven’s Power Bases

The model was developed between 1959 – 1965, so it has pedigree. It suggests that people’s power takes six different forms:

1) Legitimate Power

Legitimate power is the authority to command, based on position. If the leader has a formal managerial position in the organization, which means that they are above others in the hierarchy, then they have legitimate power that they can use.

2) Reward Power

Reward power is the ability to award positive, desired outcomes. So, if they are able to praise, offer extra holiday, or control the bonus pot, then a leader has reward power.

3) Referent Power

This type of power is based on the affiliations we make with others. If others feel an affiliation to the leader, and find them likeable, then the leader has referent power to draw on.

4) Expert Power

Expert power is based on what the leader knows, the experience that they have, or their special skills. If your leader has a strong knowledge and/or experience base on which they can draw to perform their role, then they will have expert power.

5) Informational Power

A leader will have informational power if they control access to or have possession of information that others need or want. The threat to withhold it or the offer to share it gives the leader power. However, informational power can easily be given away. Once the information is shared, the power dissipates.

6) Coercive Power

This is the threat of force to gain compliance from another. It could be economic, social, emotional, political or physical. Leaders are often reticent to admit that they have this form of power, but any leader in a formal position of power will usually have some ability to withdraw economic and social rewards, such as bonuses, afternoons off or staff get-togethers.

A coaching client who is being very honest will likely be able to find at least one or two recent occasions where they have been able to achieve what they needed to via a latent threat.

How I Work with Power Bases and My Clients

I set up a table with five columns and seven rows. The first column lists each of the power bases and the next provides a short explanation of each. Then the final three columns are reserved for my clients’ reflection. One heading reads, “How much of this power base do I currently possess in my relationship with juniors?” The next reads, “How much of this power base do I currently possess in my relationship with equals?” And the third reads, “How much of this power base do I currently possess in my relationship with my manager/s?”

For each power base, and each type of person, I challenge them to state whether they have none, some, or lots of that power base. They may, if they get really into the exercise, want to split out the section focused on juniors into different people that they lead. That’s fine. Whatever leads them to the greatest material for reflection and change.

Then I ask them to sit back and tell me what they notice. They will usually begin to discuss where they feel they have high power that they did not previously notice. This is great for developing self-awareness and confidence. They will usually also identify—perhaps worriedly—where they feel their power is lower. This forms a great basis for further reflection and discussion, which can sometimes be quite detailed, and they choose for it to straddle sessions. The purpose, however, is that the increased self-awareness may help them to make change.

Making Change

When their reflection is finished, if they have not already done so, I will usually ask that they identify three to four boxes reflecting development areas for themselves. For example, a recent client wanted to make greater use of their legitimate power with juniors, build more referent power with equals, and make managers aware of how much expertise they had.

I will then offer the chance to work through this, looking at options, before making more concrete plans. The power bases model thus provides a great platform for working together with leaders to explore sources of power in more detail and to build self-awareness, confidence and development points, as well as provide some techniques of how to get there.



© Dr. Katie Best

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Dr. Katie Best

Katie Best, PhD, is an accredited leadership coach, trainer and consultant. She is the founder of TaylorBest, a leadership development consultancy that helps organizations excel by helping their leaders excel. Katie has worked with a considerable roster of clients, including those in senior roles at Simmons & Simmons, Lewis Silkin, KPMG, EY, Barclays, Kaplan Altior, NHS, V&A, The Olympic Legacy Corporation, LSE, Cass Business School, Mishcon de Reya and Ropes & Gray. She maintains affiliations with LSE and King’s College London, and her award-winning research has been published in top-ranked journals (4* and 3* publications) in the fields of Management and Social Sciences.

The views and opinions expressed in guest posts featured on this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of the International Coach Federation (ICF). The publication of a guest post on the ICF Blog does not equate to an ICF endorsement or guarantee of the products or services provided by the author.

Comments (3)

  1. drkimrichardson@gmail.com says:

    This is a helpful activity. Thank you for sharing!

  2. coachlizk@gmail.com says:

    Thank you for sharing this.

  3. Adeyanju says:

    Thank you for sharing Katie. Very insightful and I see varied applications for emerging leaders who are still unsure of their leadership legitimacy. Equally helpful for developing confidence in these leaders. Will definitely use this.

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