French and Raven’s Bases of Power
The Definitive Guide

This is the ultimate guide to French and Raven’s Bases of Power.

Division of power and the way power is used affects both my life and yours. 

Power affects almost all our choices in life, our homes and our work. It is used everywhere and by everyone.

French and Raven’s Bases of Power: The Definitive Guide bases of power

So if you want to:

  • Learn more about the types of power and where they come from.
  • Learn about how power is available to us.
  • Understand what the different styles of leadership are.
  • Gain an in-depth understanding of the bases of power.
  • Learn about the advantages of using power bases in leadership.
  • Figure out which power base is most effective.
  • Understanding power tactics.

Then you’ll love this guide. 

Let’s get started!

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French and Raven’s Bases of Power: The Definitive Guide bases of power

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Chapter 1:

The Fundamentals

In this chapter, I will be discussing what power is and where it comes from in the workplace.

This will help you understand the basics which will act as a foundation for the information that follows ahead.

French and Raven’s Bases of Power: The Definitive Guide bases of power

What is Power ?

Simply, power means having the capacity or ability to act in certain ways or impose your will on others.

But in a work context, people interpret the concept of power in different ways.

Some people see power as something they receive from an external source. This could be an assigned title or position that gives someone control and authority over others.

Other people believe power is an innate quality that can be cultivated internally and that manifests externally. In this sense, a person’s personal power grows as they develop.

No one is right or wrong, it all depends on the situation you use power in to gain the most results. 

We’ve all seen leaders who let power go to their heads.

They rule with an iron fist, believing their position gives them the authority to do so.

These leaders might succeed in imposing their will on their employees in the short term. 

But eventually, this management style leads to lower employee engagement, which is bad for business.

True power is a combination of both internal and external power. This means that anyone can access a certain amount of power, regardless of their position in the hierarchy.

Power vs Influence

Influence according to the Oxford Dictionary is the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself.

In today’s digital age of social media, you and I have access to a lot of people online. We have a voice, we have platforms where we can be heard and seen if we want to. This access, if used well, gives us a chance to influence people.

Both power and influence can help you change the actions and behaviors of your peers. However, they do so in significantly different ways.

Power uses force to convince someone to perform an action. When you influence someone, however, a person will typically not feel pressured or forced to do anything. 

Influence is not about ruling with an iron fist, but more about guiding individuals during the decision-making process.  

Power can be costly to businesses when employees come to resent it, or feel they are acting against their beliefs solely because they ‘have to.’ 

On the other hand, influence can help improve employee retention in an organization. When people are positively influenced, they feel that they are acting in ways they believe are right.

Managing only with power often creates a one-way conversation between a leader and a subordinate. 

Managing through influence, however, opens up space for a two-way conversation between peers.

Power and Leadership

The most powerful leaders have clarity and self-discipline. 

This allows them to lead by example.

By modeling disciplined behaviors, they encourage and inspire their team members to do the same. 

And when employees are self-disciplined, they require less micro-management. This, in turn, increases the leader’s power, creating a virtuous cycle of trust and self-leadership.

Insightfulness is another key aspect of a leader’s power. An insightful leader has the capacity to see the bigger picture and communicate that vision. Their insights give them greater power and influence over their team members. The greater the impact a leader can have, the more they will be perceived as powerful by their employees. 

Using your creativity to find solutions, make decisions, and set organizational goals can increase your perceived power among your employees.

Confident leaders also have more power and influence over their subordinates.

 You can cultivate confidence by acting in line with your values and defending your positions.

Now that you have a basic idea of power and influence and leadership, let’s really get into the meat of this article and dissect the various Bases of Power in chapter 2

Chapter 2:

The Bases of Power

The Bases of Power differ according to the manner in which social changes are implemented, the permanence of such changes, and the ways in which each bases of power is established and maintained.

The effectiveness of power is situational. Given there are six bases of power, it is very important to know the situational uses of each power, focusing on when each is most effective. 

French and Raven’s Bases of Power: The Definitive Guide bases of power

According to French and Raven, “it is of particular practical interest to know what Bases of Power or which power strategies are most likely to be effective, but it is clear that there is no simple answer.’’

Keeping that in mind, in 1959, French and Raven described five types of ways in which power is used:


Legitimate Power

This comes from the belief that a person has the formal right to make demands and to expect others to be compliant and obedient.

Legitimate power is power derived from a position or a set of formal relationships.  Leaders in hierarchies and elected officials have legitimate power. 

People are influenced by legitimate power and they will do what they are told due to the rules of society and the workplace. 

Legitimate power is fickle though. If someone loses their position, they often quickly lose their power.

  • Position 

The legitimate position of power is based on the social norm which requires people to be obedient to those who hold superior positions in a formal or informal social structure.

Let me give you some examples: a police officer’s legitimacy to make arrests; a parent’s legitimacy to restrict a child’s activities; the President’s legitimacy to live in the White House, and the Congress’ legitimacy to declare war.

  • Reciprocity 

The legitimate power of reciprocity is based on the social norm of reciprocity. This states how we feel obligated to do something in return for someone who does something beneficial for us.

  • Equity 

The legitimate power of equity is based on the social norm of equity. The social norm of equity makes people feel compelled to compensate someone who has suffered or worked hard. 

As well as someone whom we have harmed in some way is based on the premise that there is a wrong that can be made right, which may be a compensatory form of righting the wrong.

Reward Power

The second of French and Raven’s Forms of Power is reward power. Reward involves giving benefits to someone for doing something. This is almost the opposite of coercion.

Rewards generally only influence people’s work to the point at which a reward has been earned, after which there is no ongoing incentive. 

Some rewards are personal, like a nice “thank you” and these can be very powerful.  The power of rewards diminishes over time, and recipients of rewards may start to consider them as entitlements.

  • Impersonal 

An example of impersonal reward relates to promises of promotions, money and rewards from various social areas.

  • Personal 

An example of personal reward relates to the reward of receiving approval from a desired person and building relationships with romantic partners.

Power – Expert

This is based on a person’s high levels of skill and knowledge. Expert power derives from an individual’s expertise. Their level of skill, competence and experience helps make them trustworthy and influential to others.

Expert power is derived purely from personal traits and is wholly independent of a position in an organization. Expert power only lasts as long as an expert keeps getting good results and is not acting purely for personal gain.

  • Positive 

Expert power in a positive form influences the target to act accordingly as instructed by the expert, based on the assumption of the expert’s correct knowledge.

  • Negative 

Expert power in a negative form can result from a person acting in opposition to the expert’s instructions if the target feels that the expert has personal gain motives.

Referent Power

This is the result of a person’s perceived attractiveness, worthiness and right to others’ respect. It is based on being liked and respected as an individual. Social media influencers have referent power. 

It’s a highly personal type of power and generally uninfluenced by position (though it may help individuals gain position). 

Referent power alone often isn’t that strong in the workplace.

  • Positive 

Referent power in a positive form utilizes the shared personal connection or shared belief between the influencing agent and target with the intention of positively correlated actions of the target.

  • Negative 

Referent power in a negative form produces actions in opposition to the intent of the influencing agent, this is the result from the agent’s creation of cognitive dissonance between the referent influencing agent and the target’s perception of that influence


Coercion involves forcing someone to do something against their will. This is usually achieved by being able to punish someone for non-compliance. Coercion can only ever achieve compliance in others, it can never lead them to excellence. It also usually causes resentment and if used too much will cause people to leave. This power can be abused, so you must be careful. 

  • Impersonal 

An example of impersonal coercion relates to a person’s belief that the influencing agent has the real power to physically threaten, impose a monetary fine or dismiss an employee.

  • Personal 

An example of personal coercion relates to a threat of rejection or the possibility of disapproval from a person who is highly valued.

Informational Power

The last of French and Raven’s Forms of Power is informational power.

Informational power is based on the ability to control the flow of information that is needed to get things done. It is often derived from having access to confidential information that others don’t know (information asymmetry).

Informational power can be very strong in our increasingly information and data-driven world. However, once a source of information is lost, so is its associated power.

Let me explain to you how the context in which these powers are used can make a world of a difference with the help of some examples.

 For example, a power strategy that works immediately but relies on surveillance (for example, reward power or coercive power) may not last once surveillance ends. 

One organizational study found that reward power tended to lead to greater satisfaction on the part of employees, which means that it might increase influence in a broad range of situations.

Coercive power was more effective in influencing a subordinate who jeopardized the success of the overall organization or threatened the leader’s authority, even though in the short term it also led to resentment on the part of the target. 

A power strategy that ultimately leads to private acceptance and long-lasting change (for example, information power) may be difficult to implement, and consume considerable time and energy. It is always worth the effort as you can observe long term gains. 

 In the short term, complete reliance on information power might even be dangerous (for example, telling a small child not to run into the street unattended). 

A military officer leading his troops into combat might be severely handicapped if he had to give complete explanations for each move. Instead, he would want to rely on unquestioned legitimate position power, backed up by coercive power. 

Power resources, which may be effective for one leader, dealing with one target or follower, may not work for a different leader and follower.

Chapter 3:

Availability of Power

People gain different forms of power in different ways. Some adhere to hierarchical positions in organizations or society, some are available to people at all levels and some require the ability to observe and assess others.

Let’s consider each of the forms in relation to these factors below.

French and Raven’s Bases of Power: The Definitive Guide bases of power


Coercive power is definitely enhanced by organizational position. The more senior you are, the greater your ability to punish someone for non-compliance. 

The power is partially available to those without senior positions. It is only available if the person finds a personal way of punishing others for non-compliance. 

The power is also dependent on surveillance because to punish someone for non-compliance you need to be aware of their level of compliance.


As we saw for coercion, even in the reward form of power, the more senior you are, the greater your ability to reward someone for compliance.

This power is also only partially available to those not holding senior positions. But they only hold the ability to give small rewards such as saying ‘thank you.’ 

To reward someone for compliance you need to be aware of their level of compliance.


It is pretty obvious that the senior positions in the workforce embody more legitimacy than the junior positions. 

The power is available to those without senior positions, though only through social norms such as reciprocity (returning a favor).

This power does not change based on surveillance and is independent of observing others.


Seniority does not provide any additional value to your level of expertise.

Expertise exists at all levels in an organization. Expertise is very much independent of

Position in a company. 

It is also not something that is dependent on surveillance, it is a very personal form of power and totally independent of others.


Referent power is highly personal and is independent of organizational position. 

The power is available to those not in senior positions as well.

It exists regardless of others and is not dependent on surveillance.


This is very dependent on the level of seniority a person has in a company. The more senior a person is the more information they have access to. 

Information is harder to come by in people in junior positions. It is possible but rare.

Informational power is not really reliant on surveillance or on observation of others. Except of course gossiping and the likes. 

Now that you have understood about the bases of power and how it is available to us. Let me get into the styles of leadership and how to channelize the power effectively in Chapter 4.

Chapter 4:

Styles of Leadership

Three different styles of leadership were identified by Kurt Lewin, a renowned social scientist, in 1939. They are authoritarian, democratic, and laissez-faire. 

His results indicated that the democratic style is superior to the other two styles.

 Let me tell you about the attributes of each style.

French and Raven’s Bases of Power: The Definitive Guide bases of power

The Authoritarian

This leader makes all decisions, independent of the member’s input. 

The authority figure dictates leaving members in the dark about future plans. 

The authority figure selects which members will work collaboratively and determines solely the work tasks for the teams. 

This leader type is very personal in his praise and criticisms of each member but does not actively participate with the group, unless demonstrating to the group. 

The authority figure is friendly and impersonal, but not openly hostile.

The Democratic

This leader welcomes team input and facilitates group discussion and decision making. 

This type shares plans with the group and offers multiple options for group consideration. 

Encourages members to work freely with each other and leaves division of tasks to the group. 

This leader is objective in praise and criticism and joins group activities without over-participating.

The Laissez-faire

Here, the leader allows the group complete freedom for decision-making, without participating himself. 

This leader type provides materials and offers to assist only by request. 

The laissez-faire leader does not participate in work discussions or group tasks. This leader does not offer commentary on members’ performance unless asked directly, and does not participate or intervene in activities.

Each leadership style can be appropriate depending on the environment within which it is implemented, the members of the group (employees), and the goals or tasks that are being undertaken by the group. 

Leaders may adjust their style of leadership to fit certain tasks, groups, or settings.

An authoritarian leadership style can be effective when a situation calls for expedited action or decision-making. Group members who are not self-motivated, who prefer structure, and appreciate significant direction and monitoring may thrive under this style.

A democratic leadership style allows for multiple viewpoints, inputs, and participation, while still maintaining control and the leadership role.

 A quality democratic leader recognizes each member’s strengths and effectively elicits the best performance from each member, all the while guiding and leading effectively. 

A challenge for the democratic leader is to recognize that not all tasks need to be handled by the group; that the leader should appropriately address some issues alone.

A laissez-faire leadership style works best when group members are highly skilled and motivated, with a proven track record of excellence. 

This hands-off approach can allow these capable members to be productive and effective. The laissez-faire style is interpreted by the members as a sign of confidence and trust in their abilities and further empowers them to be successful and motivated.

To read more about the different styles of leadership, head to ‘What are the Coaching Styles?’

Power As a Function of Leadership

Traditional theories such as those of French and Raven, as well as the empowerment advocates of the 1980s, such as Crosby and Deming, have tended to approach power and authority as one-dimensional. 

By contrast, several experts have more recently begun to reconfigure how power is viewed to a more multidimensional interweaving of relations or conflicting needs.

It has also been argued that authority is culturally based. 

For Hofstede, power distance is the degree to which members of a culture feel comfortable with inequalities in power within an organization; that is, the extent to which one’s boss is seen as having greater power than oneself. 

Thus, views regarding both power and leadership shape the conception of authority within an organization. 

And because both these facets of authority conception differ drastically from culture to culture, authority itself is conceived of differently from society to society.

Consequently, no single dimension of authority and power is likely to hold equally for all managers and employees in a multicultural domestic setting or in the multicultural milieu of the multinational corporation.

Finally, one can also argue against the one-dimensional view of authority and power when they are viewed not as independent elements in the abstract, but as intrinsically derived from relations within the organization.

 Power and authority are multidimensional because relationships are by nature multidimensional.

The ways in which managers influence their employees and encourage them to be productive depend on many variables, including the personality of the leader, the skills of the group/employees, the task or assignment at hand, or the group dynamics and personalities of group members. 

As with leadership styles, each base of power has its place in management and can prove effective in the right setting and right circumstances.

Advantages of Power

As you may have observed in your own life, Power can be very advantageous depending on how it is used.  The hierarchy of power is essential in running an organization or even running a household smoothly. Power can be misused very easily but when used correctly it can offer a lot of guidance and stability. Let’s look at some of the advantages of power.

Following are the advantages linked with power:

  • Managers are able to perform their leadership responsibilities with the help of power. So it is quite necessary for the organization.
  • The employees can also be facilitated through the power of influencing others. In the achievement of the organizational objectives as well as personal ones.
  • Another advantage of referent and expert power is that it can inspire the other employees to become committed to their work.
  • The other employees also feel less uncertainty in the organization. When some of them possess expert and referent powers.
  • The bureaucratic obstacles are reduced through the use of power by employees in the organization.
  • The creativity of the employees is enhanced with the support of power in the organization.

What Types of Power do Effective Leaders Use?

Effective leaders know how to draw on the different types of power in different situations. 

This is usually a skill that develops with experience. Bear in mind that certain types of power are only effective in situations that require immediate action or resolution.

In the case of employee misconduct, you might use coercion to persuade your employee to stop their inappropriate behavior. Use your discretion to determine whether this is the right course of action.

For the most part, you will rely on softer types of power to encourage employee commitment to organizational goals and plans. These include legitimate, referent, and expert power. The different types of power can give you greater influence, boost employee engagement, and achieve better results for your organization.

Knowing how to use your power is a skill that usually comes with time and experience.

However, you can accelerate the process and become a more influential leader in less time with the support of a coach.

Chapter 5:

Power Tactics

Regardless of the basis of power in use, power-holders often use power tactics to influence others.

Power tactics are different strategies used to influence others, typically to gain a particular advantage or objective.

Power-holders commonly use six different power tactics.

French and Raven’s Bases of Power: The Definitive Guide bases of power

Soft Tactics

The first is soft tactics which utilize the relationships between the target and the influencer to bring out compliance. 

Sometimes individuals use this method of influence more indirectly and interpersonally through the use of friendships, socialization, collaboration, and personal rewards.

Hard Tactics

The second tactic is hard tactics that rely on economic, tangible outcomes.

These tactics are harsh, forcing, or direct, especially in comparison to soft tactics. 

Though this tactic may seem more significant, it is not necessarily more powerful than soft tactics.

Rational Tactics

The third tactic is rational tactics; they use reasoning, logic, and sound judgment by bargaining and persuading the target they are influencing.

Non-Rational Tactic

The fourth tactic is non-rational; these tactics rely on emotionality and misinformation; an example would be ingratiation and evasion.

Bilateral Tactics

The fifth power tactic is bilateral tactics; these are based on an interactive approach involving a give-and-take process for both the influencer and the target receiving the influence.

For instance, someone using bilateral tactics would likely open discussions with the person they are trying to influence and be more prone to negotiating with the target.

Unilateral Tactics

The last power tactic is unilateral tactics; these are the opposite of an interactive approach and instead can be done without the cooperation of the target, including making demands, disengagement, and evasion.

Personal and biological characteristics also influence the use of power tactics. For instance, an extrovert –an outgoing and overtly expressive individual – will use a more extensive range of tactics than an introvert – a shy or reticent individual.

 A difference in tactics also exists between males and females.

 In intimate relationships, women tend to lean toward using unilateral and indirect methods with their partners, whereas men use bilateral and direct tactics.

Chapter 6:

Power Corruption and How to Eliminate it

When an individual possesses a high degree of power and he is not held responsible for the consequences resulting from its use, then this condition is known as power corruption.

In this chapter, I will walk you through the disadvantages of power corruption in an organization and the process to eliminate power corruption.

French and Raven’s Bases of Power: The Definitive Guide bases of power

Disadvantages of Power Corruption in an Organization

Power corruption results in harmful consequences in which the power is abused for the accomplishment of personal objectives.

 Within an organization, the cycle of power corruption is initiated when the managers are removed physically from their employees.

 They develop concepts about themselves which are inflated. This causes a disparity among different levels of employees in the organization and lower-level employees become more suppressed and helpless in the organization.

Here are some disadvantages of power corruption that can occur in an organization if left unresolved:

  • The decision making in the organization becomes poor.
  • Also, coercive behavior is promoted in the organization.
  • The employees of the organization have a low opinion of the processes. Also, the working environment of the organization is harmfully affected.
  • The distance between management and employees is enhanced that badly affects the performance of the organization.
  • Moreover, the managers are free to promote illegal or unethical actions in the organization.

Eliminating Power Corruption

It is compulsory for the organization to take effective steps for eliminating power corruption. 

Here are some steps that can help you remove power corruption in your organization :

  • The contact between managers and employees needs to be enhanced.
  • Also, the dependency of the employees on the managers needs to be reduced.
  • The culture of the organization is reorganized as open and performance-centered.
  • Although the structure of the organization is rearranged that facilitates effective performance in the organization.
  • Another useful step is developing models for ethical behavior. Encourage and reward the managers and employees that show the standard behavior in the organization.
  • Certain policies and procedures should be implemented in the organization that can clearly identify the unethical use of power. So that such corruption of power can be stopped.
  • Certain values in the organizational culture should be rooted. 

The thing that is really important about the delegation of power is, that before delegating power make sure to delegate the responsibilities. So there is a balance among responsibilities and power.

Useful Resources

Now that you have understood the various Bases of Power and how to use them effectively and wisely let’s go one step further.

Here are few resources across various formats which will help you explore power and its forms more thoroughly.

Online Courses and Lectures

Influencing People –  This course will improve your ability to influence people in situations where you cannot use formal authority. You will learn about effective ways to build, develop, and sustain a power base in your organization

Building your Bases of Power – This course will help you understand the various bases of power and how to use them effectively.

Power Building– This course will help you build your power in detail.

Worksheets and Exercises

Personal Powers–  here is a fun quiz for you on Referent and Expert Power.

Power Bases and Influence – Here is an Exercise to make some personal plans for yourself to build strong relationships with your team members.

Personal Power Plan worksheet,- This worksheet will help you redefine how you utilize power.


Congratulations on finishing the definitive guide on Bases of Power!

Now you have all the tools you require to understand the different forms of power, understanding power tactics and removing corruption of power. 

But don’t just stop here; start implementing all that you have learned right away. The time to start making the necessary changes in your life is now!

Remember: consistency is key to the journey of becoming a powerful and more importantly, fair person. Nothing happens in a day.

What did you find most useful about this  Definitive Guide?

What steps are you going to take now towards your journey?

Have you found what you were looking for? Is there something that I have missed? 

If there’s something you need more clarity on, feel free to ask me in the comments section below and I’ll be sure to answer them!

French and Raven’s Bases of Power: The Definitive Guide bases of power

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