Leadership, Power, and Influence

Leadership is one of the most critical factors for organizational success.  Over the past several decades, researches have been conducted to study leadership theories, models, and applications in various types of organizations and environments.  In order to understand how leadership, influence, and power interact and play a role in different leadership styles and situations, we need to understand the concepts and relationship among leadership, influence, and power; we should also analyze and compare the common ground and differences of leadership, influence.  It is an interesting research in study of how leaders demonstrate leadership, influence, and power on the basis of different leadership theories.

According to Passmore (2010), leadership is “a set of social processes of influencing and motivating individuals and groups, and of shaping goals and outcomes amongst diverse stakeholders through influence, persuasion and negotiation” (p. 160).  Leadership is typically viewed as “a process of social influence, in which one or more persons affect one or more followers by clarifying what needs to be done, and providing the tools and motivation to accomplish set goals” (Babcock-Roberson & Strickland, 2010, p. 314).  These definitions of leadership indicate that influence is the core function of leadership because leadership is realized through social influence, thus leadership cannot occur without influence.  As explained in Morris, Maisto, and Dunn (2007), social influence is “the process by which others, individually or collectively, affect one’s perceptions, attitudes, and actions” (p. 375).  Therefore, the forms of social influence include altering people’s perceptions, changing their attitudes, and triggering actions of individuals and groups.  The role of leadership is to direct people to take actions towards the goals of the leaders and organizations.

Because a leader is usually identified as a person in a position with power, leadership is often associated with power and the use of power, but leadership and power are not equivalent.  Power is generally defined as “the capacity to guide others’ actions toward whatever goals are meaningful to the power-holder” (Messick & Kramer, 2005, p. 277).  As explained in Lussier and Achua (2010), power “is about achieving influence over others” (p. 110) and “power is the leader’s potential influence over followers” (p. 110).  Because power is the potential influence rather than the actual influence, it is not necessary for a leader to actually use power to lead.  A leader may be able to influence others simply because of the possession of power as perceived by followers.  To distinguish leadership from power, Messick and Kramer (2005) stated that “leadership involves getting followers to believe in and pursue your vision for the group, whereas power involves getting people to do what you tell them, even if they do not subscribe to your vision for the group” (p. 69).  Messick and Kramer (2005) further explained that from the perspective of social influence, leadership produces internalized cognitive change, whereas power produces surface compliance.

According to Lussier and Achua (2010), power comes from two resources:  position power and personal power.  Power can be classified into seven types which are legitimate power, reward power, coercive power, expert power, referent power, connection power, and information power.  Leaders in different leadership styles and situations may acquire and use different types of power to achieve their goals.  In general, power rarely belongs to just one leader but it is distributed among group members.  Although the official leader holds considerable power within the team, other team members usually have certain power to affect the whole situation (Laios, Theodorakis, & Gargalianos, 2003).


Laios, A. A., Theodorakis, N. N., & Gargalianos, D. D. (2003). Leadership and power: Two important factors for effective coaching. International Sports Journal, 7(1), 150-154.

Lussier, R. N. & Achua, C. F. (2010). Leadership: Theory, application, and skill development (4th ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.

Messick, D. M. & Kramer, R. M. (2005). The psychology of leadership: New perspectives and research. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Morris, C. G., Maisto, A. A., & Dunn, W. L. (2007). Psychology concepts and applications.  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Passmore, J. (2010). Leadership coaching: Working with leaders to develop elite performance. London, UK: Kogan Page Limited.

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