Lead from the front
There are many different power bases that a leader can use and exploit.
These include problematic ones such as the power of position, the power to give
rewards, the power to punish and the power to control information. While these
types of power do have some strength, they put the person being lead in an
unhealthy position of weakness, and can leave leaders using these power bases
looking autocratic and out of touch.
More than this, society has changed hugely over the last 50 years. Citizens are
individually more powerful, and employees are more able to shift jobs. Few of us
enjoy having power exerted over us, and many will do what they can to undermine
people who use these sorts of power.
However there are three types of positive power that effective leaders use:
charismatic power, expert power and referent power.
This article teaches the technique of building expert power.
Using the Tool:
Expert power is essential because as a leader, your team
looks to you for direction and guidance. Team members need to believe in your
ability to set a worthwhile direction, give sound guidance and co-ordinate a
If your team perceives you as a true expert, they will be much more receptive
when you try to exercise influence tactics such as rational persuasion and
And if your team sees you as an expert you will find it much easier to guide
them in such a way as to create high motivation:
- If your team members respect your expertise, they'll know that you can show them
how to work effectively.
- If your team members trust your judgment, they'll trust you to guide their good
efforts and hard work in such a way that you'll make the most of their hard
- If they can see your expertise, team members are more likely to believe that you
have the wisdom to direct their efforts towards a goal that is genuinely
Taken together, if your team sees you as an expert, you will find it much easier
to motivate team members to perform at their best.
So how do you build expert power?
- Gain expertise: The first step is fairly obvious (if time consuming) – gain
expertise. And, if you are already using tools like the information gathering
tool, the chances are that you have already progressed
well ahead in this direction.
- But just being an expert isn't enough, it is also necessary for your team
members to recognize your expertise and see you to be a credible source of
information and advice. Gary A. Yukl, in his book "Leadership in Organizations,"
details some steps to build expert power. A summary of these steps follows:
- Promote an image of expertise: Since perceived expertise in many occupations is
associated with a person's education and experience, a leader should (subtly)
make sure that subordinates, peers, and superiors are aware of his or her formal
education, relevant work experience, and significant accomplishments.
- One common tactic to make this information known is to display diplomas,
licenses, awards, and other evidence of expertise in a prominent location in
one's office – after all, if you've worked hard to gain knowledge, it's fair
that you get credit for it. Another tactic is to make subtle references to prior
education or experience (e.g., "When I was chief engineer at GE, we had a
problem similar to this one"). Beware, however, this tactic can easily be
- Maintain credibility: Once established, one's image of expertise should be
carefully protected. The leader should avoid making careless comments about
subjects on which he or she is poorly informed, and should avoid being
associated with projects with a low likelihood of success.
- Act confidently and decisively in a crisis: In a crisis or emergency,
subordinates prefer a "take charge" leader who appears to know how to direct the
group in coping with the problem. In this kind of situation, subordinates tend
to associate confident, firm leadership with expert knowledge. Even if the
leader is not sure of the best way to deal with a crisis, to express doubts or
appear confused risks the loss of influence over subordinates.
- Keep informed: Expert power is exercised through rational persuasion and
demonstration of expertise. Rational persuasion depends on a firm grasp of
up-to-date facts. It is therefore essential for a leader to keep well-informed
of developments within the team, within the organization, and in the outside
- Recognize subordinate concerns: Use of rational persuasion should not be seen as
a form of one-way communication from the leader to subordinates. Effective
leaders listen carefully to the concerns and uncertainties of their team
members, and make sure that they address these in making a persuasive appeal.
- Avoid threatening the self-esteem of subordinates: Expert power is based on a
knowledge differential between leader and team members. Unfortunately, the very
existence of such a differential can cause problems if the leader is not careful
about the way he exercises expert power.
- Team members can dislike unfavorable status comparisons where the gap is very
large and obvious. They are likely to be upset by a leader who acts in a
superior way, and arrogantly flaunts his greater expertise.
- In the process of presenting rational arguments, some leaders lecture their team
members in a condescending manner and convey the impression that the other team
members are "ignorant." Guard against this.
This is one of the articles in Mind Tools' "How to Lead: Discover the Leader
Within You" course. Not only does the course explain how to use the other "good"
power bases, it teaches you how to use a range of honest influence tactics and
powerful motivational techniques. Click here to find our more about "How to
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