Today, using Boris Johnson as an example and French and Raven’s 5 forms of power, as a model, 14 senior leaders and I discussed the power that leaders have to influence others.
As a prime minister, Boris Johnson has ‘power related to his position’, i.e ‘legitimate, coercive and reward’ power. Legitimate power is linked to his title and stature, and in this role, we’ve seen Boris reward people with roles that they did not deserve, and use coercive power to punish others, by sacking them.
Leaders also have ‘personal power’, i.e expert and referent power. This power moves with you no matter what your job title is, and should allow you to have influence, albeit that people don’t report to you.
Expert power is when you have the knowledge and skills to understand a situation. Your opinions have value and others will look to you for leadership in that area.
Referent power comes from one’s likability and the respect that comes with that. Someone who is likeable but who lacks integrity may rise to power and gain an advantage however, it’s not a good strategy for any leader that wants longevity and respect. It should be combined with expert power to be successful.
When Boris Johnson started out as PM he was likeable (referent power) and many believed that he had the expertise required to run the country (expert power).
In his role, however, he has lacked integrity, honesty, and transparency, so he has not only lost the power related to his position today, as he steps down as PM but he has also lost his personal power i.e his likability, as fewer and fewer people trust him.
Needless to say, it was an interesting debate about leadership and what not to do.