Legitimate Power: How To Ethically Influence Your Team

CoachHub · 4 November 2022 · 8 min read

In every form of relationship, there’s always some form of power dynamics. We find people whose presence is strong enough to command authority and compel obedience—a form of power. Some people may have a strong natural influence on their teams, and others use manipulatives and antics to get people to do what they want.

This makes one realize that there are different forms of power and it could be wielded in different ways. While there’s a thin line between the effective use of power and power tripping in influencing others, a great leader must understand the ethical use of legitimate power in driving desired results on a team.

What is legitimate power?

A definition of legitimate power from the APA Dictionary describes it as “an individual’s capacity to influence others based on an occupied position, such that the individual can demand compliance to their directives from members who recognize the person’s right to do so.”

Alternatively, think of the power derived from a position of authority or formal position you hold in an organization, as a simpler legitimate power meaning. We see legitimate power play out in our everyday lives—from the president of the country, a boss at work and even the police officer.

legitimate power

Other types of power in leadership

Now that we know what legitimate power in leadership is, we’d be exploring the other forms of power that exist in leadership, as identified by researchers, French and Raven in 1960.

Coercive power:

Coercive power is power derived from the ability to mete punishment for noncompliance. It is a type of power where fear of punishment is the source of motivation and cooperation. It is the power wielded as a weapon for control and domination. An example is when a manager threatens an employee with demotion, sack or withholding of salary if they fail to comply with certain standards or objectives.

Expert power:

Expert power is derived from mastery, knowledge, and experience that have been gathered in a specific field of expertise. A leader can wield expert power as a result of years of expertise in a specific field. Employees within an organization can also wield expert power, where everyone is relevant for the technical know-how they contribute on the job. A restaurant’s chief chef who crafts the recipe for its best-selling menu also wields this form of power.

Referent power:

This type of power is attained through respect, admiration, and/or a highly successful history of performance. Also known as charisma, it comes from the ability to be a good role model and attracts the loyalty and commitment of others. Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, wielded this power when he tweeted to use Signal—a messaging app—leading to a 438% increase in shares a day after.

Reward Power:

This form of power is gotten from the ability to grant a gift, reward or incentive in recognition of effort or compliance. The reward given must be of utmost importance or not readily available to the target of influence to be effective. An example is when employees are offered recognition or a monetary reward for outstanding performance. It’s considered a weak form of power as it could be used to manipulate others to drive a selfish objective. When used correctly, it could also yield a significant positive ripple effect.

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What legitimate power actually is and what it isn’t

Many people occupy positions that allow them to wield legitimate power, which could also give them the right to exercise other forms of power to various degrees. Not everyone who possesses this form of power understands how to ethically use it in wielding influence on a team. Here are some things to know about legitimate power.

  • It ends with the position or role and is not a direct measure of your influence and leadership abilities.
  • It’s assigned to ensure effective results on a bigger responsibility.
  • The essence of legitimate power is the ability to make decisions and execute them for the advancement of an entity’s objectives.
  • It doesn’t make you an island in decision-making, you still need to prioritize the input of others.
  • It’s not a privilege to abuse others and attain selfish interests.
  • It can be taken away when a leader becomes toxic and overbearing wielding legitimate power.

Examples of legitimate Power

Many legitimate power examples are everywhere around us. We interact with them daily and some of us occupy such roles. Here are some examples.


A manager oversees and controls the order and administration of an organization or team. They are responsible for employees who are to report back to them on their duties. This individual can wield legitimate power over their direct reports and expect compliance.


Parents are in charge of the overall well-being of the child and therefore have almost absolute power and control over that child. In parenting, they’re likely to wield other forms of power to the degree that they dim fit in raising a child. They decide what the child lives, goes and is exposed to.

Business owner:

Someone who owns a business has absolute power—as much as is legally possible, to decide how to run the business and what happens in it. Employees in this setting will conform to the owner’s standards for running the business and achieving productivity. The business owner can decide who or what stays or leaves. They may also wield other forms of power such as expert, coercive, or reward power.

Advantages of legitimate power

People in positions of authority can use legitimate power in a way that benefits them and their subordinates, as it has its advantages when used rightly. Some of these include;

Legitimate power is commonly accepted:

In many settings, it’s easy to wield influence using this type of power. Subordinates naturally comply with such influence without being coerced to do so.

Clear hierarchy in positions of authority:

This makes you see where the center of control lies and make decisions that not only benefit the organization but also the well-being of the employees and team members.

Ability to influence and impact others:

A leader who shows a high level of responsibility and integrity can wield influence that impacts and earns the trust and voluntary cooperation of team members.

Quick and effective decision-making:

Legitimate power ensures the ability to enforce rules and regulations that allows for orderly and smooth operations. Decisions can be made quickly and executed effectively when legitimate power is applied.

Disadvantages of legitimate power

There are downsides to legitimate power, especially if wielded inappropriately. Since it’s not a true measure of the strength of an individual’s charisma, a lot can go wrong with its use. This is why leaders must be careful with the power they’re given. Some disadvantages of leadership power include;

May lead to defiance and frustration:

When a leader overuses legitimate power, subordinates can become frustrated or become defiant over time. This may end up hampering growth and productivity as opposed to the leader’s objective.

Abuse of power:

A leader can choose to exploit subordinates for personal gain. Sometimes, it could be used to drive results within an unrealistic time frame and subordinates have no choice but to comply.

May be ineffective without other types of power:

When a leader lacks expert power, for instance, it’s likely to slow down the progress of a team, thus making the legitimate power ineffective. Where the role does not allow the use of coercive power, the leader might face challenges handling their subordinates.

Ineffective use may lead to distrust:

Team members who look up to a legitimate power holder to make quality decisions for productivity and well-being may lose trust in the person if the person is ineffective. A general decline in trust exists once the leader doesn’t live up to expected responsibilities.

Tips to excel in a legitimate power position

With the many responsibilities attached to a legitimate power position, these tips would be helpful to navigate your leadership role more effectively.

Use other forms of Power:

To influence your team, use other forms of power, especially personal forms of power—referent, expert and reward—to motivate your team members. This helps to build your team members’ trust in you and your capabilities to lead them.

Know your role and recognize your responsibilities:

Knowing and understanding your role and what you are responsible for would help you achieve more results. It’s important to gather knowledge, skill and experience that would help you better succeed in your role.

Communicate with your team members:

To lead a team effectively, you have to connect with the team members and familiarize yourself with them. Proper communication is also important to make the relationship work and achieve work goals faster.

Get coaching to enhance your leadership skills:

Coaching allows you to embrace partnership, growth and counsel. It harnesses your leadership capabilities to help team members develop their potential. With coaching, you understand your strengths and weaknesses and identify areas to delegate to capable subordinates. Overall, it helps you to attain your leadership goals and gain relevant skills in personal leadership that allows you to use legitimate power effectively.

Final Words…

Being in a position of authority and leadership has many perks but the responsibility that comes with them mustn’t be overlooked. Leaders must be careful with the power they are given as it can easily be abused. Leaders with legitimate power must learn to wield it carefully in achieving their objectives, and learn to apply other forms of power where necessary. A great leader understands the benefits of positive influence on a team rather than using manipulation or abuse to drive results.

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Samuel Olawole
Samuel Olawole is a freelance copywriter and content writer who specializes in creating exciting content across a wide range of topics and industries. When he’s not writing, you can find him traveling or listening to good music.

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