Legitimate Power is one of the 5 Types of Power identified by psychologists John R. P. French and Bertram Raven in 1959.
Power in the workplace can exist in many different forms. It can exist even without a formal organizational hierarchy in place. It can also exist outside of any formal hierarchy that does exist. In this article, we’ll examine Legitimate Power.
Legitimate Power is a formal type of power derived from the position you hold in an organization. Subordinates comply because they believe in the legitimacy of your position.
With Legitimate Power it is your position that gives you your power. The higher up the organizational hierarchy you go the more power you hold.
If you lose your position your power disappears. This is because your subordinates were influenced only by your position and not you as an individual.
Regardless of your level in the hierarchy, you exercise this power when you tell your subordinate to perform a task.
Examples of people with Legitimate Power include CEOs, presidents, and monarchs.
In the above diagram, the top-level leader (Level 1) has authority over all people underneath them – the entire organization. Each of the leaders at the next level (Level 2) has authority over three separate people each. Finally, those at the bottom of the organization have no power and no authority over anyone.
Legitimate Power is underpinned by rules and even laws. In the workplace, this means that failure to follow your boss’s directive can result in disciplinary action. In the case of a president, they have the legal backing of the law of the land to issue many directives.
Even though Legitimate Power is a formal type of power and underpinned by rules and laws, it is still built on perception. This is the perception the subordinate has that another person has the authority to exert control over them.
There are several reasons why this perception can exist, including:
Legitimate Power is a power which is given to you through your position, but it doesn’t make you a good leader. To be a good leader you must also have supplemental leadership skills. For example, skills such as transformational leadership or servant leadership.
Thus, people with Legitimate Power can still be bad leaders. This situation arises all the time. Imagine you have a new boss but you don’t respect them because of their poor skills and style. If they issue an instruction you’ll do it, but only because the rules of the organization say you must. You’re not doing it because you respect or trust them in any way.
Examples of Legitimate Power in action include:
Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.
Have you recently found yourself promoted to a position of Legitimate Power? If so, congratulations! Here are some pointers you can use to get you off to the best possible start.
Legitimate Power is a great first step, but to be successful you should make use of other tools. For example, reward power and referent power can encourage your team members to strive for excellence without the need to issue precise instructions.
Remember that being promoted to a position of power is only an initial mandate. You will need to build relationships with your team to sustain your position. Servant leadership can be an excellent tool to set you up for long-term success.
You may have been promoted because you’re really great at doing something technical. The more you get promoted the more you will lose these skills.
Understand that losing some skills and replacing them with others is natural. For example, you may lose technical skills but replace them with leadership skills. Thus, it is important to be open-minded and listen to your team, taking on board their opinions before making any decisions. This will make allowance for your lost skills.
Legitimate Power is one of the 5 Types of Power. It is derived from the position you hold within a hierarchy. With Legitimate Power, subordinates do as instructed because they believe in the legitimacy of the role you hold. It is underpinned by rules, laws, and even social norms.
Bureaucratic Theory (Max Weber)
Path-Goal Theory of Leadership
Situational Leadership Model
Fiedler’s Contingency Theory of Leadership
Tannenbaum-Schmidt Leadership Continuum
Level 5 Leadership
Five Functions of Management