French And Raven’s Five Forms Of Power Explained: Power In Leadership

French and Raven’s five forms of power are essential to understanding effective leadership. By recognizing and utilizing these power dynamics, leaders can navigate any situation and influence their followers.

In this article, we’ll break down each of the five forms of power and provide practical examples of how they can be used in a leadership context.

Whether you’re a new or experienced leader, understanding French and Raven’s five forms of power is a key component of success.

Different forms of power will affect the person’s leadership methods and the way they get things done by people. 

The source of their power plays a key role in determining what kind of leaders they are. Do you seek inspiration from them due to their behavior towards you, their integrity or simply because they can use their power to get things done for you? To get answers to all these questions, it is crucial to get insight into French and raven’s five forms of power theory. 

Leading social psychologists John French and Bertram Raven came up with this phenomenon almost fifty years back. 

They studied that if a leader doesn’t get power from his title and yet he has the power to influence you or get things done from you, then what’s the source of that power? Do we accept them as our leaders, and do we accept their powers?

To know the phenomenon better, you need to understand the what’s power base and the five forms of power.

French And Raven’s Five Forms Of Power Meaning

As per John French and Bertram Raven, there are five forms of power. But before that, there is also a concept called bases of power. 

When you accept someone being your leader, there should be something mesmerizing you. You are ready to accept that person’s authority, which might be due to the power base. 

When you get influenced by someone’s power, that might be because of the power base. With this concept, a person can create different power bases so that there can be effective leadership. The base of power means, where does the power come from or what can be its source or cause?

What Are The Power Bases?

The power bases can be categorized into two groups. The first group is the positional power sources. The second group is the personal power sources. Let us analyze the two groups based on French and Raven’s theory.

Positional power 

The positional power regarding an organization means the power due to some ranking or due to a title. 

This type of power is legitimate. It comes because the person or the leader has a particular ranking. It is formal power. One form of power is legitimate power. With legitimate power comes reward power. The leader who possesses legitimate power also has reward power.

Positional power is not stable by nature. It does not stay forever. When the person loses his title, the person also loses power. 

Positional power is mainly because of the title’s influence. When the leader loses legitimate power, he will also lose reward power. Under the positional power category, you will also find power bases like coercive power. The person who uses this power base uses force or abuse and gets the task done or gets what he wants or influences you.

So, in the positional section, you can see three bases: legitimate power, reward power and coercive power. After six years of this theory, one more base was added to the positional concept. This base included informational power.

Personal power

Under this category of the personal power base, you can see two power bases. These are expert and referent. 

Here, the leader has a power that stays forever and has nothing to do with the position or title. Under personal power, you come across two power bases: the expert power base and the referent power base.

Now that you know about these two categories and the names of the five forms of power, you should also know about each of the power forms in detail.

French And Raven’s Five Forms Of Power Explained

In 1959, French and Raven described the five forms of power and here’s a detailed description of the same.

1. Legitimate power

A legitimate power base comes from a positional category. The power is due to the position of the person. Business hierarchy models, organizational structures and social structures create legitimate power. 

The best example here is the CEO of the company. He has legitimate power and can influence the team or the employees to work in a certain way and achieve the targets. The fire department head has the positional power, which makes the staff follow his instructions.

However, legitimate power is associated with the title and is temporary. The person loses power when there’s no job title left. 

2. Reward power

People who hold certain positions also have the power to reward. Appraisals, increments and job-related incentives are generally approved by those with the power of a job title. If a person needs mentoring or if someone deserves a raise, all these decisions come from the top authority of the company. When this person loses legitimate power, he will not generate reward power too.

However, in many companies, you might have seen that the salary appraisals might be in the hands of top authority. You get influenced by your immediate supervisor because, hierarchy-wise, he is your boss. But he may need the reward power.

3. Coercive power

Coercive power is when the person gets something done forcefully. It can create a tense atmosphere, job dissatisfaction, poor relations etc. 

When a person uses force to get the work done and says that if it’s not done, the other person will be fired, this is coercion. 

The person may have a position which may allow him to follow coercion. But this way is not a justifiable one. The employee or the follower will also do the work under coercion, sometimes due to fear of demotion or removal.

4. Expert power

The expert power base falls in the personal power category, wherein the individual does not need any title to implement a robust work culture. 

The individual has a good leadership style which is enough to influence the employees or the followers. The person who is an expert and a specialist influences many other people. 

This form of power is not connected to any position. It is stable and remains with the person until he inspires people around him. A person who has a hunger for power should work towards enhancing expert power. This type of power can be attained by expanding skills, working on something vital to the company or society or developing leadership qualities.

5. Referent power

In referent power, the person is not directly connected with the individual having referent power. But he likes the person and follows that individual due to the qualities or specialities. The best example here is people liking a celebrity. 

What celebrities do and what they wear, there seems to be a great influence on common people. The person with referent power has to be responsible enough because, most of the time, people tend to do things like him. This form of power comes with a big responsibility.

Apart from the above 5, one more power base was added later in the personal power category. This was called informational power. This form of power relates to the sensitive and vital information that a person may have. 

With Informational power, a person can either help others or manipulate things, Like, if someone has access to the company’s accounts and uses this power to manipulate things and get things done the way he wants.

The Extract Of The Above Discussion

With the above discussion, it is clear that if someone wants to execute power, then the best ways are to earn it or to develop it. You will have legitimate power if you join an office with a certain job title. 

There’s one more way, and that is, you develop your skills and gain expertise in a specific subject matter. With this action, you can be a leader. Despite not having a job title, you can still influence people around you positively.

Practical Examples Of French And Raven’s Five Forms Of Power

Here are some practical examples of French and Raven’s five forms of power:

Coercive Power: This power is based on the ability to punish or withhold rewards. For example, a manager who threatens to fire an employee for poor performance is using coercive power.

Reward Power: This power is based on the ability to provide rewards or benefits. For example, a manager who offers a bonus to an employee for meeting a sales target is using reward power.

Legitimate Power: This power is based on a person’s position or title. For example, a CEO has legitimate power because of their position within the organization.

Expert Power: This power is based on a person’s knowledge or expertise in a specific area. For example, a professor who is a renowned expert in their field has expert power over their students.

Referent Power: This power is based on a person’s charisma, likability, or perceived attractiveness. For example, a celebrity who endorses a product has referent power because people like and trust them.

Effective leaders are able to recognize and utilize each of these forms of power in different situations.

For example, a leader might use reward power to motivate employees to achieve a specific goal, but use expert power to persuade team members to adopt a new approach to a problem.

By understanding and using French and Raven’s five forms of power, leaders can navigate power dynamics and influence their followers to achieve success.


Many leadership theories prevail, and organizations follow them to enhance employee productivity. Five forms of power is one leadership theory developed by social psychologists French and Raven.

 Power and leadership have a deep connection. Hence, to develop the right leadership style or influence a person, one needs to know about the different forms of power. There are five forms of power from the workplace point of view. Power bases can be categorized into positional power and personal power. 

Out of all the five power bases, expert power is stable, not attached to any title or position and can influence people positively. If at all you wish to attain power then try to develop yourself with excellent leadership qualities.

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