Parenting with Power: 5 Types of Power and How to Use Them

I am focused on leadership skills that you can use in your everyday life, including the leadership of your family.  A leader is someone who uses their power and authority to guide or influence others.  We do this all the time as parents, matter of fact it is probably one of the places where our leadership is most obvious and can be most effective. 

There are two bases of power.  I talked a little about this last week, but I wanted to offer a bit fuller definition.  Formal power is power awarded to you by your position.  Informal power is the power that you have from your personality, gifts, and skills.  Within these bases are a few different types of power.

Formal Power

Coercive power/Reward Power:  This is the power to punish or reward someone for their work or behavior.  Ex. In my house, I hold power to give rewards or punishments.  If my kids behave well, I may offer them ice cream; if they behave poorly, I may take away a privilege like electronics time.

Legitimate power:  This is the power given by position.  Ex. In my house, I am the mother and a legal adult so that automatically gives me a certain amount of power.

Personal Power

Expert: This is the power of knowledge or having expertise in some area.  Ex. In my house, I have power because I know how to feed people and work the oven.

Referent: This is the power of personality.  If I like you, I want to gain your admiration, and so I will allow you to have power over me.  Ex. My kids look up to me and what to be kind, strong, and loving like me when they grow up.

These types of power are always at work when we parent or lead.  One any given day, I might use my coercive and reward power, “We will get ice cream on our way home from church if you behave well.”  My legitimate power, “I am the mom, and what I say goes.” My expert power, “Don’t put too much detergent in the washing machine or it will overflow.  Or my referent power, being a person, my children respect and admire, which is only gained by treating my kids with respect and being a person they want to emulate. 

Of these power types research tells us that the personal power base and specifically the referent power is the most effective power type for leading others.  None of these power types are bad, but the personal power base and specifically using referent power will be more effective over the long haul.  I think deep down we know this to be true.  If our kids love us and respect us, then they tend to listen to us and want to follow us.  Again, I am not above an ice cream bribe, but I want to be the type of parent who is developing more referent power with my children and the other people I lead. 

How are you developing referent power with the people you lead?

Erin Reibel2 Comments