Chapter 4 – Leadership and Influence

Kevin Kruse, author of the bestselling book Employee Engagement 2.0 (2012), defines leadership as “a process of social influence which maximizes the efforts of others towards the achievement of a goal.” Let’s deconstruct this definition to understand it better.

Leadership is:

  1. A process of social influence
  2. Maximizes the efforts of others
  3. Toward the achievement of a goal


Leadership as a process of social influence

Leaders don’t act alone; leaders, by definition, require followers. Leaders must have the tools, resources, and talents to influence these followers to focus on achieving particular outcomes in a collaborative manner. How might this influence manifest itself in day-to-day practice? Two important skill sets for a leader to develop are (1) the proper use of power, and (2) the effective use of persuasion. Let’s explore.

Power. Power can seem like a negative word. When we mention someone “having power over” someone else, or “using their power,” we often envision a person who uses force to make someone else do something against their will. While this is certainly one way of understanding power, a leader understands that power is an important tool in the process of social influence. What are some ways a leader might use power to move a group toward achieving a collective goal?

According to French and Raven (1959), leaders might employ five sources of power that can be grouped into two categories: organizational power, and personal power. Each of these categories include various types of influence a leader might use. Let’s begin by examining organizational power – the kind of power that is backed up and sanctioned by the organization to which the leader and followers belong.


Organizational Power

Organizational power, according to French and Raven, consists of three types: legitimate power, reward power, and coercive power.

Legitimate Power

Legitimate power is instilled in the leader by the organization and exists regardless of the person who occupies the position. Take, for example, the presidency of the United States. The presidency itself, as an office, confers certain powers to the individual occupying it, no matter who that person is. The power goes along with the position. When one president leaves office and another takes over, the new president assumes those powers, and the former president no longer has them. Another example of legitimate power is a college professor. When I walk into class on the first day and say, “I am your professor, and here’s what we are going to do this semester,” I speak from a position of authority given to me by the university. The university has hired me and sanctioned me as a teacher of this subject. You don’t know me personally yet, but this organizational endorsement helps establish my authority. If I were to leave my professor job, that authority would not go with me, but would go to the next person in the job. Think of all the ways we rely on legitimate power to inform us how to behave in certain situations. We might defer to a stranger because of their title or the organization they work for.

Reward Power

Reward power is the power to give somebody something they want. For example, your boss might decide which employees will get a bonus this year, or your professor might select a few high-achieving students to work on a special project. When someone has the power to give us something we want, we are likely to change our behavior with that person and to be more cooperative or to work harder. You probably encountered reward power as a child because parents use it often. If you are “good” on a long shopping trip, you might be promised ice cream afterwards, or a good report card might get you some extra allowance money.

Coercive Power

Coercive power is the flip side of reward power; it’s the power to give you something you don’t want, something negative, like a punishment. In some workplaces, you might get “written up” for excessive absences or tardiness, or you might not get an annual raise if you don’t meet certain goals. You could get suspended or put on probation if you don’t perform according to organizational standards, and your leader is empowered to enforce this. Remember that both reward and coercive power come from the organization; the leader is given the power to reward and to punish in pursuit of organizational goals.

These forms of organizational power also include the power to disseminate or withhold information, and the power to allocate or withhold resources. These activities could be done in a rewarding or coercive manner.


Personal Power

French and Raven also identified two forms of personal power: expert and referent. Personal power comes from the individual, not the organization.

Expert Power

Expert power is the power an individual holds because of their expertise in a certain area. For example, suppose your brother-in-law is really good at doing taxes. You ask him to do your taxes, and he says “Sure – if you’ll pay me three hundred bucks!” Because you want his expertise, you might be willing to give in to his demand. Note that this is different from legitimate power, in that expert power doesn’t come from organizational backing, but from an individual’s own skill. Sometimes a person with legitimate power may also have expert power, but they are not the same thing. The least-connected person in an organization might have a lot of expert power because of their skill in a particular area.

Referent Power

Referent power is the power an individual holds because others admire them and/or want to be like them. Think back to when you were a child, and there was an adult who made you think “I want to be like you when I grow up.” That person had referent power over you. You would take their advice because you looked up to them. Sports coaches often have this kind of power over their teams. Referent power is also the reason why advertisers get celebrities to endorse products or pay social media influencers to promote them. If you admire your leader on a personal, as well as a professional level, you may be willing to follow them partly because of this personal liking and admiration.


Leadership maximizes the efforts of others

A team without a leader might ultimately pull together to achieve a positive outcome, but when we put someone in charge – someone with a broad vision of what a positive outcome would look like, and a deep knowledge of each follower’s abilities – we set the stage for best results. We have an experienced person “steering the ship.” Without this leadership, individuals may be duplicating each other’s work, or even inadvertently working against one another.

As we learned in Chapter 3 when we examined Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1943), a follower’s most basic needs must be met before they can turn their attention to performing at their highest level. The most effective leaders understand that feelings of comfort, safety, and belonging in the workplace will maximize the efforts of each follower. These efforts, then, must be coordinated by the leader for the best organizational outcome.


Leadership directs the efforts of the group toward the achievement of a goal

In addition to providing an environment that ensures the highest level of performance from each follower, an effective leader must understand how to combine the efforts of all followers in a way that will lead the group toward its collective goal in an efficient and positive manner. The leader must not only understand the best capabilities of each person, but how those mesh together, and how to add the strengths of one follower to the weaknesses of another.

In management literature, we sometimes discuss the term “synergy.” Damodaran (2005), in a study of synergy in corporate mergers, defines the term as “the increase in value that is generated by combining two entities to create a new and more valuable entity” (p. 3). In other words, we say that synergy has occurred when the results of the group are superior to the results of each group member’s individual efforts. The act of working together elevates the results.

How does this happen?

For one thing, groups experience economies of scale. This means that they share resources in doing the same task. To provide a simple example, imagine three people are planning to bake three cakes. If each works individually, they will have to preheat the oven, mix the batter, and do the dishes alone. If they work together, perhaps one will preheat the oven (where all the cakes can be baked at the same time), another will prepare the batter (which can all be mixed in one bowl), while another cleans up for everyone as they work. The job will be finished more quickly and efficiently, with less effort on the part of each person, yet will yield the same outcome – three delicious cakes.

Leaders understand this concept of synergy, and examine their organizational processes to find duplications of effort and areas where the strengths and weaknesses of various individuals can be combined for best results. This means that leaders must have comprehensive knowledge of how processes fit together, the resources needed for each part of the process, and how to put those processes in the most effective order.

Leaders keep the end goal in mind at all times. While followers most often focus on their own part of the job – perhaps even without full knowledge or understanding of the end goal – the leader must revisit their vision of the outcome all throughout the process. They must actively evaluate the collective direction of followers, and adjust where needed. Leaders may even need to rethink the end goal as the process goes along, and they become even more familiar with the capabilities of their teams.


The skill of persuasion

Earlier in the chapter, we examined how leaders use various types of power to guide followers toward achieving collective goals. In the communication discipline, we often return to the teachings of Aristotle as a way of understanding the ways humans relate to one another. Aristotle claimed there were three modes of persuasion that could be used to convince another person to take a particular action. These modes of persuasion are appeals to ethos, logos, and pathos.

When we use an ethos appeal, we try to convince another person to take a particular action by convincing them that we have credibility and good character and that we are capable and trustworthy. A leader might employ this type of appeal by assuring followers of their own extensive experience, their credentials, and their history of overcoming difficulties in this area. Ethos appeals can be most effective when coming from leaders with high levels of referent power in an organization or group. If the leader is already well-regarded, using this regard as a foundation for persuasion and compliance can yield positive results; essentially “You like me, you admire me, you think well of me – so you should listen to my ideas.”

A logos appeal is an appeal to logic or reason. The most effective leaders will stay abreast of innovations and new findings in their organization’s area of expertise, so that they can display this knowledge to followers and use it to gain their compliance with new directions. Leaders must develop the skill to deliver a reasoned, logic-based argument to followers, in a way that respects followers’ opinions, knowledge level, and reasoning ability.

A pathos appeal is an appeal to emotion. A leader will employ a pathos appeal at times when followers’ feelings about a matter may run deep. For example, perhaps the leader must share the bad news that an important team member will be out sick for a prolonged period, and the budget does not allow for this person to be temporarily replaced. The leader must deliver a message that “we must all pull together and do additional work for a while,” and may frame this as an act of collegiality and kindness toward the team.

Many persuasive messages use a combination of ethos, logos, and pathos appeals; for example, a politician might begin a message by reminding voters of their experience and character, continue by building a logical, fact-based argument as to why they should take a particular action, and add an element of pathos by appealing to emotional motives. In any given circumstance, the leader must consider which appeal, or combination of appeals, will be most effective with these particular followers, and this particular situation.


Compliance-gaining strategies

An effective leader must hone their skills in making and presenting an argument. Note that in a leadership context, argumentation is different from “quarreling” (O’Keefe, 1977). Argumentation, for our purposes, can be understood as presenting a position on an issue and supporting that position with factual evidence. Quarrelling, on the other hand, is more a matter of defending yourself against another person who is disputing your viewpoint. Argumentation is typically not aggressive, whereas quarreling often is.

To build an effective argument, a leader should:

  1. State the problem clearly, succinctly, and unemotionally. Begin by outlining the issue at hand, who is involved, and how it might affect followers. For example, in higher education we have recently had to discuss the dilemma of declining enrollments. The number of high school students has decreased over time, so the pool of potential college students has grown smaller. Those of us who work in higher education did not cause this problem, but it creates a dilemma that we must face. How can our institution continue to prosper in this environment? A good leader must be able to present such a problem in a clear and factual manner and show confidence that it can be solved.
  2. Propose solutions. An effective leader will gain followers’ confidence when they show that they have thought the problem through and have considered the pros and cons of a number of solutions. In our enrollment example, possible solutions might be to downsize the university or to cast a wider net to find new students through online offerings. We might need to eliminate low-enrollment programs, combine them with other programs, or replace programs with something new and innovative that will attract more interest.
  3. Solicit solutions from followers. The leader has presented several possible solutions, but followers – those who are actually doing the work on a daily basis – may have a number of additional ideas.
  4. Discuss each solution, playing “devil’s advocate.” What are the pros and cons of this idea? What are the costs and benefits? What’s the best that could happen, and the worst possible outcome? Are we willing to take that chance? The leader should guide this discussion carefully, intervening if tempers flare or the conversation veers into unrelated territory. Keep the conversation on-topic and urge all participants to keep their remarks fact-based.
  5. Be mindful of relationships. The effective leader is cautious that difficult discussions don’t digress into hurtful dialogue that could do permanent damage to workplace dynamics. Leaders should take an active part in these conversations to shape them in a productive manner. For example, the leader can periodically summarize the discussion: “I hear Peter saying he would prefer the first option, but Wendy endorses the second one. Am I understanding that correctly?” Or “This is becoming heated. Let’s take a break from this topic and discuss the other issue for a while.” You may even say something like, “I think this discussion would go more smoothly if we all knew more about the situation. Let’s reconvene in a week, and in the meantime, I will send you some material to read.”


Steps in negotiation

According to Fisher, Ury, and Patton (2006), there are four steps to principled negotiation that will help you to arrive at a solution that all parties can live with:

  1. Separate the people from the problem
  2. Focus on interests, not positions
  3. Invent options for mutual gain
  4. Insist on objective criteria

Let’s examine each of these in turn.


Separate the people from the problem

We must direct our attention to the issue at hand, not at each other – in other words, we must look in the same direction, toward the problem, rather than looking angrily at each other. A leader must take care that discussions of issues don’t degenerate into a battle of wills between individuals or groups. Rather than “the accounting department wants this, but the shipping department wants that,” structure the problem as something that concerns everyone.

Focus on interests, not positions

An effective leader must be able to tease out the mutual interest in a group dispute and downplay individual positions. For example, suppose you are leading a discussion of a group of school parents, who are debating how to best keep their kids safe on the trip to and from school. They seem to have split into two camps: one that wants to add more bus routes, and one that wants to change the school day’s start time, so that parents can drop off their children more easily. If this discussion degrades into an angry argument and begins to focus on peripheral issues, it is helpful (and calming) for the leader to direct everyone back to the mutual interest – student safety – rather than the conflicting positions. Perhaps the group can even come up with additional potential solutions, which leads us to …

Invent options for mutual gain

During a dispute, we often get into a win/lose mindset, or the idea that only one “side” can prevail. The more deeply entrenched we become in our own position, the harder it is to listen to other possibilities. Returning to “interests, not positions” can lead us to solutions that are satisfactory to everyone. Perhaps it’s possible to add more bus routes
AND change the school day’s start time. Perhaps changing the start time will eliminate the need for more routes. Maybe there’s a third way that wouldn’t involve either of these ideas yet would satisfy everyone. Return to the “interest,” and think some more.

Insist on objective criteria

Before you choose among solutions, it’s important to set some rules for what a good solution must accomplish. Is there a cost limit, or a time limit, or a number of people that must be involved? Comparing each possible solution to this list of criteria, you can easily eliminate some because they are too expensive or would take too long. Consider this: If you want to buy a new car, you set some criteria first: new or used? Four-door, hatchback? Is color important? Eventually you come up with a guideline: you want a used car, big enough for a family of four, reliable but not fancy, color not important but you’d prefer to avoid white, and cost below $20,000. Now you can go out and look at cars, eliminating those that don’t meet your list of criteria. This technique of criteria-setting works equally well in the workplace. The leader should insist on creating a list of objective criteria that a good solution must meet, then encourage followers to eliminate those options that don’t meet the criteria.



Remember that leadership is a process of social influence which maximizes the efforts of others towards the achievement of a goal. Throughout this chapter, we have examined ways of influencing and directing the efforts of others, such as using power, and practicing effective persuasion techniques. Even the most democratic of leaders will come up with their own preferred solutions to workplace problems, which they then must “sell” to followers. The best and most effective leaders are those who master the compliance-gaining strategies outlined in this chapter.


Chapter Resources

Critical Incidents in Leadership

On June 22, 2023, a submersible vessel created by a company called Ocean Gate was on its way to the floor of the Atlantic to visit the wreck of the Titanic. The vessel imploded, killing all five passengers, including the founder of the company. Critics of the company warned that the vessel was constructed from inferior materials and thus, would not withstand the pressure of deep ocean diving, but company officials insisted that the vessel was safe. Review the news surrounding this incident, and consider: Did the leaders focus on positions, rather than interests? How can a similar company guard against repeating the mistakes of Ocean Gate?


Leadership Communication in the Media

  1. What happens when leaders don’t want to face bad news? In this article: we read about failures at Volkswagen and Nokia that were exacerbated by ineffective leadership, particularly the “Ostrich Effect,” or the tendency to “bury our heads in the sand” to avoid looking at anything unpleasant. Recall a time when you, or a leader you were a follower of, refused to acknowledge a workplace difficulty, with disastrous results. How can we guard against this human tendency to avoid unpleasantness, and live up to our responsibility to be active problem-solvers?
  2. Many business analysts would argue that Facebook/Meta has not done well under Mark Zuckerberg’s leadership. In this article: we read about some of the challenges the organization is currently facing. Based on the types of influence we have studied in this chapter, what advice would you give to executives at Facebook/Meta to position the organization to overcome these current difficulties?





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Leadership Communication: Principles and Practice Copyright © 2024 by Leah Omilion-Hodges and Annette Hamel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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