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Referent power can be an effective means of leadership. In this lesson, you will learn what referent power is, some of its key concepts and be provided an example.

You’ll have a chance to reinforce your knowledge with a short quiz after the lesson.

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Referent Power in Leadership

Referent power can be an effective means of leadership. In this lesson, you will learn what referent power is, some of its key concepts and be provided an example. You’ll have a chance to reinforce your knowledge with a short quiz after the lesson.

Definition of Referent Power

Referent power in leadership is the ability of a leader to cultivate the respect and admiration of his followers in such a way that they wish to be like him. In other words, referent power is leading by example.Referent power is based upon a leader modeling his behavior to demonstrate appropriate conduct and decision making.

Employees will observe a manager’s behavior and act as they believe their managers would act in the same situation. In other words, you refer to what you believe the manager would do and do the same; the manager becomes a point of reference for your behavior. You may not even know that you are modeling your behavior after your manager.As you can imagine, this type of power relies heavily upon the trust of employees in their manager and developing employee empowerment: allowing employees to make decisions in certain work situations. Trust and enabling employee empowerment takes some time to develop. Consequently, referent power may not work well in organizations with high rates of turnover of employees.

It is important for a manager to be aware of cultural differences when attempting to use referent power. For example, according to some theorists, the general cultural value of egalitarianism in America may make it harder for managers to earn the respect of American employees. Instead of seeking respect, managers dealing with American employees may attempt to increase their likeability, which is often more effective with American workers. Americans tend to identify with people they like and who they feel liked by in return. Employees from other cultures may identify with managers they respect and who they feel respected by.

Examples of Referent Power

Let’s say you are the third generation owner of a small family business that your grandfather started 60 years ago in a small city in the Midwestern U.

S. You have employees who have been with the company for decades. In fact, you have employed multiple generations of employees from the same families and who are products of the close-knit culture you and your family have developed.You take a very soft hand in management. You trust and respect your employees and they trust and respect you. You believe they are capable of doing their jobs with little supervision and can handle most situations on their own because they have been with the company and have seen you (and sometimes even your father and grandfather) handle nearly every type of situation that may confront them. You also trust them to seek your guidance if they confront an unfamiliar situation, just like you would seek guidance from your father.

In this example, you have not only empowered your employees but have demonstrated the application of referent power by modeling appropriate behavior for them. They use your behavior as a point of reference for their own behavior.

Lesson Summary

Referent power is the ability of a leader to effectively model behavior to her employees in a manner that provides a point of reference for employees’ own behavior in work situations. This modeling can occur even without employee knowledge. Referent power can provide for employee empowerment, but it does require a significant degree of trust and time to develop. A manager seeking to utilize referent power must also keep in mind cultural differences employees may have in leader-follower relationships.

Learning Outcomes

You should have the understanding to do the following after this lesson:

  • Describe referent power
  • Explain when referent power is effective, when it is not effective, and its relationship to cultural differences
  • Recall an example of referent power

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