Power. The concept of power in general proves very useful in a variety of contexts, including physics, where power can be defined as “the ability to do work” and is measured by the amount of energy needed to move a given mass a given distance in a given time. The power of an automobile (originally called a “horseless carriage”), for example, is measured in “horsepower,” which is presumably the amount of mass an average horse can move a certain distance in a certain time. Social power refers to the capacity of one individual or group of people to move another individual or group a given distance in a given direction against resistance. In the case of social power, the notion of “distance” is more often psychological or emotional than physical. We will look shortly at several specific forms of social power. Here we will look at general concepts related to categories of social power.

Influence. In academic psychology departments, leadership is often referred to as an "influence relation." "Influence" is the most general concept on this list; all the others can be considered forms of influence. The concept of influence and the word itself derive from the Greek meaning "to flow in.” Influence thus refers to a force or a source of causation flowing into a person's mind or spirit from some other outside origin. The word can be used as a verb ("to influence") or as a noun ("an influence"). In all cases, the word points to a process by which one person or one source of influence causes a change in another person or object.

Control. Theoretically, the concept of control is an absolute. To exert "control" over anything means to assume all causation, leaving no room for free will or internal causation in the object of control. It is virtually impossible to "control" people, though some psychological dysfunctions drive people to seek control over other people. It is more appropriate to think of control as something we can exert over inanimate objects. For example, we should all "control" our cars as we drive them. We often speak of "self-control," which does make sense in that it implies a capacity for responsibility and self-management, though the absolute notion of being in complete control of one's self is probably just as illusory as the notion of being in control of anyone else. Because the concept is absolute, it is generally a bad idea to use it when we are thinking about leaders and leadership relations.


Coercion. Strictly speaking, coercion refers to the use or the threat of force. We sometimes speak metaphorically about coercion as if it were manipulation or some other form of influence, but for analytical purposes it is best to stick to the core definition of coercion as the use or threat of force. People sometimes think of coercion as the most important form of influence because it is so basic and so grounded in our physical nature, but coercion can easily prove less effective than other forms of influence when the object of coercion maintains a strong commitment to a value or a belief that supports resistance to coercion. Torture or the threat of torture, for example, may normally seem like effective forms of influence, but people sometimes resist it, survive it, or choose death over capitulation.

As a leadership strategy, coercion is generally illegitimate, since it is based on a significant antipathy between the coercer and the coerced, while leadership depends on a general mutuality and reciprocity between leader and follower. Pulling a gun on someone may help one get one's way, but that is hardly leadership. Nonetheless, even though coercion is NOT leadership, it may be necessary at times for limited periods. Just as parents may need to resort to some sort of punishment or threat of punishment to discipline children, leaders may sometimes need to resort temporarily to coercion in extreme situations in order to restore the opportunity for more collaborative and reciprocal behaviors. One example of this might be Abraham Lincoln's recognition that all-out war was necessary to preserve the United States and eliminate slavery. Lincoln hated war and he hated slavery, but he recognized the need for war in this situation. At the end of that war, he called for widespread amnesty, forgiveness, and a return to normal democratic processes. Unfortunately, a desperate assassin, John Wilkes Booth, resorted to coercion to end Lincoln's life, which thoroughly undermined Lincoln's dream of reconciliation.


Manipulation. Manipulation involves the attempt to influence another person's behavior without the other person's conscious assent, and perhaps even without the other person's conscious awareness. It appeals to the most primitive emotions, the most self-centered desires, and the least rational needs. It is almost always untruthful and it virtually never addresses the whole truth. It relies heavily on ignorance and prejudice. Propaganda is a kind of manipulation, since it attempts to persuade people to adopt a particular belief or behavior on false pretenses. The whole advertising industry is built largely on manipulative strategies, since it often appeals to the emotional nature of consumers instead of just telling the truth about a product. Advertisers often provide images of energetic, glamorous, and sexy young people associated with a particular product as if the product somehow confers energy, glamour, sex appeal, and youth.

In the business world, advertisers also prey upon the fears and insecurities of consumers who worry about their health, their appearance, or their popularity. The extreme examples would include hate-group propaganda in which a hated target group is portrayed as nonhuman and described in noxious terms. One of Adolf Hitler's most infamous anti-Semitic propaganda films, for example, included a narrator describing the supposed evil behavior of Jewish people; the narrator's voice-over was accompanied by a series of clips featuring hundreds of rats scurrying around in filthy environments. The unstated but obvious implication was that Jewish people are rats.

Like coercion, manipulation is NOT leadership. Also like coercion, manipulation may occasionally be tolerable as a leadership strategy for short periods. Franklin Roosevelt, for example, campaigned in 1940 on a platform of avoiding the war in Europe and Far East even though he was certain that the U.S. would and should get involved. He knew that taking a stand to fight in the war would be unpopular, so he took a stand against his own better judgment in order to get elected. Roosevelt's strategy was ultimately justified to an extent because the U.S. was drawn into the war by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. At that point, virtually every American agreed that we had to enter the war as soon as possible, so Roosevelt's manipulative political campaign strategy became a moot point.


Persuasion. Unlike the other items on this list, persuasion theoretically relies primarily or entirely on reasoning and logical argument. The borders and boundaries between all of these various forms of social power, however, are frequently faint, porous, leaky, vague, and fuzzy. Nonetheless, in many respects valid persuasion is the most appropriate method of social power available to leaders in their communication with followers.

Management. In some respects, management is often quite difficult to distinguish from leadership; as noted above, the two concepts overlap considerably. The notion of “transactional leadership,” in fact, can be quite similar to traditional notions of management. At the same time, “transforming leadership,” which moves followers to higher levels of motivation, has distinguished the most influential leaders in human history. Students of leadership behavior have spent considerable energy distinguishing between these two varieties of influence. Leaders focus on the development and implementation of a group’s strategic mission, vision, and values; managers in turn implement more specific objectives in pursuit of the group’s mission, vision, and values. Leaders focus on long-term goals and big pictures; managers focus on short-term objectives and specific tasks. Leaders worry about doing the right things; managers worry about doing things the right way in order to cut costs and minimize effort. Leaders can’t get much done if they can’t rely on competent managers; managers don’t know what they are supposed to do if they can’t rely on effective leaders.


Tasks and Relationships. As noted above, all the roles that leaders play come in two general varieties: task roles and relationship roles.  Task roles focus on the need to complete tasks and achieve goals, and they are functionally related to “terminal values,” as described below.  Relationship roles focus on the need for group members to cooperate and get along with each other, and they are functionally related to “instrumental values,” as described below. Task roles include clarifying the goals and purposes of the group, making decisions, planning future activities, representing the group to the outside world, giving out rewards and punishments, teaching members their responsibilities, and communicating strategies for goal achievement.  Relationship roles include encouraging group members in times of trouble, resolving internal conflicts, inviting members to participate in decision making, providing opportunities for growth and development, seeing the humor in the situation whenever humanly possible, and creating a healthy culture for open communication and mutual respect. 


All groups have to deal with both these kinds of roles, and unfortunately they often conflict.  In fact, individual leaders tend to be good at either task behavior or relationship behavior, but very seldom do we find leaders who are outstanding at both.  And no wonder.  It's hard to keep people happy when you're cracking a whip over their heads, and it's hard to make tough decisions if you’re always trying to please everybody. Some organizations, like the military, have long recognized this fact and arranged methods whereby two different leaders could specialize in each of the two behaviors — a task master to crack the whip, and a sympathetic listener to resolve tension and build morale.

Designated organizational leaders in modern democracies are usually called “presidents,” which essentially means that they “preside” over the activities of their organizations. Though offspring of presidential leaders frequently have advantages in eventually assuming similar leadership roles, that kind of family succession is not guaranteed as it is in aristocratic societies. In democratic societies, governance of cities, states, nations, and duly constituted corporations is ultimately regulated by constitutions, charters, bylaws, and elections — not by family ties or direct applications of economic, military, or police power.