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What Is Referent Power?

Mitch Malone
Mitch Malone
October 12, 2022 · 5 min read
What Is Referent Power?

Have you ever heard of referent power? It's also called personal power, social power, or leverage power, and it's one of the three most common sources of influence (the other two being reward power and coercive power).

One of the most important aspects of leadership involves gaining influence over those who work with you or for you. There are numerous ways to gain influence, but referent power is one of the most effective, as it establishes trust between you and your subordinates

In this article, we'll discuss what referent power entails and how you can establish it within your organization. We'll also provide some tips on maintaining referent power as your organization grows and ages.

What Is Referent Power?

Referent power is influence based on a person's popularity. It can be found in groups, situations, or among individuals. In other words, referent power is based on popularity and positive relationships with others. When you want someone to do something for you, it is easier if they like and respect you.

Because of your relationship with them, they are more likely to go along with what you ask than they would otherwise be if they didn't know or like you. Remember that referent power isn't based solely on being well-liked by everyone; people who are popular because of their money or some other benefit are also considered sources of referent power.

Some experts suggest using both referent and expert power together, as they have different strengths and weaknesses. For example, let's say you work at a restaurant and your boss wants to close early one night due to low sales.

Using expert power (which relies on trust), you might say something like, If we close now, we will lose out on our chance at having an extremely busy night—one where we could make several hundred dollars in tips alone.

Why Is Referent Power So Important?

Leaders have three basic tools: referent power, reward power, and coercive power. To truly achieve workplace success and have a well-performing team, you need to have a balance of all three.

However, referent power is often overlooked. This is unfortunate because it can make or break a team's morale and your chances of achieving real workplace success. This type of power stems from relationships, and people who have it are known for being respected by their peers.

When someone has referent power, they can motivate others by convincing them that they should be emulated or admired. This is because of how it's built and maintained -- it's created when you're seen as a go-to person for help or information.

It's important to note that people with referent power are often looked up to by their peers because of how much respect they garner from those around them. As a result, if you have a high degree of referent power, your employees will look up to you and seek your guidance to grow professionally.

This type of person also has an open-door policy. It offers transparency in decision-making, making people want to work harder for them because they know their opinion matters and will be heard.

How To Obtain Referent Power

First and foremost, be a leader and develop your network. Cultivate relationships with others in your industry. If you can demonstrate business success, investors may trust that you are an effective leader who knows how to put together a winning team. Investors will also look favorably on businesses they understand, so try not to get too bogged down by those numbers.

If you don't know how to explain what your business does in plain language, how will anyone else? Build relationships with people who already have referent power, like celebrities or successful CEOs – even people outside your industry can serve as good references for things like investment money or partnerships in other industries.

Finally, make yourself known by joining various trade organizations and professional groups. Your participation will help demonstrate that you are an influencer in your industry, which can raise your profile and lead to networking opportunities.

If you don't have enough money to join a pricey organization right away, it might be worth looking into smaller or less expensive options. Local chambers of commerce tend to be much less expensive than larger national organizations but still offer a great networking opportunity.

How To Use Referent Power To Your Advantage

Once you understand what referent power is, it's easy to see how you can use it to your advantage. For instance, a mentor or manager who holds referent power over their subordinates can help motivate employees and encourage cooperation.

The best way to get someone's attention? Just mention an important person they know, like a co-worker or friend. Chances are, you'll get their attention in no time. Furthermore, managers with referent power are often more likely to win support for proposals from others in management positions than those without referent power.

Employees will be more motivated to listen and comply with requests from someone who has referent power because they will want to please them. If you have referent power, take advantage of it and use it to motivate those around you.

For example, a manager with referent power can ask his employees for their input on a proposal to see if any concerns or problems should be addressed before making a final decision. This allows employees to voice their concerns about an issue and work together towards a solution.

However, it's important to remember that referent power does not exist in a vacuum. It doesn't matter if you have referent power over someone if they don't respect you or are indifferent towards your requests.

Maintaining good working relationships with co-workers and colleagues is key to leveraging referent power successfully. As an employee, you can use referent power over your supervisor by respectfully requesting their opinion on issues and ideas you bring up. If they have referent power, they will be more likely to take your input seriously when making decisions that affect both of you as part of a team.

© 2023 Mitch Malone.

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