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Exploring a Liminal Leader’s Power by Applying French and Raven's Power Bases, Plus Two

Introduction

The dynamics of power and influence within organizational structures are complex, especially for individuals who must navigate the dual roles of leader and follower simultaneously. French and Raven's (1959) seminal framework on the five bases of power—legitimate, reward, coercive, expert, and referent—provides a valuable lens through which to

understand these dynamics. In the context of Dr. Chris Fuzie's book, Liminal Space: Reshaping Leadership and Followership, these power bases take on additional significance. Fuzie's concept of liminal leadership highlights the fluidity and interdependence of leadership and followership roles within modern organizations. This comparison explores how each of French and Raven's power bases can be utilized by individuals in liminal spaces, enhancing their ability to influence and drive organizational success while effectively balancing their responsibilities as both leaders and followers.


What is a Liminal Leader

 A liminal leader is an individual who simultaneously embodies the roles of both leader and follower within an organization. This unique position requires them to adeptly navigate the dual responsibilities of guiding their team while also adhering to and supporting the directives from higher management. In this context, a liminal leader must balance their authority and influence with their capacity to follow, creating a dynamic interplay of leadership and followership.

 

French and Raven's Five Bases of Power

French and Raven (1959) identified five bases of power that leaders can use to influence followers. These power bases also apply to individuals who must lead and follow simultaneously, as described in the book, Liminal Space: Reshaping Leadership and Followership. In this context, individuals leverage these power bases both up and down the chain of authority to navigate the liminal roles of leader and follower effectively.  Let’s take a closer look at each power base and how it can by utilized by liminal leaders: 


Legitimate Power


Definition: Legitimate power (or positional power) is derived from an official position or role within an organization. It is the authority that comes from a formal title or position.


Simultaneous Leadership and Followership: Individuals in liminal roles can use legitimate power by acknowledging their formal responsibilities while also respecting the authority of those they follow. They can function as conduits between higher management and their teams, ensuring alignment with organizational policies and goals.


Example: Sarah is a project manager (PM) who leads a cross-functional team while reporting to the director of operations. She uses her legitimate power by clearly defining roles, responsibilities, and project goals based on her official position as PM. Simultaneously, she respects the director's strategic directives, ensuring her team aligns with broader organizational objectives. This balance ensures that her team respects her authority while she remains an effective conduit for organizational policies and goals.

 

Reward Power


Definition: Reward power is based on the ability to distribute rewards that others find valuable, such as promotions, raises, or other benefits.


Simultaneous Leadership and Followership: Those in liminal roles can use reward power by recognizing and incentivizing the efforts of their peers and subordinates, while also highlighting team achievements to their superiors. This helps to motivate and align the team’s efforts with organizational objectives.


Example: John, a senior software developer, leads a team of junior developers and collaborates with product managers. He leverages reward power by offering public recognition and recommending promotions or bonuses for outstanding team performance. Additionally, John acknowledges the contributions of his peers and superiors by proposing team awards and highlighting successful projects to higher management, fostering a culture of appreciation and motivation at all levels.


Coercive Power


Definition: Coercive power is the ability to impose penalties or sanctions on others. It involves using threats or punishment to influence behavior.


Simultaneous Leadership and Followership: While coercive power should be used cautiously, individuals in liminal roles can apply it by setting clear expectations and consequences for non-compliance both for those they lead and follow. This ensures accountability at all levels.


Example: Emily, a department supervisor, must ensure her team meets compliance standards. She uses coercive power sparingly by implementing corrective actions and setting clear consequences for non-compliance, such as formal warnings or mandatory training.  At the same time, Emily adheres to her manager's guidelines and policies, demonstrating her commitment to organizational standards. This dual application of coercive power maintains discipline and accountability within her team and aligns with higher management's expectations.


Expert Power


Definition: Expert power comes from possessing specialized knowledge or skills that others need or value. It is based on the perception of expertise.


Simultaneous Leadership and Followership: Individuals in liminal roles can leverage expert power by providing valuable insights and advice to both their supervisors and direct reports. By being recognized as experts, they can influence decisions and drive initiatives that benefit the organization.


Example: Alex, a senior data analyst, possesses specialized knowledge in data science. He leverages his expert power by advising both his team and higher management on data-driven strategies. Alex conducts training sessions for junior analysts and provides insights during executive meetings, showcasing his expertise. His ability to influence through knowledge makes him a valuable resource, respected by subordinates, peers, and superiors alike.


Referent Power


Definition: Referent power is based on personal traits or relationships that others admire or wish to emulate. It is often linked to charisma and likability.


Simultaneous Leadership and Followership: In liminal roles, referent power is crucial. Individuals can build strong relationships and inspire trust and admiration from both their leaders and peers. This relational influence helps to create a cohesive and collaborative work environment.


Example: Maria, a team lead in a marketing firm, is known for her charismatic personality and strong people skills. She uses referent power by fostering a positive and inclusive team culture, inspiring trust, and admiration from her team. Maria builds strong relationships with her peers and superiors by demonstrating integrity and empathy. Her likability and ability to connect with others make her a role model, influencing team dynamics and organizational morale positively.


The application of French and Raven's five bases of power in the context of liminal leadership, as explored in Dr. Chris Fuzie's Liminal Space: Reshaping Leadership and Followership, highlights the intricate balance of influence required in liminal roles. Liminal leaders must adeptly navigate legitimate, reward, coercive, expert, and referent power to manage their responsibilities effectively and foster positive organizational outcomes.


How Information Power and Connection Power Also Apply to Liminal Leaders

In addition to French and Raven's five bases of power, information power and connection power are also crucial for liminal leaders. Let’s consider these additional power bases and how liminal leaders can effectively utilize these power bases:


Information Power


Definition: Information power is derived from possessing valuable information that others need or want. It involves controlling and distributing information to influence others. "Information power" as a concept is commonly discussed within the broader context of organizational behavior and management literature.


Simultaneous Leadership and Followership: Information power is a vital tool for liminal leaders who must lead and follow simultaneously. By facilitating informed decision-making, enhancing transparency and trust, aligning team goals with organizational objectives, mitigating risks, and fostering a learning environment, liminal leaders can effectively leverage information power. This dual flow of information ensures that both their team and higher management are well-informed and aligned, ultimately driving organizational success and cohesion.


Example: Emma is a mid-level manager who has access to strategic data and insights from upper management. She uses this information to guide her team's projects and decisions, ensuring they align with the company's broader goals. By selectively sharing relevant information, Emma helps her team stay informed and make better decisions, while also providing feedback to her superiors about on-the-ground realities. This dual role allows her to bridge the gap between strategy and execution, leveraging information power to benefit both her team and higher management.


Connection Power


Definition: Connection power, also referred to as networking or social capital, is widely discussed in literature related to organizational behavior, leadership, and social networks.


Simultaneous Leadership and Followership: By building strategic alliances, facilitating knowledge sharing, advocating for team needs, enhancing visibility, resolving conflicts, and providing access to opportunities, liminal leaders effectively leverage their networks and connections. This dual influence ensures that both their team and the broader organization benefit from strong, collaborative relationships, ultimately increasing cohesion and helping to drive success.


Example: David, a marketing lead, has built a strong network within and outside his organization, including colleagues, industry experts, and key stakeholders. He uses his connections to bring valuable resources and opportunities to his team, such as securing expert guest speakers for training sessions or collaborating with other departments on high-impact projects. Additionally, David uses his network to gain insights and support from senior leaders, advocating for his team's needs and positioning them for success. By leveraging connection power, David effectively influences both his peers and superiors, enhancing his team's performance and visibility.


The addition of information power and connection power further enriches the toolkit of a liminal leader/follower. Information power enables these individuals to bridge the gap between various levels of the organization by controlling and sharing valuable data, thereby influencing decisions and actions. Connection power allows them to leverage their network to bring resources, opportunities, and support to their team while advocating for their needs with higher management.


By integrating these two additional power bases with French and Raven's original five, liminal leaders/followers like Emma and David can navigate their dual roles with greater efficacy. They can influence organizational outcomes by providing valuable information, leveraging their networks, and balancing their responsibilities as both leaders and followers. This comprehensive approach enhances their ability to foster a cohesive, informed, and well-connected work environment, ultimately driving organizational success.


Conclusion


This comparison explores how each of French and Raven's power bases, as well as information and connection power, can be utilized by individuals in liminal spaces, enhancing their ability to influence and drive organizational success while effectively balancing their responsibilities as both leaders and followers. By leveraging these diverse forms of power, liminal leaders can create a cohesive and dynamic work environment that supports both individual and collective achievement.


The dynamics of power and influence within organizational structures are complex, especially for individuals who must navigate the liminal roles of leader and follower simultaneously. French and Raven's (1959) seminal framework on the five bases of power—legitimate, reward, coercive, expert, and referent—provides a valuable lens through which to understand these dynamics. In the context of the book, Liminal Space: Reshaping Leadership and Followership, these power bases, along with the additional concepts of information power and connection power, take on additional significance. The breakthrough concept of liminal leadership highlights the fluidity and interdependence of leadership and followership roles within modern organizations. 

 

References

Burt, R. S. (2005). Brokerage and closure: An introduction to social capital. Oxford University Press.

French, J. R. P., & Raven, B. (1959). The bases of social power. In D. Cartwright (Ed.), Studies in social power (pp. 150-167). Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research.

Fuzie, C. (2024). Liminal Space: Reshaping Leadership and Followership.

Ibarra, H., & Hunter, M. (2007). How leaders create and use networks. Harvard Business Review, 85(1), 40-47.

Robbins, S. P., & Judge, T. A. (2017). Organizational behavior (17th ed.). Pearson Education.

Yukl, G. A. (2013). Leadership in organizations (8th ed.). Pearson Education.

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