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Monday, April 29, 2013

Leadership vs. Power

As stated in Messick and Kramer (2005), leadership is often defined as the process of guiding others' actions toward the achievement of group goals (Hollander, 1985). Power is generally defined as the capacity to guide others' actions toward whatever goals are meaningful to the power-holder (e.g., Blau, 1964; Dahl, 1957; Fiske, 1993; Gruenfeld, Keltner, & Anderson, 2003; Keltner et al., 2003; Thibault & Kelley, 1959; Weber, 1947). According to these definitions, power provides a means of accomplishing the work of leadership, and it can also be a by-product of having done so effectively. That is, leadership is the process, and power is the capacity.

Thus, power and leadership often go hand-in-hand, yet the effectiveness of leaders and power-holders are judged using different criteria. Typically, great leadership is attributed to those who are perceived as having provided a vision that inspired others to cooperate for the benefit of the group (Cronshaw & Lord, 1987). Power, in contrast, is perceived in those who are able to influence others, using whatever means necessary, independent of the social value of the outcomes achieved. Good leadership is typically defined in terms of organization effectiveness; it is attributed to the individual who appears to have had the greatest positive impact on the behavior of many organization members. In contrast, a person's ability to wield power effectively is judged in terms of the power-holder's personal success and accomplishment. From this perspective, all effective leaders have power but not all power-holders are leaders. (Messick, 2005, p. 277).

According to Laios, Theodorakis, & Gargalianos (2003), leadership is the ability to influence people toward the attainment of goals.  This definition captures the idea that leaders are involved with other people in an effort to achieve goals.  It identifies three important aspects: (1) influence, (2) people, and (3) goals.  Leadership is reciprocal and dynamic, involving the use of power.  Power is defined as the ability to influence the behaviour of others (p. 150).  That means, both leadership and power are considered as an ability, but leadership is goal oriented.


Laios, A. A., Theodorakis, N. N., & Gargalianos, D. D. (2003). Leadership and power: two important factors for effective coaching. International Sports Journal, 7(1), 150-154.

Messick, D. M. & Kramer, R. M. (2005). The psychology of leadership: New perspectives and research. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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