What is Referent Power? Definition and Examples

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Bases of Social Power > Best Practices > What is Referent Power? Definition and Examples

What is Referent Power? Definition and Examples
Tom Milus
The definition for “referent power” in the summary of the basis of social power is not 100% clear when it says: "referent power is power through association with others who possess power". That could be understood as this power is attributed to the follower by virtue of his or her attachment to a powerful person.
French and Raven's definition, however, focuses on the leader having power by virtue of the follower wanting to emulate the leader (wanting to be be like him).
It may well be that the follower hopes to gain personal power through the association with a powerful leader, but that is just one of the possibilities for the follower's attraction to the leader.
Great teachers, successful political leaders, certain military leaders, movie stars, rock stars etc all have some amount of referent power. They have this power because the followers essentially want to be like them, have what they have, or hope for some other sense of personal satisfaction as a result of the relationship.
Consequently, the follower adopts thinking and behavior styles etc in an attempt to be like the leader. The leader becomes a point of reference.

Consequences of Using Referent Power
Richard Aghama Okundia, Student (Other), Nigeria, Member
What will be the effect and what are the likely drop-backs faced when using this source of power?
Please give a practical example if you can.

Expectations from the Referent Power
Priya Rathore, HR Consultant, India, Member
@Richard Aghama Okundia : There are no drawbacks whatsoever using referent power. The point is here, not many people have this power.
They may have the remaining, i.e. legitimate power, reward power, expert power, coercive power. But to have referent power, you have to excel in the charisma domain in a way that people want to idolise you even if they can perform better than you. For example Charlie Chaplin. We have had better comedians than Charlie Chaplin, but he has the amazing referent power that people idolise him.
The drawbacks are not the ones that are faced by the others. But the drawbacks are faced by the people who possess these powers. The people who possess the referent power are under constant scrutiny. They are evaluated every moment and there is a vast degree of expectation from the people around as not just the task, but the charisma of the person draws newer expectations from the people.

Referent Power (French and Raven)
Jaap de Jonge, Editor, Netherlands
Indeed referent power is the power someone has, because another person likes or wants to be like that person. It can be thought of as charisma, charm, admiration, or appeal. It comes from one person liking and respecting another, and strongly identifying with that person in someway.
Celebrities have a lot of referent power, allowing them to influence what people buy (this effect is heavily exploited in various forms of advertising) and even who should be elected to certain political positions.
Also in (business) organizations, people with charm often make colleagues feel good, and have a lot of influence as a result. Referent power is also typical for great leaders. Consider for example in charismatic leadership.
A potential drawback of referent power is that it can be abused, for example for coercion or social exclusion, because someone with a lot of referent power could easily cause someone to be shunned by others in some group or department by saying something negative about that person.
@Tom, I improved the text of the summary to explain referent power more clearly. Thanks for this tip.

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