Leadership, Influence, and Power

Leadership is one of the most critical factors for organizational success. Over the past several decades, researches have been conducted to study leadership theories, models, and applications in various types of organizations and environments. In order to understand how leadership, influence, and power interact and play a role in different leadership styles and situations, this article reviews the concepts and relationship among leadership, influence, and power. The common ground and differences of leadership, influence, and power are compared and analyzed. This article also studies how leaders demonstrate leadership, influence, and power on the basis of contingency leadership theory, transformational leadership theory, and charismatic leadership theory.

Comparing Leadership, Power, and Influence

According to Passmore (2010), leadership is “a set of social processes of influencing and motivating individuals and groups, and of shaping goals and outcomes amongst diverse stakeholders through influence, persuasion and negotiation” (p. 160). Leadership is typically viewed as “a process of social influence, in which one or more persons affect one or more followers by clarifying what needs to be done, and providing the tools and motivation to accomplish set goals” (Babcock-Roberson & Strickland, 2010, p. 314). These definitions of leadership indicate that influence is the core function of leadership because leadership is realized through social influence, thus leadership cannot occur without influence. As explained in Morris, Maisto, and Dunn (2007), social influence is “the process by which others, individually or collectively, affect one’s perceptions, attitudes, and actions” (p. 375). Therefore, the forms of social influence include altering people’s perceptions, changing their attitudes, and triggering actions of individuals and groups. The role of leadership is to direct people to take actions towards the goals of the leaders and organizations.

Because a leader is usually identified as a person in a position with power, leadership is often associated with power and the use of power, but leadership and power are not equivalent. Power is generally defined as “the capacity to guide others’ actions toward whatever goals are meaningful to the power-holder” (Messick & Kramer, 2005, p. 277). As explained in Lussier and Achua (2010), power “is about achieving influence over others” (p. 110) and “power is the leader’s potential influence over followers” (p. 110). Because power is the potential influence rather than the actual influence, it is not necessary for a leader to actually use power to lead. A leader may be able to influence others simply because of the possession of power as perceived by followers. To distinguish leadership from power, Messick and Kramer (2005) stated that “leadership involves getting followers to believe in and pursue your vision for the group, whereas power involves getting people to do what you tell them, even if they do not subscribe to your vision for the group” (p. 69). Messick and Kramer (2005) further explained that from the perspective of social influence, leadership produces internalized cognitive change, whereas power produces surface compliance.

According to Lussier and Achua (2010), power comes from two resources: position power and personal power. Power can be classified into seven types which are legitimate power, reward power, coercive power, expert power, referent power, connection power, and information power. Leaders in different leadership styles and situations may acquire and use different types of power to achieve their goals. In general, power rarely belongs to just one leader but it is distributed among group members. Although the official leader holds considerable power within the team, other team members usually have certain power to affect the whole situation (Laios, Theodorakis, & Gargalianos, 2003).

Contingency Leadership

According to Larsson and Vinberg (2010), successful leadership behavior includes “both universal and contingency elements” (p. 329), and the influence of situation is an important variable. Contingency leadership theories indicate that leadership success depends on situational factors “including the nature of the work performed, the external environment, and the characteristics of followers” (Lussier & Achua, 2010, p. 17), thus leaders should adapt different leadership styles to fit specific situations because there is no one best leadership style in all situations. Instead of focusing on traits and styles of the leaders, contingency leadership emphasizes on leaders’ effectiveness in the job situations to achieving the leadership goals. According to Amiri, Amiri, and Amiri (2010), a leader’s performance depends on many variables of the situations “with each situation containing driving factors that will determine the effectiveness of that leadership” (p. 1), and these variables include “the leadership structure, the relationship between members and the leader, the power level of leader, the specific roles of the members, the group norms, and the availability of information needed to make the appropriate decisions” (p. 1).

Over the past decades, researchers have developed several contingency leadership theories and models which include Leadership Continuum Theory and Model, Path-Goal Leadership Theory and Model, and Normative Leadership Theory and Models (Lussier & Achua, 2010). The research of contingency leadership aims to study what situational variables affect leadership effectiveness and how to match between individual leaders and the circumstances for better leadership outcomes (Haslam, Reicher, & Platow, 2010). These theories and models can guide leaders to assess the situation and adapt a suitable style to lead effectively in complicated social, political, and economic environments. For example, in today’s dynamic business world, the contingency leadership approach helps leaders implement flexible strategies in responding to different business contexts. With business globalization, leaders should take culture contingency into consideration because “culture powerfully shapes the way that people interact with one another in social environments, including organizations, because different cultures promote unique sets of values, norms, and expectations” (Shin, Heath, & Lee, 2011, p. 172). With contingency leadership models, leaders learn to use power wisely to make positive influence on subordinates to achieve organizational goals. For instance, the same leader may apply highly influential directive leadership to production line staff but place less power and control in R&D projects. The leader’s approach is contingent to the situation.

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership is the process to “develop and promote values and goals that are shared by both leaders and followers” (Haslam, Reicher, & Platow, 2010, p. 251). In the transformational approach, the leadership success depends on a leader’s ability to encourage followers to rise above low-level transactional considerations and instead pursue a higher-order sense of morality and purpose (Haslam, Reicher, & Platow, 2010, p. 251). According to Caldwell, Dixon, Floyd, Chaudoin, Post, and Cheokas (2012), the transformational leadership approach gives leaders the mechanism to transform organizational goals into synergistic duties of the individuals. Caldwell et al. (2012) specified four components of the transformational leadership, which are “idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration” (p. 177). With each of the four components, workers are inspired to take efforts for their own personal development while also improving the performance of the organization.

As noted in Shanker and Sayeed (2012), transformational leadership “makes profound positive influence on the subordinates’ effort and satisfaction with their various abilities” (p. 471) because transformational leaders demonstrate a clear sense of advocacy, influence, and support on behalf of all staff members. Transformational leaders “develop objectives, goals, and priorities, via a strategic plan, that align with the organization’s mission and vision” (Wolf, 2012, p. 310). Therefore, in transformational leadership, leaders do not enforce their own power, but they transform influence to empower followers by inspiring and motivating followers and sharing visions and goals with them.

Transformational leadership is an effective approach for managing organizational change. In the transformational process, leaders examine the patterns and trends that occur in the organization, explore the facts related to current issues and potential crisis, and observe how patterns fit together to envision future outcomes of organizational change. Because organizational change usually does not resonate with all workers, leaders must be able to influence and direct others in the change process. Transformational leaders can help subordinates prepare for such change and take positive actions to meet new requirements and new goals resulted from organizational change.

Transformational leadership is established on a strong moral base to pursue the best interests of both individuals and the organization. When all workers are motivated to become their best, the organizations is able to “create high trust and the high performance work cultures that produce increased profitability and long-term sustainability” (Caldwell, Dixon, Floyd, Chaudoin, Post, & Cheokas, 2012, p. 177). Caldwell et al. (2012) stated that “the ethical foundation of transformational leadership incorporates an array of integrated commitments to the organization, the community, and the individuals within an organization” (p. 177).

Charismatic Leadership

Charismatic leadership is the capacity to influence group members to contribute to group goals that is seen to derive from the distinctive charismatic qualities of a leader (Haslam, Reicher, & Platow, 2010). In charismatic leadership, a leader uses charisma or charismatic power rather than position power to attract and influence followers. Leader charisma has been defined as “the ability of a leader to exercise diffuse and intense influence over the beliefs, values, behavior, and performance of others through their own behavior, beliefs, and personal example” (House, Spangler, & Woycke as cited in Kwak, 2012, p. 56). The key to charismatic leadership success is to attract and maintain loyal followers because “charismatic leaders need followers that believe and trust in them and their mission” (Sandberg & Moreman, 2011, p. 240). As noted in Hayibor, Agle, Sears, Sonnenfeld, and Ward (2011), a charismatic leader must be capable to recognize subordinates’ values and to appeal to these values in communications with followers in order to develop a perception of trust.

According to Babcock-Roberson and Strickland (2010), similarities between transformational leadership and charismatic leadership exist on theoretical and empirical basis such as transformational leadership is composed of charisma and charismatic leaders are transformational. However, there are differences in leadership behaviors between transformational leaders and charismatic leaders. While transformational leaders empower followers through motivation and shared vision, charismatic leaders usually target to influence followers’ beliefs and use charisma to build loyalty on the leadership among followers. Thus charismatic leadership does not necessarily empower followers; followers actually are weakened when they are encouraged to blindly follow a charismatic leader. Unlike transformational leadership, charismatic leadership does not rely on the moral foundations because “charisma cannot be defined as a virtuous trait, but rather a morally neutral trait” (Sandberg & Moreman, C. M. (2011, p. 238). Therefore there is a risk that a charismatic leader may lead followers to conduct unethical deeds, or the leader may sacrifice followers’ interests in order to achieve the leadership goal.


Leadership is a leader’s social influence to the followers towards a common goal. Leaders possess position power and personal power but such power is only potential influence; a leader does not need to actually use power in order to lead effectively. A leadership approach in applying power and influence depends on the leader’s style adapted to fit the situation. According to contingency leadership theory, no single best leadership style can be identified because the effectiveness of leadership is contingent to the situation. The transformational leadership requires a leader’s ability to inspiring and motivating followers to act on the basis of shared value and vision. Transformational leaders empower subordinates and support organizational change. The charismatic leadership theory emphasizes on one’s charismatic influence in the leadership role. A charismatic leader may use very little position power but rely on personal charisma to attract and maintain loyal followers. The charismatic leadership aims to build a base of followers’ beliefs on the leader instead of empowering the followers, which is different from the transformational leadership.


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