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December 17, 2013 / KaTe

Scrum Master’s toolkit: French & Raven’s 5 (6*) Forms of Power

Hello again  🙂

Just like I promised – the second Toolkit post is 2 weeks later. Just click on the tag, it will show you all the toolkit posts.

Today I wanted to show you how humans differ from other living creatures and why we should take advantage of that in our work.

First, we have to understand what Power is. One major thing about power is that only you can grant someone else power over yourself. Sometimes it’s in exchange for something, sometimes it’s just because you want to. Let’s take an extreme case – you have a knife on your throat. Someone holding it demands you do something. You still have a choice whether you do it or not. The price is high, but still, it’s your decision.

So let’s take a look what kinds of power are there, and what benefits they bring.

1&2 – Rewarding & Coercive

These two forms are the most common in nature. Every animal is susceptible to those. Basically they mean that you can do something for someone in order to receive a reward or avoid punishment. This is exactly the carrot & stick. If you use this power, you will get obedience. But nothing more. So if you want your dog to obey, you can give him or her treats to reinforce good behavior and punish bad. But remember, even if you do that , you might not be able to take control over your dog. Because when you turn around, the sausage will still disappear. Exactly the same applies to humans. If you reward and punish, everything will go towards what you reward and what you punish will be hidden. But apart from that, no creativity can be expected.

3 – Given/Formal/Legitimate

This power is only present in creatures who build societies. Did you ever watch The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan? If you did, try to remember what he wanted to achieve. He was the Pack Leader for the dog and taught owners how to do the same. He wanted the dog to be submissive. And this is exactly what you will have if you have formal power over someone – like a manager or a police officer. Someone who is high in social ranks, somehow culturally above someone else. But if you operate with this power, you will have submission and submission only. There is still very little creativity involved.

4. Expert

Expert power is something that can be described as being respected, because you know a lot or can do something. This is something that has not been observed in any creatures, besides human. Some researchers believe dolphins, elephants, apes and crows may exhibit that power as well, but no hard proof has been found yet.  Working with someone with that power over you, gives you wings to learn. You want to become just like this example someone, so you listen, follow footsteps and try to master this subject. This power gives you learning and conquering difficulties.

5. Referent

This is a power that’s closest to trust. In large quantities it’s perceived as Charisma. It’s something that produces good feelings and engagement. It’s a power that’s easiest to lose and hardest to gain. You feel that this person is just right, you follow their lead. It’s something good leaders have.

 6*. Informational

Why is there an asterisk here? Because this power was added later on, it wasn’t in the original research. This is a power that is present only in informational societies. Where having, withholding or manipulating information is possible. Some also argue if this is not only a different manifestation of a rewarding or coercive power. I will leave it for your consideration.

So why should I bother knowing this?

Because the higher the power number is, the harder it is to gain, but the bigger the benefits are. It’s easy to coerce someone to do something, threatening them to sack them or promising a yearly bonus.

Also because coercive and rewarding powers are encoded in our reptilian brain, they are our instincts and it’s extremely hard in a critical situation not to use them.  Same applies to given power – only if you give in to your instincts, the more primitive one will take over – the carrot and the stick.

And in critical situations we need creativity, learning and engagement the most – to quickly get out of that crisis.

That’s why Scrum Masters have to have Expert and Referent power but not formal, coercive or rewarding ones. So that they can get the most of people any time.


Use this knowledge wisely 🙂




Leave a Comment
  1. Srinath / Feb 14 2014 12:53 am

    Reblogged this on srinathramakrishnan.


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