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Using Power Ethically

By Dianne Irene

Executive Summary
The use of power in a leadership role is a multi-faceted process. Understanding the types of power available and the tactics that support them can create a more efficient leadership role. Ethical leadership can be reflected in the use of power and the motivations that are utilized by that power. Locus of control, Machiavellian Personality, and Narcissism assists in defining leadership performance. Myers-Briggs Type Leaders (MBTI) can reveal responses to leadership and predict certain outcomes and successes. The use of power, influence, and tactics are aspects of leadership that can empower workers and leaders to create an interaction that leads to resolving some common worker issues. Understanding these factors can create a strategy for success. Understanding where these factors can be inappropriate can also ensure that a strategy can be found to re-center the leadership perspective.

Power is an essential part of leadership. The use of this power can greatly affect the outcomes of communication and processes. Tactics are used to express power and strategically influence outcomes and responses. Understanding how personality influences perspective and performance assists leaders in making decisions about employees and the appropriate use of power needed to elicit results.

Types of Leaders
There have many types of leadership displayed through out history and some have achieved great feats while others have left a legacy of treachery or harm. There are some distinct differences in these leaders that centers on their emotional or spiritual maturity, their effective communication, and the ability to empower others.  Some leaders have varying motivations and perspectives. Other leaders show varying levels of personal responsibility and empathy towards others.

Locus of Control
A leader’s perspective of control can affect how they approach various situations. There are two basic locus of control perspectives. Leaders that have an internal locus of control have the perspective that they have control over what happens because of their actions. These types of leaders tend to take more risks and be more proactive in their behaviors (Nahavandi, 2009, p. 130). While they tend to be less anxious they will also tend to be less conforming. Leaders that have the perspective of an external locus of control tend to see their environment as a result of an outer influence. They tend to be “more reactive” in situations, rely on the judgments of others, and can be over controlling (Nahavandi, 2009, p. 130).

Internal Locus Control

External Locus Control

Action affects environment

External influences are responsible for environment




Seek affirmation

Lower stress reaction

Over reactive

Ethical concerns

Project concerns on others



Figure 1: Locus of Control

A factor that can also affect a leader’s performance can be based in their perceptive of obstacles. A positive or negative outlook can reflect in the resolution strategy of the leader. Two basic personality categories consist of a Type A or Type B. Type A individuals are concerned with time, desire control, and can be inpatient with delays. They also tend to be more competitive, set higher goals, and have high energy. Type B personalities have less of a desire for control, enjoy working in groups, and delegate better than type A’s (Nahavandi, 2009, p. 133). Another consideration in leadership is the ability of the leader to monitor their own behavior and correctly evaluate the reality of that behavior. A self-monitoring (SM) scale was developed by in 1974 and indicated that those who had a high SM would tend to be more consistent in their behavior and have a better ability to analyze a situation (Nahavandi, 2009, p. 134).

Myers-Briggs Type Leaders (MBTI)
MBTI focuses on decision making as it relates to personality dimensions. These dimensions are, “sensing/intuition and thinking/feeling” and “perception/judgment and extrovert/introvert” (Nahavandi, 2009, p. 136). These traits were noted by a behaviorist in the 1920’s by the name of Carl Jung (Wall, 2008). A pattern has been seen in various types of individuals. Those that score consistently in certain categories tend to display similar characteristics in their use of leadership skills. According to Yeung, “once individuals become aware of their natural preferences, ie, how they normally like to behave, they can understand their likely impact on other people; they can discover ways of adapting their behavior to become more effective team players sales people, leaders, or whatever else the organization they work for might need them to become”(2008).

Sensation Thinkers (ST)

Intuitive Thinkers (NT)

Facts, figures, concrete, impatient, react quickly, dislikes unpredictability, effective, efficient, time manage

Relationship oriented, sees possibilities and analyzes objectively, responds to creativity, problem solving, unreasonable expectations, intellectual

Sensation feelers (SF)

Intuitive Feelers (NF)

Pragmatic, troubleshooters, systematic, organizational understanding, dislikes change, relies on rules, focuses on the present

Personal charisma, committed to others, communicator, accepts change, deals with uncertainty, open to ideas, burn out, difficulty implementing ideas

Figure 2: MBTI

Machiavellian Personality & Narcissism
The Machiavellian Personality is based on the extent that a leader puts their own concerns above the concerns of others. Those who score high for this personality tend to be manipulative, lack honesty, be cynical and use personal gain above the interest of the group or company. Those who score low for this personality may tend to be naïve and more easily manipulated (Nahavandi, 2009, p. 137). It would be best for leaders to not score at the extreme of being too concerned with themselves or lacking enough concern for their contribution. Another focus of self concern is the level of narcissism. Here again, those who score high for this trait tend to be selfish and self- absorbed (Nahavandi, 2009, p. 138).

Power & Influence
There are several kinds of power that leaders use to interact with their subordinates. According to French and Raven (1968) there are five main types of power which include: legitimate, reward, coercive, expert, and referent (Nahavandi, 2009, p. 63). Legitimate power is seen when a leader is in a position and is expected to hold the power. A CEO or other leader in a company is seen to hold the power and this position will give the appearance of power. Reward power is seen by others as a chance to access rewards that are held by a person in power. Perhaps a young executive will listen closely to a more experienced leader to model their behavior and gain access to the benefits of those behaviors. Coercive power is used with a result of punishment. Sales staff that must meet a quota can see the failure to reach a goal as a lingering punishment of loss of pay or position. Expert power is seen in those who hold knowledge in an area. The resident scientist of an organization can be seen as an expert in a subject and their opinion is then likely to be taken at face value. Referent power is seen in those that others are attracted to and that have relationships with others (Nahavandi, 2009, p. 63). Charismatic leaders can utilize referent power by charming workers into accomplishing a task or goal.

Tactics are used by leaders to influence their subordinates and obtain desired results. The British Psychological Society (2007) discovered that there is a connection between some tactics used in leadership roles. It was discovered that “upward appeals” could be seen as pressures to form an alliance with someone who held more power. This might be used well in a situation when an assistant worker has to form a relationship with a leader and needs to rely upon attention to detail.

In an exchange tactic an exchange with workers and the expectation of something in return is utilized. Perhaps a reward or bonus could be used to inspire success in a team. When workers feel that they do not receive recognition or reward then this tactic will assist in bringing the team back into a positive performance mode. It is also important then to honor those promised rewards or incentives. Not doing so can create hostility in the team and cause dissention.

When “ingratiation” is used the leader is charming the worker into a positive mood and attempting to influence the perception of their performance as a leader. An Inspirational appeal is valued as a commitment to others. This could be used to inspire a team as they set out to work on a new goal or to improve a certain process. When “inspirational tactics” are used there is a personal connection and is used well in consultations (Steensma, H. 2007). This would be appropriate when a worker is in need of a review or to address a concern.

The use of “rationality” uses logical and factual information to request a task or goal completion. When workers are introduced to change a lack of understanding can cause dissention. By using facts and information to back up a logical action, teams can conceptualize the importance of that change. The motivations behind tactics should be considered. Research done by Eveleth & Pillutla (2003), indicated that tactics work best when leaders are successful at “convincing people first that a problem exists that is of importance to a group with which they identify, and second, that their help is needed to find a solution”. They also discovered that the best tactic is when influence can fit, “into the categories of exchange, consultation, and rational persuasion”.

Empowering workers is an essential part of leadership. Delegating enough power to employees so that they feel vested in company goals and processes will increase team success. It is appropriate to create boundaries and expectations related to the goals and not to create an emphasis on control. Leaders must be visionary and be able to see many perspectives. Empowering others means that leaders must display the same commitment that they expect from their employees. Using tactics appropriately will increase the empowerment process and ensure that teams are working towards the same goals.

While many factors contribute to understanding power and the types of leadership behaviors it is also important to remember that no single test or factor can give the clearest picture of predictable behavior. According to Bud Baker, Ph.D., “No single test can paint a complete enough picture to predict the success,” of a leader. “We therefore add a series of interviews” to “round out the analysis of each candidate” (2008). It is important to remember that these are merely guideline predictors and not snapshots of reality. Many factors go into the use of power, tactics, and understanding how all of these elements fit together could be the strongest indicator of how someone uses power successfully.



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Eveleth, D., & Pillutla, A. (2003, April). Task Demands, Task Interest, and Task Performance: Implications for Human Subjects Research and Practicing What We Preach. Ethics & Behavior, 13(2), 153-172. Retrieved April 5, 2009, doi:NO_DOI

Moutafi, J., Furnham, A., & Crump, J. (2007, September). Is Managerial Level Related to Personality?. British Journal of Management, 18(3), 272-280. Retrieved April 5, 2009, doi:10.1111/j.1467-8551.2007.00511.x

Nahavandi, A. (2006). The art and science of leadership (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Steensma, H. (2007, June). Why managers prefer some influence tactics to other tactics: A net utility explanation. Journal of Occupational & Organizational Psychology, 80(2), 355-362. Retrieved April 5, 2009, from Academic Search Premier database.

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