Leadership for Life – Expertise

By on February 2, 2015
Leadership for Life - Expertise

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Back in the dim time, when I was in graduate school, I learned about John French and Bert Raven’s theory (1959) on the five bases of power. These include:

  • Reward Power: the ability to control the goodies
  • Coercive Power: the ability to punish
  • Legitimate Power: connected to the rank or position of the one exercising power
  • Referent Power: connected to one’s desire to be liked by the exerciser of power
  • Expert Power: the ability to control information and know-how

Subsequent studies and additional research by others have added other forms and definitions of power, as well as the connection between power and leadership. I want to take a brief look at expert power today.

Expert power might be embodied by people such as Albert Einstein, Miss Manners, Steve Jobs, Stephen Hawking, et al. We follow and allow ourselves to be influenced by them because we know or believe in their expertise on issues relevant to our concerns. If you think about it, we give or attribute power to many other experts in our lives, and we often covet various forms of expertise for ourselves.

The question is should expertise be shared freely or hoarded jealously as a means of maintaining power over others. These days we see examples of both. Software and hardware of modern technology is copyrighted and patented to preserve the power of making a profit. At the same time, what we have come to call open-source software has been shared freely, and has led to many technological advances and breakthroughs.

For a variety of reasons, people in organizations often hoard information and expertise as a way of enhancing their status or preserving their jobs. This often leads to information silos in organizations, which, if you’ve been paying attention, can lead to organizational dysfunction.

So what kind of a leader are you? Are you a “Too many cooks spoil the broth” kind of leader? Or are you a “Many hands make light work” type? Put another way, are you a “Do it my way, see?” leader or are you a seeker of consensus? We can probably come up with examples of success in either of the approaches, but I strongly believe in “Open Source Leadership” (did I just coin a new term?) as being more effective and profitable in the long run. I’ve said before that the leader’s rewards come from presiding over a successful organization, no matter who came up with the ideas. There is no need to hoard expertise or information, when there are so many people who can improve and enhance your ideas to the benefit of us all.

About Barry Schapiro

Barry is the Workforce Solutions Group Practice Leader for Leadership and Professional Development. His experience includes delivery and management of business training in a variety of industries, with specialties in leadership, team development, generational diversity, and customer service. Twitter

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