6 Bases of Power – Coercive

There was a time when this type of power was common. It is the first resort of bullies, manipulators, and thugs. It is the last resort of everyone else.

The Business Dictionary defines it as “Authority or power that is dependent on fear, suppression of free will, and/or use of punishment or threat, for its existence.”

This is the 4th in a seven part series on the Bases of Power. The underlying meaning of power in our context – leadership and management – is INFLUENCE. We, as those who shoulder the responsibility of directing departments, groups, institutions, and organizations, must be able to influence others. Our objective is to move forward, achieve goals, reach targets, make an impact, and fulfill vision.

To do that we must enlist the cooperation of others. Coercive forces others to cooperate. It does not enlist their cooperation.

Effective leaders have a multi-faceted approach to leadership. They can call up different approaches, manifest different styles, and use various devices to motivate, manage, and lead.

Coercive force is sometimes, even rarely called for. It presumes an adversarial relationship exists and once coercive force is employed an adversarial relationship will certainly result even if it was not there before.

It might be the oldest form of power in the context of structured relationships. Coercive power is the raw exercise of authority over others. Conquering armies use it as do monarchs.

It can usually be justified in times of crisis and chaos. If all hell is breaking loose, there might not be the time to assemble a focus group and come up with a plan. Coercive power can be mean spirited and abusive. Sometimes, as in crisis, it might be the most efficient and effective means to the end.

But it most often manifests itself in insecure leaders and managers where it easily becomes abusive. Emotionally and psychologically insecure leaders fear losing control and this is where coercive power takes on an insidious approach. You may have worked for or with a master manipulator who will do whatever it takes to get you to do what they want you to do. This is where it gets tricky because coercive power is not always blunt force. It is, especially in this day and age, more often seen as subtle, indirect manipulation.

Those who resort to coercive force do not regard people as people. They regard people as objects, devices to be controlled and maneuvered.

Because followers follow from fear or manipulation, commitment is superficial. The focus is always on the one doing the controlling. But, control is mostly reactive and temporary.

I once worked as a consultant for a master controller and manipulator. His mantra was POTC which he explained meant:





If we define “control” in the “manage and oversee” sense, all is well. If we take it like he did, it meant absolutely squelch any and all sense of individuality and cooperative participation. Control for him really meant coerce. You either did what he said in precisely the manner he said it or you were out. He was physically and emotionally exhausted because the functions of the entire organization depended on him and his need to control everything.

I would like to propose a slight alteration to his mantra. POTC is fine, but let’s define it as





Why “COORDINATE”? Because coercive power should be used very, very sparingly and only as a last resort. Leaders and managers will be far more fruitful and far less stressed when we learn to coordinate the talent that works alongside. Positions of authority are important. The bases of our authority and the devices we employ are critical.

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