Five Bases of Power at International Business Machines

The International Business Machines Inc. (IBM) has grown over the years to emerge as one of the notable market leaders in manufacturing software and hardware used in computing systems. It has a global presence as a multinational corporation offering consultation services in Information Technology as well as the latest technological components in computers.

The IBM Mission Statement states that “At IBM, we strive to lead in the invention, development and manufacture of the industry’s most advanced information technologies…we translate these advanced technologies into value for our customers through our professional solutions…worldwide” (IBM, 2010).

Working at IBM as an international organization will require a shrewd organizational structure and group dynamics for the effective delivery of services. For an organization to function well and run smoothly, it has to be subdivided into different parts or sections each of which is allotted its functions and responsibilities. Both horizontal and flat organizational structures can be used. However, IBM has a complex organizational structure to facilitate the smooth running of the corporation. Hence, it is not possible for all the approximate 400,000 employees to report to the Chief Executive Officer, necessitating the need for a horizontal or hierarchical organizational structure.

The performance of small groups within an organization is a key ingredient to the overall output of the entire organization. One of the most powerful ways through which groups can increase their efficacy and effectiveness in the case of IBM is through team-building exercises. It is worth noting that IBM Inc. is a global organization with a high employee base with diverse values. To improve the productivity of IBM, employees working in each of the five organizational areas in IBM should work as a team.

Coercive Power

When coercive power is applied, then an individual is compelled to perform a task that he or she may not be willing to do. This type of power is mainly personal although it can also be applied in a formal environment (Heinemann, 2008). The main objective of why coercive power is employed is to ensure compliance. While coercive power is unique from other bases of power, the latter can still be used in a coercive or forceful way. Additionally, the application of coercive power is usually closely linked to punitive behavior. As anticipated, the role expectation of an individual is often contravened when coercive power is applied. On the other hand, contingent reward behavior has been associated with coercive power, of course in a negative light. If not well communicated at an organization like IBM, this source of power can bring in a lot of resentment among employees. Although this base of power is sometimes necessary in managing people within organizations, it can easily be abused and in some cases lead to serious resent by those who are being led.

Indeed, workplace dissatisfaction, as well as unhealthy behavior, is highly likely whenever coercive power is applied. It is also imperative to note that in order for coercive power to work, some leaders are often compelled to use unfavorable tools such as threatening employees that they will either be demoted or sacked should they fail to comply with the prescribed rules and regulations.

Reward Power

Reward power works on the basis of either adding or removing what is desired or that which is not needed respectively (Heinemann, 2008). It is more of a formal than a personal power. For instance, the junior employees in an organizational setting may be presented with expected results that are positively valued. The idea behind the application of this base of power is that individuals are more likely to perform highly when they are assured that they will reap some direct benefits from the task at hand. For example, the management may opt to verbally praise employees who are performing well at workplace or even promoting them. Nonetheless, reward power can be duly weakened at IBM when the available rewards are exhausted and nothing more to offer or when the people receiving the given awards fail to attach some significant value to them. In any case, using rewards as a source of power demand that each time a reward is given, it should be something more spectacular the previous one in order to catch the attention of the recipient.

Legitimate Power

The application of legitimate power is done on the basis that whoever has been charged with the duty of administering this power does it so out of responsibility and obligation (Bass, 1990). It is largely a formal source of power. In other words, this source of power is legally given to a leader so that certain roles and responsibilities assigned to each worker can be done as per the expectations of the organisation. Although legitimate power is rightfully given, it does not imply that punishment and reward cannot be incorporated. In fact, the two elements are still integral when exercising legitimate power. Moreover, the specific role played by an individual defines the degree of legitimate power. In any case, employees at workplace would respect a leader with legitimate power merely because of their title or position but not their personality as a leader. Hence, it implies that when the title or position is lost when an individual is holding a position at an organization like IBM, then legitimate power equally lost or dissolved. Therefore, it requires other sources of power to back up this type of power especially in cases where subordinates have to be persuaded over an issue.

Referent Power

The base of power is mainly personal and obtains its strength from the general likeability of a leader who has not just been approved by subordinates but also liked by the majority in an organisation (Heinemann, 2008). The junior employees will often perceive a leader with referent power as role model worth emulating. Generally, leadership style endowed with referent power often find it a lot easier to convince or persuade crowds since those who are being led prefer to identify with the leader. Although referent power carries with itself several responsibilities, it can be very effective when applied alongside other bases of power. For most celebrities, referent power is often common among them. Other personalities well endowed with referent power are military and political personalities.

Expert Power

Expert power is formal and is only discharged by individuals who have the right knowledge, competences and skills in performing a particular task (Bass, 1990). Their ability to deliver expertise knowledge at workplace is the main source of power for people with expert power. For instance, lawyers and doctors are endowed with expert power. In order to attain the best while exercising expert power, an individual can incorporate reward power.

Needless to say, individuals with referent power are highly respected at workplace since their views are taken as expert opinion that can be trusted and valued.


Bass, B. M. (1990). Handbook of leadership (3rd ed.). New York: Free Press.

Heinemann, P. (2008). Power bases and informational influence strategies: a behavioral study on management accounting information, Verlag: Springer Science.

IBM (2010). IBM international recognition. Web.

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