The Bases and Contingencies of Palin Power

 

Three-Dimensional In-the-Box Model of Leadership courtesy of David Boje, Ph.D.

In Where Gov. Palin Leads We Shall Follow, I analyzed two paths the former Alaska Governor could take based on her Transformational and Servant Leadership characteristics. Bases of power and the contingencies that limit its extent build upon her leadership style. By understanding a specific power base Gov. Palin has been operating from since July 26, 2009, her statement that “you don’t need a title to make a difference,” in conjunction with her 2012 decision will immediately make perfect sense.

Five Bases of Power

Steve L. McShane  and Mary Ann Von Glinow who co-authored Organizational Behavior held that for power to exist, a person or group must be dependent on another person or group for something of value. The authors went on to describe the five power bases identified by John French and Bertrand Raven in 1959: legitimate, coercive, reward, expert, and referent. The four contingencies that determine the extent to which a given power base can be leveraged are: substitutability, centrality, discretion, and visibility.

Legitimate power is the power to influence others by position of formal authority or title. Each of the offices Sarah Palin held conferred a set of behaviors she could request of others and specific actions she had the authority to execute. President of the United States is the ultimate example of legitimate power, and is something Gov. Palin chose not to pursue at this time.

Reward and Coercive powers are straight-forward and most often spawn from legitimate power. Those who hold formal positions of power use both sticks and carrots to ensure compliance with their directives.

Expert power originates from within the person and is the ability to influence others by knowledge and skill sets they value. Gov. Palin is a subject matter expert on energy exploration, generation, transmission, and distribution, thus she has considerable expert power in this area.

Her Power is Referent…

ContentSarahPAC File Photo. Referent Power in Action: Gov. Palin is swarmed by supporters at the 2011 Iowa State Fair. It took her two hours to walk 100 yards, so everyone could have a special moment with her.

McShane and Von Glinow define Referent Power as “the capacity to influence others based on the identification and respect they have for the power holder.” David A. Victor and Monica C. Turner who edited Leadership Style and Bases of Power wrote that a leader has referent power when supporters desire to identify with and emulate the leader. “In referent power, the manager leads by example. Referent power rests heavily on trust,” Victor and Turner wrote. Both McShane and Von Glinow and Victor and Turner concurred that referent power is a function of inter-personal skills and develops very slowly.

“Referent power is usually associated with charismatic leadership. Charisma is often defined as a form of interpersonal attraction whereby followers develop a respect for and trust in the charismatic individual,” McShane and Von Glinow wrote.

Gov. Palin’s referent power is a direct result of her Transformational / Charismatic and Servant-Leadership styles. Remember Vince Lombardi? Gov. Palin’s referent power is what engenders the remarkable responses to her leadership, the winning of hearts and getting those hearts to follow her anywhere.

From ChangingMinds.org: “In wanting to be like these people, we stand near them, hoping some of the charisma will rub off onto us” (emphasis mine). Gov. Palin’s referent power is at the root of why for instance it took her two hours to walk 100 yards at the 2011 Iowa State Fair. All present wanted to be with her and to touch her in some way, as is the case at all her events.

Of the five power bases, referent power is the one in which you truly “don’t need a title to make a difference.” Since she is an accomplished Charismatic / Transformational and Servant Leader, Gov. Palin wields considerable referent power and she has been using it since she left office in July 2009.  This is evidenced in how she shaped the debate on ObamaCare, the BP gusher, Quantitative Easing, Libya, and other matters. Her 67% overall success rate in 2010 with candidate endorsements is a function of referent power, as is the 90% success rate with the “Take Back the 20” subset.

In Where Gov. Palin Leads, I wrote,

“She may not be President of the United States, and may not be running – in the conventional sense of the term – but she is our Private Citizen President. We look to her for leadership and inspiration. If we take her October 5 announcement in isolation and at face value, Gov. Palin remains our Private Citizen President. Nothing has changed.”

That is what referent power is all about. Gov. Palin does not merely have the potential to make a difference sans a formal title. She has already been doing it for over two years and continues to do so.

File Photo by Ron Devito. More Referent Power in Action: Following her speech in Indianola, Iowa, Gov. Palin gives and receives a half-hug with one supporter while holding the hand of another. Referent power generates the desire to stand next to, and have some form of physical contact with the leader. Gov. Palin’s supporters travel thousands of miles, spend thousands of dollars, and wait many hours to have their special moments with her. At this rally, Gov. Palin spent more time with her supporters than on her speech, walking the rope line twice – something no one in recent history has ever done.

Contingencies Limit The Extent of Power

Contingencies limit the extent to which power bases can be used. Substitutability refers to the availability of alternatives. Gov. Palin wields considerable power, because she is not substitutable. I have written innumerable times that she is a once-in-a-lifetime leader and I have expressed my utter disdain for the entire field of declared 2012 candidates.

This refers to her non-substitutability, however, Gov. Palin by once being a 2012 hopeful and choosing not to run, is not in a position to slam the entire field of candidates as being unsatisfactory. By staking that position, she would have to declare candidacy and seek the nomination. Gov. Palin said if she thought the field was unsatisfactory, she would run. Gov. Palin thus understands that slamming the entire field of candidates without running herself would be the pinnacle of absurdity. Her gracious statements toward these candidates do not alter the fact that there is only one Sarah Palin and there are no substitutes.

Centrality is the degree of inter-dependence between the power holder and others. Actions of a person with high centrality affect a great deal of people – sometimes at alarming speed. Centrality is associated with mission-critical jobs and jobs that involve significant responsibilities. Though she is a private citizen, Gov. Palin’s referent power confers upon her a high degree of centrality and responsibility. Her words influence others to action. The leftists who tried to foist a blood libel (“inciting violence”) upon her earlier this year knew this full well. A person wielding referent power at Gov. Palin’s level could start a war. Witness William Randolph Hearst’s “you provide the news and I’ll provide the war.” The Father of Yellow Journalism in fact used his referent power to start the Spanish-American War.

Discretion in the context of leadership theory is the freedom to make decisions and exercise judgment without permission from others and without referring to rulebooks. As a private citizen, Gov. Palin has nearly complete discretion or freedom – limited only by her own common-sense, experience, and professionalism.

When she spoke about the possibility of being shackled as a Presidential candidate with Greta Van Susteren, it was this lack of freedom to which she referred. As a candidate subject to the GOP establishment’s rules, Gov. Palin’s discretion would have been severely curtailed. This is true of all candidates, but Gov. Palin’s track record for rooting out fraud and corruption in her own party put her in the establishment’s cross hair. It was this contingency on pursuing legitimate power – POTUS – that at least in part may have driven her decision to not pursue it.

McShane and Von Glinow wrote, “Power does not flow to unknown people in the organization.” Even those with legitimate power are effectively neutered by lack of visibility. It’s easy to see why “unsung heroes” and “worker bees” have no power. Gov. Palin is an international household name, thus she is highly visible and this contingency is inoperative in her case.

Commanding Respect and Trust

By fully understanding Gov. Palin as a leader, her 2012 decision now makes complete and perfect sense. Being the perfect candidate for POTUS is necessary but insufficient for her leadership style. Lack of discretion/freedom is Kryptonite to any Transformational, Charismatic, and Servant Leader. Pursuing the legitimate power of POTUS most likely would have made the discretion contingency operative to the point of turning her campaign into a kamikaze mission for both herself and her supporters and ensuring an Obama victory.

Gov. Palin used her objective ego (a characteristic of Transformational and Servant Leadership). She did not lead us down a primrose path or blow smoke up our rear ends. Yes, we spent considerable time and treasure – of our own free will – over these past three years in the hopes that she would run. But, the voracious requirements of a Presidential campaign would have consumed the entire past three year’s worth of time and treasure over again within a few short months. To knowingly have led us to certain failure would have been unconscionable. Yes, her decision was a heart-breaker for us, but running into certain failure would have been far worse. Broken hearts can be fixed (as long as they don’t kill their owners), but broken trust cannot.

Gov. Palin most likely saw the severe contingency against pursuing the legitimate power of POTUS. She saw that she has considerable referent power – not needing a title to make a difference – with virtually no operative contingencies against it. Thus, Gov. Palin wisely chose to use and continue building her referent power instead.

Gov. Palin’s decision commands even more respect, even more trust, and even more admiration among those who understand the principles of her leadership methods. The wisdom of her decision will become more apparent as both time and Gov. Palin march on.

Editor and Publisher, US for Palin; LAN Infrastructure PM; IFR PPL; fishing, shooting.

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  • Roderic Deane

    Wow! This reminds me of a poli-sci class I took in college, or, maybe it was psychology. Hmmm.

    No matter what, your piece describes an academic's attempt to try and establish a cohesive explanation for something they can't explain in plain English.

    I'll try to cut to the bottom line: Sarah Palin resonates with a wide swath of the population because she espouses their ideals and does so in a manner that could be (and is) similar to their own argument. In other words, she speaks in a manner that we can understand and agree to.

    I do agree with you that she's a once in a lifetime individual. She has not yet shown her power, but I get the feeling that we'll see it shortly.

    • Roderic,

      Though this piece leans toward the academic – it's actually is only the tip of the iceberg – and no I won't be going any further into leadership theory than I've already gone. We know she resonates with us – the point of this was to get to how and why – not merely state that she does. The real challenge now will be turning this into a PowerPoint.

  • akabosan

    "…she espouses their ideals"

    For me since first seeing and hearing Mrs. Palin, she has espoused her ideals and they harmonize with mine.

    There is little intellect involved in this.

    GB

  • jaspercounty1

    Never met Gov. Palin and knew nothing about her or her political path, but even so, I voted absentee ballot for her in 2006. She has never disappointed me, because she talks our talk.