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Individual types of power

This is an excerpt from Organizational Behavior in Sport Management-2nd Edition by Eric MacIntosh & Laura Burton.

Power is understood as the ability to exert influence on ­others (individuals or groups) in order to change their be­hav­iors, actions, or attitudes (Raven, 2008). In sport ­organizations, power is most often associated with control over resources, such as money, information, decisions, and work assignments. In this section, we describe six kinds of power held by individuals in sport ­organizations: legitimate, reward, coercive, referent, expert, and informational. When reading about the types of individual power, keep in mind that they can be held si­mul­ta­neously by a given individual. For example, the commissioner of a professional sport league has the power to negotiate player contracts on behalf of the league (legitimate power), can suspend or fine a player for violating league rules (coercive power), can provide incentives to high-­performing teams (reward power), has expertise on media rights agreements (expert power), and may be charismatic (referent power).

Legitimate Power

Legitimate power is derived from an individual’s position in the ­organization. Thus it does not result from any special ­qualities or attributes possessed by the person; rather, it exists ­because the ­organization’s norms provide the occupant of a certain position with the right to influence ­others. For instance, the general man­ag­er of a baseball team holds legitimate power based on title, and all other individuals in the ­organization recognize that power.

Reward Power

Individuals hold reward power when they are able to provide rewards to ­others (e.g., employees, volunteers); they can thus influence ­others by promising to provide them with rewards they value. This type of power is often held in positions that can provide incentives or bonuses to ­others for ­performance. For example, a director of ticket sales can offer cash bonuses or vacation days to employees who meet or exceed a sales quota for a season. Similarly, an athletic director can use reward power to incentivize coaches for successful seasons on the field (in terms of win-­loss rec­ord) and in the classroom (in terms of team GPA). For instance, if a coach reaches the NCAA tournament or the team achieves a high GPA, the athletic director can reward the coach with a bonus over and above base salary.

Coercive Power

Coercive power is similar to reward power but involves the distribution of punishments rather than rewards in order to influence ­others. Individuals who hold coercive power are able to distribute negative consequences if expectations are not met. For instance, if a coach fails to meet expectations, the athletic director can wield coercive power by withholding the coach’s bonus; moreover, if ­performance continues to fall short of expectations, the athletic director can fire the coach or not renew their contract.

Referent Power

Referent power is held by individuals based on personal qualities or characteristics. ­Those who hold referent power command a sense of presence or charisma that compels ­others to follow. Referent power can develop if ­those within the sport ­organization identify very strongly with values held by their leader (Slack et al., 2020). Indeed, many high-­profile coaches in both professional and intercollegiate sport have wielded referent power based on a charismatic personality. For instance, Geno Auriemma, longtime and highly successful coach of the UConn ­women’s basketball team, holds referent power as an influential voice in the college basketball community and beyond.

Expert Power

Expert power derives from the possession of expertise, knowledge, or skill in a par­tic­u­lar area; it does not have to be related to legitimate power in an ­organization. For example, in any sport ­organization, expert power is held by individuals who possess technology-­related skills, especially if the network crashes and employees cannot perform their work. Expert power is also held by a video technician who possesses the skills to edit video in order to help coaches review plays and prepare for upcoming games.

Informational Power

Informational power differs from expert power in that it is held by an individual in a par­tic­u­lar situation. Thus, whereas expert power involves accumulated knowledge, skills, and expertise, informational power is wielded when one individual explains to another how to carry out a par­tic­u­lar job or task. For example, an event operations employee for a minor league hockey team holds informational power when instructing new interns about how to write an event script detailing the tasks required during a home hockey game.

In the Boardroom

Changing the Face of NBA Coaching

Head coaching positions in the NBA have always been filled by men (Lapchick, 2022). However, league commissioner Adam Silver has stated that the NBA “ ‘definitely ­will’ have a female head coach and that it ­will happen ‘sooner, rather than ­later’ ” (Gaines, 2017, n.p.). Five years ­later, in 2022, when asked again about ­women head coaches in the NBA Silver stated, “In jobs that ­aren’t about how high you can jump, how strong you are, or how tall you are, ­things should be completely equal, I think you are ­going to see that over time in the coaching ranks” (Gonzalez, 2022, n.p.). In 2014, Gregg Popo­vich, head coach of the San Antonio Spurs, used legitimate, expert, and referent power when he hired former WNBA star player Becky Hammon as an assistant coach for the Spurs. Popo­vich holds legitimate and referent power as a highly respected coach and possesses expert power as the winningest NBA coach for a single team. More specifically, his team has “won five NBA titles in six NBA Finals appearances since 1999 and also hold(s) the NBA rec­ord for most consecutive seasons (17) with at least 50 wins” (Wells, 2017, n.p.). Popo­vich, who has spoken out on racial ­inequality as well (Gatto, 2017), has been vocal in his support of Hammon and her coaching skills, referring to her as “just a natu­ral” (Gaines, 2017, n.p.) and indicating that she has what it takes to be an NBA head coach. His support for Hammon, coupled with his sources of power, can influence other coaches and professional sport ­owners to look for other talented ­women when filling vacant coaching positions.

In 2019 Hammon left the NBA to take a head coach position in the WNBA. As head coach of the WNBA Las Vegas Aces, Hammond led her team to a championship in 2022. Another high-­profile ­woman assistant coach in the NBA, Kara Lawson, left the Boston Celtics in 2020 to take a head coach position for Duke University ­women’s basketball. Despite Popo­vich’s use of power, more ­will be needed, or, as Commission Silver noted, “I would be hugely disappointed if certainly in five years we ­haven’t seen our first female head coach in the NBA” (Gonzalez, 2022).

More Excerpts From Organizational Behavior in Sport Management 2nd Edition



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