How to Use Referent Power (And Why It's Important)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 6 December 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Referent power refers to the admiration, trust and respect towards a leader. Referent power can help promote strong working relationships and improve workplace culture. By discovering some examples of referent power, you may learn how to improve the relationships between you and your peers. In this article, we discuss ways to use referent power and provide some examples of how you can improve it.

What is referent power?

Referent power is the amount of trust and respect people have towards an individual or leader. People with referent power often display interpersonal characteristics that encourage colleagues to feel comfortable or inspired. Referent power can help leaders improve workplace culture and inspire efficiency.

Related: What Does Leadership Mean? (Benefits and Steps to Improve)

How to use referent power

Knowing how to use referent power as a leader is important, as you may already have it in your team. You can use your referent power to improve many aspects of the workplace, such as employee retention and production efficiency. Below are several ways to utilise your referent power:

1. Form strong relationships

Your referent power in the workplace can help you form strong relationships with your team members. If your peers' respect you and trust your judgement, they may feel comfortable following your instructions. When you form positive relationships with team members, it encourages communication and teamwork.

2. Motivate employees

If you have referent power with your colleagues, you can usually influence them to work productively and efficiently. Referent power is usually the best form of motivation because it's unforced. The employees that respect and admire you may choose for themselves to work hard.

Related: How to Motivate Your Employees With 11 Impactful Strategies

3. Improve workplace culture

You can use your referent power to improve workplace culture. If you're respected as a leader, then your team is more likely to follow your lead. By practising inclusive and considerate actions, you can help influence your team members to act with the same values and principles. This can be a great way to improve employee retention. Employees are usually more likely to remain at the business if they enjoy working with their colleagues and managers.

Related: Guide to Company Culture

4. Promote integrity

Referent power can be great for encouraging a workforce to be truthful. This can build trust between management and employees. When a workforce trusts each other, it often results in a work environment with minimal interpersonal conflicts. Employees that trust their management team usually enjoy going beyond their daily duties to help the business.

Examples of building referent power

It's usually beneficial to increase your referent power with your team members. If you're new to a company and filling a leadership position, gaining referent power can be a great way to transition into a team. Below are some examples and typical methods that may increase your referent power in the workplace:

Lead by example

In a leadership role, it's important to conduct yourself the same way you expect others to behave. If you encourage your team to be more time-efficient, it's often wise to manage your own time well. You can ensure you arrive at meetings on time and complete work before deadlines. This may help build the team's respect towards you and promote a strong work ethic.

Example: Bettie is a field supervisor on a mine site. Employees at the mine site are subject to strict safety standards. When Bettie began their supervising role, they upheld the safety standards and contributed suggestions to improve safety. Bettie regularly organised safety meetings with the team and would check on each employee individually throughout the day.

Because of Bettie's actions and behaviour, the team's safety awareness increased. The team's involvement in the safety meetings also increased. Because Bettie practised their own safety standards, the team felt they could trust their supervisor and develop respect for them.

Appreciate your team

Showing recognition to your team members can often make them feel appreciated in their role. When you show appreciation towards your team, it can show that you're aware of their efforts. Appreciating others often displays your level of consideration and helps foster your team's trust in you.

Example: Ofelia is the owner of a building company that constructs residential homes. They employ a team of varying trades who work together on construction sites. The team was in the middle of a project when they had to halt construction because of several weeks of severe weather. This meant the team wasn't able to complete the project before the end-of-the-year holidays. Ofelia asked if they could work overtime to complete the project before the holidays.

The construction team agreed to the extra work and completed the project before the holidays. Ofelia understood the personal sacrifice of their team and awarded them with a bonus at the end of the year. After this, the team were happy to commit to extra hours because they knew Ofelia recognised and appreciated their hard work.

Related: How to Write an Appreciation Letter (With Tips and Examples)

Be open-minded

Having an 'open mind' means you're willing to try other people's methods and suggestions. This shows that you value your team's input. Being open to team suggestions usually encourages others to come to you with information and feedback. This often builds trust between you and your team members.

Example: Lamar is a marketing manager for an automobile company. The company was developing a new type of vehicle to release at the end of the year. Throughout the year, Lamar had the responsibility of coordinating a team of marketers to produce engaging advertisements. Lamar regularly held meetings where they would value and consider the opinion of every team member. If Lamar used one of their team members' suggestions, they were sure to provide them with credit for their input.

Because Lamar made the team feel valuable, the team began providing more input and applying themselves more to the role. The efficiency of producing content increased and the quality of content improved. By considering the team's suggestions, Lamar gained their admiration and inspired them to work hard.

Be truthful

Being honest with your team is often a crucial step in gaining their trust and respect. In a leadership role, it's often important to admit your own mistakes. This can show that you're self-aware and open-minded. It's also an effective way to lead by example because it can encourage those around you to be more honest.

Example: Wilma is a team manager at a large retail store. They're responsible for overseeing a team of warehouse employees. Wilma noticed the goods stored that evening were in the wrong location. Wilma approached the team and notified them of the error. The team stated Wilma was the one who designated the location. Wilma realised their own error and immediately apologised.

Because Wilma acknowledged they were wrong, the team gained more respect for them. The warehouse employees then felt comfortable approaching Wilma with feedback and suggestions. This improved the level of communication and respect within the workplace.

Related: What Is Integrity? (Definition and Examples)

Know your team

If you're in a leadership role, it's often beneficial to know your team members on a personal level. This can be a great way to develop a comfortable working environment, as it shows you're genuinely interested in the team. Knowing your team personally may show that you care about them as human beings, rather than just employees. This is usually an effective way to build people's trust in you.

Example: Liu is a supervisor for a large construction company who has recently joined a new team. As a way of introducing themselves to the team, they had an individual chat with each team member throughout the day. Liu asked many of the employees about their families, hobbies and interests. Over several weeks, Liu remembered their personal stories and would regularly bring them up in conversation.

All the employees agreed that they have a high admiration for Liu because they genuinely care about their team. The employees felt comfortable following Liu's instructions and were happy to work hard for their new supervisor. The overall team efficiency improved and the work environment became friendly and positive.

Be selfless

It's often a good idea to show your team members that you put others before yourself. Simple acts, such as helping a colleague, typically improve the workplace culture. Acting selflessly can help increase people's admiration towards you.

Example: Herbert is an information technology specialist who works for an IT company. The company recently employed a new junior IT technician to fill an entry-level position. The new technician struggled to keep up in their new role, so Herbet used their personal time to help the new technician. The team members all noticed Herbet's willingness to help and felt inspired to do the same.

The new technician quickly gained the skills necessary to perform their duties efficiently. Herbert's actions gained admiration from the management team and respect from their colleagues. Because of Herbert's act of selflessness, the entire team felt inspired to be more helpful in the future.

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