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Coercive Power in Leadership: Definition, Examples & Quiz

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Shawn Grimsley

In this lesson, you will learn what coercive power is and some key concepts relating to it. You will also have an opportunity to reinforce your knowledge with a short quiz that follows the lesson.

We also recommend watching Positional Power: Legitimate, Coercive & Reward Power and Power Types in Leadership: Formal and Personal

Definition

Coercive power is the ability of a manager to force an employee to follow an order by threatening the employee with punishment if the employee does not comply with the order.

Concepts

The most important concept to understand about coercive power is that uses the application of force. It seeks to force or compel behavior rather than to influence behavior through persuasion. Examples of coercive power include threats of write-ups, demotions, pay cuts, layoffs, and terminations if employees don't follow orders. In order to be effective, the manager must be able to follow through on the threat. If failure to comply doesn't result in punishment, threat of punishment becomes meaningless and even counterproductive because employees may cease to respect the legitimacy of the manager's authority.

Disadvantages

While coercive power may be effective in the short-term, it can create serious problems for organizational effectiveness in the long run. Coercion tends to lower job satisfaction, which shouldn't be too much of a surprise - who likes being intimidated on a daily basis? If you are not satisfied with your job, you will bail as soon as possible for a better one. Constant turnover is costly, and it also hurts productivity, efficiency, and effectiveness. Additionally, some theorist argue that coercive leadership also stymies creativity and innovation because you're not much interested in taking risks and being creative if you live in an environment of fear and insecurity.

Examples

Let's say that you're a new hot-shot MBA graduate that's just been hired to manage a team of production workers at a company that manufacturers computer chips. At your first team meeting, you explain the latest production techniques you learned in grad school, and that from now on, they will use the new techniques. You also inform your team that you expect the techniques to improve their productivity by 12%. You also inform them if their production does not meet your flawless projections, they'll be subject to discipline up to and including termination. As you anticipated, your team meets the level of productivity as you projected. Your boss is happy. However, over the next quarter, nearly all employees on your team have left. Your manager pulls you into her office and explains that nearly all employees stated in their exit interviews that they left the company because they felt intimidated by you. You are sent to sensitivity training.

Summary

Coercive power is a common method of influencing employee behavior. A manager uses coercive power by forcing employee compliance through use of threats. While coercion may work in the short-term, you do risk long-term problems including low employee job satisfaction resulting in high employee turnover. Productivity may even decrease in the long-term. Coercion also tends to be an obstacle to employee creativity and innovation because of the fear and insecurity it creates.

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