• Jason Wulfsohn

Editor’s musings: Power, respect and influence

Updated: May 19

Here’s something to think about. You’ve just started at a new football club. You’ve got a bit of a good reputation that precedes you. You are highly qualified and …


Scenario 1: … you know everything about football and how to get the job done. You answer questions well, and you provide every possible reason as to why things need to be done a certain way. However, even if you don’t say it, you view the players and the staff around you as substandard and don’t really care about them. You lose your temper when things go wrong and blame them for it.

Scenario 2: … you’re quite clued up on your football but you’re a bit uncertain about your role and what is expected of you. You don’t have all the answers, because quite frankly you’re still getting a feel for the environment. You’re new here, so you don’t want to rock the boat too much just yet. However, you make time to chat to the players and the staff, get to know them a bit, maybe even lighten the mood with a joke or two.


Which scenario is going to get the results? Does that mean it is better?


It’s been a while since I’ve had to lead a group of my peers, but I’ve still had somewhat of a leadership role to athletes or players I work with. Over the past year or so, leadership has been on my mind because I’ve been thinking about how I could influence those under my care to make better decisions and change behaviours in a meaningful way (see my thoughts on the Behaviour Change Wheel and behaviour change). Additionally, it has been on my mind because I’ve had to work with various people in positions of power who haven’t been good leaders in my eyes. This has been incredibly frustrating and has left me wondering if you have to be a d@$%head to make it to the top. I really hope this isn’t the case, because if being “the best” requires stepping on others, then I’m not that keen, to be honest.


Anyway, here I am, thinking about leadership, and wondering how to avoid making the same mistakes as others. There is a lot of nuance to leadership, and I’m really no expert, so I’ve made a start trying to educate myself on the topic. In an article in part titled “It’s all about getting respect”[1], I came across the excerpt in figure 1: a professional football coach’s opinion on what is needed when starting out at a new club. As someone who has had to be “the new guy” a few times in recent history, I found this poignant. Is it ultimately all about respect? I think so.

While reading the aforementioned article I came across the concept of social power and social influence. Social power is the potential for influence – the ability of the agent/leader to bring about change with the available resources[2]. Then, social influence is the result of social power in action – it is the change in belief, attitude, or behaviour of a person which comes from the actions of another[2]. Power is used to influence. So where does power come from? Perhaps it comes from your position in a business or institution, or maybe you have a good rapport with a group of people. Maybe you’re just a terrifying individual and people are too scared not to do what you say. All of these are real sources of power. Thankfully someone has gone and arranged this all into a nice collection of definitions for these sources of power[2]. For the purpose of this article I’m going to take a bit of liberty here, and use ‘respect’ as a synonym for ‘power’.


Informational respect: Information/logic is provided, understood, and accepted, leading to change.

Expert respect: change is affected because of faith that the “expert” has superior knowledge or insight about what is best for the circumstances.

Referent respect: change is due to the target identifying with, or wanting to model the agent.

Legitimate respect: change comes about because of acceptance of the right to require change and the obligation to comply.

Reward respect: the ability to offer positive incentive to influence change.

Coercive respect: the ability to use negative, undesirable consequences to influence change.


These don’t occur in isolation and we might not have access to all of these forms of respect, but we might also have access to several of them at once. The state of these sources of respect is also dynamic due to the ongoing interactions between agent and target[2]. So you might start out with being able to rely on referent respect to influence people, but lose this once they find out you’re a big fan of The Hobbit movies, meaning you might have to resort to reward or coercive means to affect change. Poor taste in movies aside, there is the ‘expert/referent dilemma’ whereby one has to manage oneself on the spectrum of presenting as someone extremely capable and deserving of respect or someone who is a likeable, friendly member of the team[3].

So back to the first question. Which scenario is going to get you the results? Obviously it’s scenario 3! This is where you seamlessly meld the positives from both those scenarios, because it’s been suggested that attaining a balance between expert and referent respect is most effective at affecting behaviour change[3]. In order to meld the expert/referent ends of the spectrum, you need knowledge, because it doesn’t matter if you’re a “bit quiet or a bit noisy”, you have to know your subject. However, not being allowed to have your cake and eat it, which of scenario 1 or 2 do you think would get the results? Truthfully, I think it’s scenario 1. I think that players and staff will get the job done if they respect your expertise, experience, and logic, even if they think you’re a massive tool (although, I’m not sure if this is sustainable in the long-term). If you’re the nice guy, they might respect you as a person, but second-guess you more frequently, or believe that you might not be able to offer them much by way of technical or tactical development.


It bothers me a bit that being a tyrant is more likely to get results, but such is the world we live in. Ultimately, whether you’re more like scenario 1 or 2, we should be aiming for the balance of scenario 3. One day, I’ll find myself in a legitimate position of power, with a nice balance between expert/referent respect due to the informational base I’ll be able to call on, without the need to rely on rewarding or coercive means. If only it were that simple…

  1. Potrac, P., Jones, R. & Armour, K. ‘It’s All About Getting Respect’: The Coaching Behaviors of an Expert English Soccer Coach. Sport. Educ. Soc. 7, 183–202 (2002).

  2. Raven, B. H. The bases of power and the power/interaction model of interpersonal influence. Anal. Soc. Issues Public Policy 8, 1–22 (2008).

  3. Erchul, W. P. & Raven, B. H. Social power in school consultation: A contemporary view of French and Raven’s bases of power model. J. Sch. Psychol. 35, 137–171 (1997).

#Leadership #Behaviour #Communication

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