Reward power is a type of power in leadership where leader has the capacity to distribute rewards as incentives to subordinates. It is “derived from having the capacity to provide rewards to others” (Northouse, 2010, p. 7)1.
Reward power is defined by Riasia and Asadzadehb (2010, p. 612)3 as:
“…the ability of a person to influence others by using financial (e.g. bonuses, pay rises) or nonfinancial rewards (e.g. praise, job promotion, flexible working hours, recognition)”
For example, a boss who hands out bonuses for exceeding key performance indicators will be leveraging their reward power.
While this is considered a valuable type of power to leverage in a position of leadership, it is considered to be less effective in the long-term than expert and referent power4.
Reward Power Examples
1. Manager Who Awards Employee of The Month
A manager exhibits reward power when they announce an employee as the “Employee of the Month”.
Upon evaluating employees’ performances, the manager utilizes his authority to declare one deserving employee as the “Employee of the Month”, bestowing upon them additional benefits or privileges.
In this situation, the manager is utilizing reward power to promote productivity and morale in the workplace. The accolade not only serves as recognition of the employee’s accomplishments but also motivates other team members to put forth their best efforts. Although forward-thinking and motivational, others may perceive this approach as favoritism, potentially causing tension within the team.
2. Teacher Who Awards Extra Credit for Outstanding Work
A teacher exhibits reward power when they give extra credit to a student for doing an outstanding work on an assignment.
After evaluating students’ assignments, the teacher exercises her authority to give extra credit points to a student who has gone above and beyond in their submission.
In this situation, the teacher is using reward power to encourage academic excellence and higher standards among students. This reward not only appreciates the student’s hard work but also motivates other students to strive for better performance in their coursework.
3. Coach Who Awards a Starting Position to a Player
A coach exhibits reward power when they assign a starting position to a player based on their superior performance in practice.
After observing players’ performance during practice, the coach exercises their authority to grant a coveted starting position to the most deserving athlete.
In this situation, the coach is utilizing reward power to encourage competitiveness and dedication among the team. This decision not only validates the player’s hard work but also incentivizes other team members to improve their skills and perform better.
4. Teacher Who Gives an “Early Mark”
A teacher exhibits reward power when they allow an early class dismissal as a reward for the class’s outstanding behavior.
After observing the class’s behavior throughout the week, the teacher uses her authority to let the class out early on Friday as a reward for their exceptional behavior.
In this situation, the teacher is employing reward power to motivate good behavior and respect for class rules. This method not only appreciates the class’s good behavior but also encourages students to maintain the same level of discipline and respect in the future. The prospect of future rewards may inspire consistent adherence to classroom rules. However, others might perceive this as a way to manipulate student behavior.
5. Parent Who Allows Extra Video Game Time
A parent exhibits reward power when they allow their child extra video game time for finishing their homework thoroughly and on time.
After checking their child’s homework and finding it complete and well done, the parent gives their child the reward of extra video game time that evening.
In this situation, the parent is utilizing reward power to encourage diligence and responsibility in their child’s academics. This not only appreciates the child’s efforts in their homework, but also motivates them to continue being responsible about their school work in the future. The possibility of further rewards may foster the continuance of good behavior and habits. However, some might see this as a too transactional approach to parenting.
Full List of Examples
- A teacher: can award gold stars or stickers for good work or behavior.
- A coach: might choose a player as MVP (Most Valuable Player) for excellent performance.
- A parent: could give extra screen time for completing chores.
- A manager: may grant a bonus for reaching or exceeding a sales target.
- A professor: can grant students extra credit for additional work or contributions.
- A police chief: might commend an officer with a medal for bravery.
- A customer: can give a generous tip to a server for excellent service.
- A mentor: might publicly praise a mentee for their progress.
- A movie director: could cast an actor in a bigger role as a reward for a stellar audition.
- A judge: can award a winning team or individual in a competition.
- A game show host: might present a prize to the contest winner.
- A pet owner: can give a treat to a pet for obeying commands.
- A president: might honor a citizen with a national award for heroic deeds.
- A CEO: could offer stock options to employees for meeting company goals.
- A scientist: might name a discovered element after a deserving colleague.
- A club leader: can recognize a member with a “Member of the Month” award.
- A video game designer: may offer extra points or lives for achieving certain tasks within the game.
- A mayor: might grant a community service award to a dedicated citizen.
- A news editor: could allow a journalist to cover a high-profile event as a reward for consistent performance.
- A conductor: might assign a talented musician a solo part in a concert.
- A fashion designer: can offer a model a prominent position in a major fashion show.
- A friend: might treat a friend to dinner for helping them move houses.
- A baker: can offer a free pastry to a frequent customer.
- A pilot: could invite a child to the cockpit for showing good behavior during a flight.
- A photographer: might give a free photo session for winning a contest.
Benefits and Limitations of Reward Power
Reward power can act as a strong incentive, encouraging people to follow your orders or engage in goal-directed behaviors. But it is still considered to have limitations that can be counterbalanced by other forms of behavior.
The key benefit of reward power is that it follows the simple but effective rules of operant conditioning – the greater the reward, the greater the likelihood of compliance4, 5. As Fiore (2004, p. 11)4 argues, “…the strength of reward power lies in the subordinates’ perceptions of the reward’s value.”
Furthermore, it avoids some of the key limitations of coercive power (defined as power to punish). Unlike coercive power, it doesn’t engender resentment, fear, or disdain4, and at the same time, research has found reward power to be more effective than coercive power6.
However, it does have its own limitations.
For example, rewards and punishments tend to be more short-lived than intrinsic desire to do the job4. Some famous studies even have found rewards to unintentionally decrease intrinsic desire and interest7. Furthermore, prolonged use of rewards can decrease their effectiveness over time, a phenomenon similar to sensory adaptation8.
Other Types of Power
Reward power is just one of five types of power proposed by French and Raven (1959)2. It is considered to be one of the most effective6, but also less desirable in the long-term than referent and expert power.
Most literature highlights that expert and referent power are ideal because they are longstanding and can compel followers to respect and trust the leader2,9. However, legitimate, reward, and even coercive power have their own strengths and values.
|Base of Power||Definition||Features|
|Legitimate Power||Derived from a position of authority within a hierarchy, such as a manager’s power over employees.||Respect for this leader is often short-lived if not complemented by other types of power.|
|Reward Power||Power is sustained through distribution of rewards or positive incentives to others, encouraging certain behaviors.||Highly effective if rewards align with desires; can wane in influence over time (extinction); can unintentionally decrease intrinsic desire.|
|Coercive Power||Derived from the ability to punish or threaten others to encourage compliance or change behavior.||Can be highly effective but leads to fear, sense of alienation, and resentment.|
|Expert Power||Arises from possessing knowledge and expertise in a particular area, which others respect or rely on.||Respected when transparency is present; leaders spend less time monitoring employee performance, is most effective when paired with referent power.|
|Referent Power||Rooted in personal characteristics or interpersonal skills that inspire admiration, respect, or emulation from others.||Garners commitment, enthusiasm and loyalty from followers. Less monitoring or micromanaging required.|
(Adapted from Fiore, 2004)4
 Northouse, P. G. (2010). Leadership: Theory and Practice. SAGE Publications.
 French, J. R., Raven, B., & Cartwright, D. (1959). The bases of social power. Classics of organization theory, 7(311-320), 1.
 Riasi, A., & Asadzadeh, N. (2015). The relationship between principals’ reward power and their conflict management styles based on Thomas–Kilmann conflict mode instrument. Management Science Letters, 5(6), 611-618. (Source)
 Fiore, D. J. (2004). Introduction to Educational Administration: Standards, Theories, and Practice. Eye On Education.
 Hashemian, M., Couto, M., Mascarenhas, S., Paiva, A., Santos, P. A., & Prada, R. (2021, April). Persuasive social robot using reward power over repeated instances of persuasion. In International Conference on Persuasive Technology (pp. 63-70). Cham: Springer International Publishing. (Source)
 Teimouri, H., Izadpanah, N., Akbariani, S., Jenab, K., Khoury, S., & Moslehpour, S. (2015). The effect of managerial power on employees’ affective commitment: Case study. Journal of Management, 3(2), 21-30.
 Deci, E. L., Koestner, R., & Ryan, R. M. (1999). A meta-analytic review of experiments examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 125(6), 627. (Source)
 Webster, M. (2012). Evolving concepts of sensory adaptation. F1000 Biology Reports, 4(21), 1–7. (Source)
 Lunenburg, F. C. (2012). Power and leadership: An influence process. International journal of management, business, and administration, 15(1), 1-9.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]