Suppose we identify the ”power” of an individual as that individual’s ability to induce others to take actions that they would not have taken, had the first individual not acted. The leader’s power, then, is founded upon his ability to solve derived coordination problems. Here the leader causes followers to act in concert, whereas they would not otherwise have been able to do so. When the coordination problem is impure, one might say that followers are coerced: due to the leader’s actions, at least some are forced to give up on seeking their favorite outcomes because the leader causes other players to expect, and thus implement, other outcomes instead. Nevertheless, in ex ante expectation or in the long run, all followers can be made better off than if they contended constantly for their most preferred results. This kind of ”power” seems mild, but as we have seen, it lends the leader stability against challenges by individuals and by coalitions, and makes real leader discretion possible. Thus in primary social dilemmas the leader is able to apply sanctions to force action, to dictate allocations, and to settle disputes. These are the more conventional trappings of ”power”.
It is misleading to say that leadership is based on power. In an important sense, rather, power is based on leadership. Because the leader produces group benefits that are degraded when leaders are overthrown or weakened, and because the realization of those benefits requires responsiveness on the part of followers, the leader does indeed have power. But as this model shows, power need not precede leadership at all. Leadership is based on the group’s need for solution of social dilemmas; the focalization of the leader confers power.
Thus the coordination model focuses its analysis of leadership on a particular class of political, social, and organizational ”leadership” situations: those in which a group faces a series of social dilemmas whose solution is eased by the mediation, sanctioning, and especially the focal suggestions of an identified person. Within that class of situations, the approach unifies all sorts of leadership activity, from informal task leadership in a small group to moral statesmanship in a large population. Further, the model avoids the confusing use of ”power” as a foundation, rather than as a result, of leadership. Ultimately the power of a leader depends on the forbearance of those who have the ability, and even some motivation, to overthrow or defeat him. The coordination model establishes that such restraint is problematic, and thus locates the power of a leader in the goals of followers.
Calvert, Randall L. 1992. “Leadership and Its Basis in Problems of Social Coordination.” International Political Science Review 3 (1), s. 19-20.