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Monday, November 14, 2011

Power and Politics in the Workplace

Possessing the core leadership competencies won't necessarily produce a leader. Managers must have power in order to obtain compliance from followers. Managers and leaders can influence other people through their use of power. Power is broadly defined as "the capacity to bring about change." It takes many forms, comes from many places, and is measured in many ways. Understanding all the varieties of power is essential if one is to understand who has it, who doesn't, and how those who don't have it can get it. Research recognizes that a need for power is essential to executive success. But, this need for power is not a desire to control for the sake of personal satisfaction; it is a desire to influence and control others for the good of the group or organization as a whole.

What is Power?

Power is the ability to get someone to do something you want done, or make things happen in the way you want. It is also the ability to influence the behavior of others. On the other hand influence is what you have when you exercise power.

In exercising power, it creates dependency. The General Dependency Theory postulates that “The greater B’s dependency on A, the greater the power A has over B.”  Dependency occurs when the resources that the power wielder (A) is important and when it is non-substitutable (Schermerhorn, 2002).

Critics on Power

A critical view on power suggests that; it blurs the distinction between rationality and rationalization; rationality is when evidence and reason are considered in order to come out a decisions. On the other hand rationalization is the attempt to make a decision to appear rational. Further, it contends that; power has a way of defining reality in which the superiors define what counts. Subordinates were not included in the decision-making. Whatever the result of their decisions the superior or the principals spin the truth to defend their decisions. Power trumps knowledge because rationalization masquerades as truth.  Truth is the first casualty in a power conflict. Knowledge is power, but power is knowledge and it sometimes corrupts reality.

Types of Power

The types of power used by a leader reveal a great deal about why others follow that individual. Schermerhorn (2002), identified two types of power; the position power and personal power. Position power includes; Reward power, coercive power, legitimate power, process power, information power, representative power.

Reward Power. (Control over Rewards) The influence stemming from a leader’s ability to satisfy followers needs. Employees follow their supervisor’s requests in the belief that their behaviors will be rewarded. Such as favorable job assignments, preferred vacation schedules, promotions, and/or raises.

Coercive Power. (Control over Punishments) The ability of the leader to obtain compliance through fear or punishment, in which it may take in the form of official reprimands, less desirable work assignments, pay cuts, demotions, suspensions, or even termination. It is viewed as less effective than reward power because a punishment has a limited effect as a motivator.

Legitimate Power. (Authority) The influence is based on the leader’s formal positions in the organizations hierarchy. It is the ability to influence through authority-the right by virtue of ones organizational position or status to exercise control over persons in subordinate positions. On the other hand when legitimacy is lost the authority will not be accepted by subordinates. In a certain company, the manager has greater legitimate power than a supervisor, thus, the manager has the authority to allocate funds for expenditures rather than the supervisor.

Process Power. The ability of the leader to control over the methods of productions and analysis, that is controlling the analytical process used to make choice. It is when an individual is placed in the position of influencing how inputs are transformed into outputs.

Information Power. It is possessed by individual or leader which has access to/or control over information’s. Some people may protect information to increase their power.

Representative Power. It is when a formal right conferred by the firm to an individual to speak as a representative for a potentially important group composed of individuals across departments or outside the firm. It is viewed as to help complex organizations deal with a variety of organizations.

On the other hand, personal power includes; expert power, rational persuasion, and referent power.

Expert Power.  (Expertise) A leader’s specialized knowledge grants that person expert power. It is the ability to control another person’s behavior through the possession of knowledge, experience, or judgment that the other person needs but does not have. This is developed by acquiring relevant skills or competencies or by gaining central position in relevant information networks.

Rational Persuasion. Is the ability to control another person’s behavior by convincing the other person of the desirability of a goal and a reasonable way of achieving it.

Referent Power. (Appealing Personal Characteristics. It is the ability of a leader to control another’s behavior because the person wants to identify with the power source or wielder. It can be enhanced by linking to morality and ethics and long-term vision. The followers are apt to like, admire, and want to emulate the leader and is usually possessed by the leaders who have admirable personal characteristics, charisma, and/or excellent reputations.

Important Practical Issues in the Exercise of Power and Formal Authority

Why should subordinates respond to a manager’s authority (or “right to command”)? Given that subordinates are willing to obey, what determines the limits of obedience? Stanley Milgram's original obedience study is, perhaps, the best known product of experimental social psychology. Milgram's study was actually one in a series of experiments designed to "examine the situational variables responsible for the elicitation of obedience. A constant feature of these studies was the use of a shock generator containing 30 switches, each ostensibly delivering 15 more volts of shock than the one before. All subjects were instructed to deliver the next in the gradated series of shocks whenever the learner made an error. This arrangement was chosen in part because it allowed a quantitative measure of the dependent variables 30-point response scale in which "maximum level of shock delivered" was taken as a measure of the construct "level of obedience."

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