Friday, June 21, 2013

Power works best when it is seen least

Power is the ability of an individual to influence the behavior of other people with or without resistance (Hatch, 2006). Legitimate power is normally referred to as authority. The exercise of power is prevalent to human beings in different levels of organization. In the corporate setting, power is normally expressed in terms of upward or downward application. Downward power is a situation where the company`s top leaders influences their subordinates. On the other hand, upward power refers to the situation where the subordinates influence decisions that are made by the leaders. Power has different meanings to different groups of people.

A leader needs power in order to manage his or her followers. Different leadership styles can be used in managing an organization. Power is normally achieved through development of trust and respect from team members (Winkler, 2010). A manager earns trust depending on how he leads the workers in achieving great results. The statement “power works best when it is seen least” means that a leader is able to influence followers effectively when he involves them in decision-making (upward power). Involving subordinates in decision-making is very important for the growth of any organization. This essay analyzes different theories of power and explains the importance of involving subordinates in decision-making.

Organizational behavior can be understood from various perspectives. Three of these perspectives are traditional, modernist and post-modernist perspectives (Hatch, 2006). Organizational behavior is a dynamic and complex area of study. There are various avenues of study that can be studied under organizational behavior. One of these areas of study is power in organizations. The modernist theory, also known as interpretivist perspectives is based on the idea that it is not possible to completely understand the social world outside the independent mind of the social player().

This means that for researchers in this perspective to have a better understanding of a social situation they must include the perspectives of the social players. Knowledge from this point of view can be developed and understood from the perspective of the persons who work and live in a specific culture. Post-modernist is an entirely different theory from traditional and modernist. The post-modernist perspective does not focus on seeking the truth or making permanent epistemological or ontological commitments such as the ones in modernist perspective (Roberts & Corbett, 2009). This perspective is also less committed to the symbolic-interpretive descriptions of human meaning.

Power has been defined differently by different authors. Power is considered a structural event that is directly related to resource allocation and dependence within firms. For power to be in place, there must be a relationship between parties that are not equal (French & Raven, 1959). This means that one party depends on another for particular resources. In the context of formal organizations, it is normally identified as authority. It is worth noting that there are various kinds of power. Authority is just one of the various kinds and emanates from the position of a person within an organization.

Modern perspective of organizational power
John French and Bertram Raven are the most famous theorists in modernist perspective, through the introduction of fives foundations of social power. The five include; coercive, referent, reward, expert and legitimate power (Robbins & Barnwell, 2006). Reward power is the kind of power that is based on the capacity to provide positive rewards or reduce negative punishments. Coercive power is the conviction that failure to comply will result to punishment. Legitimate power emanates from the obligations and values that an individual has for the person in power. Referent power refers to the power through association. Expert power is the power that emanate from expert knowledge. Power is based on attraction and resistance between two actors and the foundations of power are permanent in that one actor must expect the other to have the power base(Ott et al, 2007).

Influence can thus be well applied via the five foundations as long as actor feels that the other legitimately has the power to act this way. From this perspective, power comes from various sources on the basis of the awareness on the person and without any reliance on an objective structural framework.

There are four methodologies by which power is generated by managers. Creation of a sense of obligation is one of the ways. This is a situation where by the followers feel that their manager should be rightfully allowed to influence them to a certain limit because of his or her success (French & Raven, 1959). The second way is through believing in the experience of the manager. This methods depends upon creation of reputations as experts in such a way that the other workers will refer to the manager. The third method is through psychological or unconscious identification. On the basis of Freud’s work on the unconscious, Kotter views the unconscious and conscious theoretical appearance of the manager as a basis for power (Kotter, 1977).

The theory also identifies the identified reliance on the manager for resources. Once power is acquired, it can is used to change and influence behaviors in organizations. Modernist perspectives look at the individual perceptions as the source of power. It is the individual who grants power to the manager. This means that power flows within an organization in multiple directions. Managers depend on their subordinates to be successful in performing their duties. It is therefore very important for the managers to involve their subordinates in decision making.

Post-modernist perspective of organizational power
Michael Foucault is one of the famous contributors to this perspective of power. As far as power and control are concerned, he suggested the idea of disciplinary power that arises when the anticipation of control causes people to engage in self-surveillance (Hatch, 2006). The fundamental idea here is that by having a personal surveillance, the person in power becomes docile and disciplined. This kind of disciplinary power is evident where there is routine performance of surveillance. Prisons and schools are the typical examples given to illustrate this. This is where there is a watch tower where a guard is placed who can see each prisoner, but the prisoners are not able to see him (Foucault, 1995). Due to the fact that the prisoner is aware of the surveillance, but cannot tell when it happens, he gets into a constant state of self-surveillance.

The behavior in this case is rooted within the individual. From an organizational point of view, the perspective emphasizes on the significant role played by disciplinary technologies as well as the outcome of internalized control. With then development of information technology, the ease and reduced cost of surveillance have been realized. Much of the organizational life is concentrated upon disciplinary power. Post-modernist theorists have suggested that disciplinary power is currently in every social relationship. This means that it is part of our daily lives.

The traditional perspective typified by bureaucratic types of organizations was developed in such a way that they were gender-neutral and asexual. This was in order to alleviate sexuality as a way of control to develop organizations. The attempts to banish sexuality from the workplace were part of the wider process that differentiated the home, the location of legitimate sexual activity, from the place of capitalist production (Burrell, 1984). This was the first demarcation between capitalist production and sexuality that broadcasted gender based power relationships in organizations. This is what caused the structured and rational workplace that presented masculine qualities such as rationality, competition and strength. The role of women in organizations because marginalized.

As a matter of fact, most of the feminist and gender studies theorists view gender as the basis of organizational power over women. Hegemonic masculinity is the basis for rationalizing this dominion. The symbolic as well as idealized outstanding form of masculinity is the classical model leaders in organizations that prevent equality (Acker, 1990). The theory explains the limits of power among gender. This is an aspect of organizational power that is evident even in the modern organizations.

Both theories of power suggest that power involves two actors which mutually depend on each other. Leadership is an interpersonal influence which is exercised in a given situation and is usually directed through the use of the process of communication and is geared towards the goal of the achievement of a specified goal or goals in the organization (Dionne et al, 2004). The leaders’ effectiveness has been viewed as the only way through which the leaders can be able to influence the behavior and the attitudes of the other people. The organizational leadership style has a great effect on the employees’ commitment, employee performance and the associated job satisfaction of the employees of the firm. The leaders in the organizations are today faced with the challenge of adopting the more appropriate leadership styles so that they can be able to achieve the goals that would lead to the organizational success. The leadership behavior that are exhibited by the different decision makers in the organizations have an effect on the employees commitment to the organization, the performance levels of the employees as well as the job satisfaction of the employees (Kerr & Jermier, 1978).

The above by extension have an affect on the competitiveness, success and the effectiveness of the firm. Therefore, the managers and the leaders of the many organizations usually have focus on the ways through which they can be able to improve the performance in the organization so that it can be superior.

The transformational leadership is the most effective style of leadership. This leadership style is geared towards ensuring that the goals of the organization are always reached by focusing on the improvement of the commitment of the employees to the organization’s course (Sagie, 1997). There are a number of traits that have been attributed with transactional leadership. First, they have the ability to change the core values of the employees; they have the ability to inspire the employees to be able to o beyond their self interests for the collective good of the organization. The leadership style also leads to a great level of shifts of the beliefs of the employees of the organization and an improved ability to be able to inspire objectives and desires in the employees of the organization.

The transformational leadership also has the ability to be able to create new visions while also generating commitment to the visions that have been created through the provision of awareness about the goals and the visions that are being explored by the organization (Winkler, 2010). Moreover, higher level of needs can be formed by the employees of the firm for instance those related to autonomy, achievement and the affiliation for instance whether they are work related or they are not work related. The transformational leadership also has a mundane ability to be able to develop the capacity of the followers towards higher performance, autonomy and achievement.


In the paper, there is a discussion of power and its limits in organizations from two major perspectives: modernist and post-modernist. Each of the two theories as well as proponents of these theories approaches power and its limits differently. This means also that there are different ways in which individuals can gain, manage and utilize power within organizations. Modern perspectives seem to see power as more uniformly sourced within organizations with the possibility for power gaining and utilization at every level of the organization (Yukl, 1994). From this point of view, power can be seen as both a negative and positive force within an organization. Post-modern perspectives tend to depend on being greatly critical of the acquisition as well as utilization of power as explained in the traditional perspective. This view exposes the abuse of power through marginalization and dominion.

The general view of both theories of power is that power should be regulated and subordinates should be involved in decision-making to enhance their commitment to the organization. When employees are involved in the process of making decisions, they feel more valued and they own decisions which improve their overall performance (Avolio, & Bass, 2004). Forcing decisions on employees negatively affects their morale. They may also resist implementation of the decision thus reducing productivity. Forcing policies on employees is detrimental to the organization as the employees will not support their implementation. Micro-managing of employees is also not necessary especially if the employees are qualified and experienced. Failure to communicate changes or important information to employees is also harmful to the organization.


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