Reading Notes By Annick M. Brennen

Power, the basic energy to initiate and sustain action translating intention into reality, the quality without which leaders cannot lead. . . . power is at once the most necessary and the most distrusted element exigent to human progress. . . power is the basic energy needed to initiated and sustain action or, to put it another way, the capacity to translate intention into reality and sustain it (p. 13).

Power transforms individual interests into coordinated activities that accomplish valuable ends (p. 18).

Power is defined as the potential ability to influence behavior, to change the course of events, to overcome resistance, and to get people to do things that they would not otherwise do. Politics and influence are the processes, the actions, the behaviors through which this potential power is utilized and realized.


When Is Power Used?

1. In major decisions made at higher organizational levels and those that involve crucial issues like reorganizations and budget allocations.

2. Under conditions of moderate interdependence which is the result of the scarcity of resources. (p. 38).

3. When people have different points of view, especially in the absence of clear objectives.

Power is a valuable resource that should not be used wantonly.


Diagnosing Power and Dependence

To be successful in getting things done in organizations, it is critical that you be able to diagnose the relative power of the various participants and comprehend the patterns of interdependence. One needs to know and understand not only the game, but also the players.

Knowledge of the power distribution is itself an important source of power. Here are the ways to diagnose power and dependence:

1. Define relevant political subunits.

2. Identify meaningful political categories for a given issue by choosing categories that are (1) as inclusive as possible, and (2) internally homogeneous with respect to the issues under study; (3) have social ties

3. Assess the power of subdivisions and groups by looking at important decisions which involve interdependent activity and which lead to disagreements.

4. Ask people who has the power. This is termed reputational measures of power.

5. Find out who is represented on influential committees. This is termed representational indicators.

6. Diagnose power by observing its consequences–who benefits, and to what extent.

7. Check out who has the highest salaries. Careful. this may be the result of market forces not political forces.


Diagnosing Patterns of Dependence and Interdependence

Ask yourself a series of fairly straightforward questions and be conservative in your estimates:

Whose cooperation will I need to accomplish what I am attempting; whose support will be necessary in order to get the appropriate decisions made and implemented?

Whose opposition could delay or derail what I am trying to do?

Who will be affected by what I am trying to accomplish, in either (a) their power or status, (b) how they are evaluated or rewarded, or (c) in how they do their job?

Who are the friends and allies of the people I have identified as influential?

Check out who displays the symbols of power (physical space, furnishing, carpet, etc.)


Sources of Power

Power comes from being in the right place (the right organizational subunit) that provides you with (1) control over resources such as budgets, physical facilities, and positions that can be used to cultivate allies and supporters, (2) control over or extensive access to information–about the preferences and judgments of others, about what is going on, and how is doing it; and (3) formal authority.

Where does power come from?

From structure. Structural perspectives on power argue that power is derived from where each person stands in the division of labor and the communication system of the organization.

From control over resources.

From the ties one has to powerful others.

From the formal authority one obtains because of one’s position in the hierarchy.

From the match between style, skill, and capacities and what is required by the situation.

Resources, Allies, and the New Golden Rule

The Golden Rule: The person who has the gold, makes the rules.

Begin by building a power base in a niche that is largely uncontested. Then having obtained a position of influence in an organization, figure out how to use that organization to obtain resources that are more consequential and substantial. This requires determining how to create resources and to make others dependent on you for things that they need. (Resources can be almost anything that is perceived as valuable.)


Obtain control of resource allocation and the use of resources (money, jobs, physical space, employees, etc.)

Ensure that there are no alternative ways of obtaining access to valuable resources you control.

Power can be increased by finding underutilized resources and exploiting them.

Cultivate allies, trusted supporters to help carry out your plans. Alliances and coalitions can be built by helping people with whom we have ties to obtain positions of power. Alliances are also built by doing favors for others whose support you want and need. This is to capitalize on the norm of reciprocity. Reciprocity has the following features: (1) the favors are not necessarily sought or even desired by the individual receiving them; (2) the extent of the obligation is not specified at the time the favors are granted’ and (3) the gift therefore creates, not a specific expectation, but a diffuse, generalized obligation.


The bottom line: Respect, competence, and intelligence are not enough. One needs friends and allies to attend to the many details of implementation, which are often too much for one person. One also needs allies to help fend off attacks from rivals for power. In getting things done, building coalitions of support, as well as finding and developing resources, are essential activities. Allies and resources are important sources of power, and as such, should not be wasted.

Location in the Communication Network

The knowledge that produces power in organizations is not only technical knowledge about he work process itself, but also knowledge of the firm’s social system. One’s access to social knowledge depends on one’s position in the network of communication and social interaction with persons of power. Centrality in the communication network provides power. Physical location in the organization is another factor in centrality in the communication network. Central physical locations provide power because of proximity to those in power. To develop influence, one needs to be plugged into the structure of communication and interaction, and that means seeking out interactions, even social interactions, strategically. Working to achieve centrality is particularly important for people or groups who would otherwise have little power.

Various forms of discrimination against women, for instance, have been extensively documented. This means that women need to be even more conscious of the importance of networks and proximity, and more willing to be proactive in overcoming the obstacles and disadvantages that confront them. Social networks are, then, structures that can be built deliberately, and our place in the network of communication is something that is under our own control.

Formal Authority, Reputation, and Performance

A major source of power is your reputation in the organization–how well you have performed in this and previous positions, particularly in terms of getting this done and holding onto power. The power of position, and the use of that power, is more than just form authority. It entails building and maintaining a reputation for being effective, and it entails the capacity to get things implemented. Without these two components, the power of formal position tends to erode.

Formal authority is legitimate as long as subordinates accept it. The power inherent in a given formal position is, therefore, power invested in that position by all (or at least most) members of the social organization in which the position is located. "Consent of the governed" is a phrase with meaning not only in democracies, but in all forms of organization, including corporations and other bureaucracies.

Position and reputation are sources of power in part because of what they imply about eh individual’s ability to perform her job effectively. An, in turn, effective performance in the job helps to build one’s formal authority and reputation. Thus position, reputation, and performance are interrelated, and if any of the three is favorable, the others will be positively affected.

Building Power in the Subunit

Speak with one voice–Unity of action.

Consensus and technological certainty can have a number of effects that enhance the power of the submit.

Consensus and certainty facilitates both internal and external communication in presenting a united front and a consistent message.

Develop the ability to solve critical problems.

Make the unit irreplaceable by having a monopoly on the ability to solve those problems.

Be involved in many of the operations of the organization is also an important source of power. The key is to become involved in administrative and decision processes that might at first glance, look far removed from the unit’s normal purview.

Develop the characteristics necessary to acquire and hold on to power: (1) energy, endurance, physical stamina; (2) the ability to focus one’s energy and to avoid wasted effort; (3) sensitivity, which makes it possible to read and understand others;(4) flexibility, particularly with respect to selection various means in order to achieve one’s goals; (5) the willingness to engage, when necessary in conflict and confrontation, or, in other words, a certain degree of personal toughness; (6) the ability to submerge one’s ego, at least temporarily, and play the good subordinate or team player to enlist the help and the support of others.

Strategies and Tactics for Employing Power Effectively

The effective use of power involves understanding the social psychology of interpersonal influence. It involves framing issues, proposals, questions based on three principles: (1) the principle of contrast, (2) the principle of commitment, (3) and the principle of scarcity.

The contrast principle suggests that the order in which things are considered affects how they are viewed.

The commitment principle. Previous actions and events not only set the frame of reference by which we judge present possibilities, they also constrain our psychological freedom to take a different course. The principle of psychological commitment suggests we are bound to actions that (1) we choose voluntarily with little or no external pressure, (2) are visible and public, so we cannot deny being responsible for them; (3) are irrevocable, so we cannot change them easily; and (4) are explicit in their implications about out attitudes, values, and subsequent behavior.

The scarcity principle. How things look to us also depends on how scarce they are. This makes it difficult to value something objectively. If many others want it, then we assume that it probably has value. The scarcity principle has a number of applications, the most fundamental being that was you advocate should always appear to be scarce.