Leadership and Power Base Development: Using Power Effectively to Manage Diversity and Job-Related Interdependence in Complex Organizations Barton J. Michelson Mention the word power and what comes to mind? Power is evil, corrupt, self-serving, manipulative, hurtful, and possibly “America’s last dirty word. ”1 These words speak to the dark side of power. There is, however, a positive face to addressing power acquisition, power-base development, and power use. The purpose of this article is to consider power as a positive force that is continually used to achieve organizational, group, and individual goals.
When power is used in an ethical and purposeful way, there is nothing evil about it. This paper posits that leadership is the exercise of power; and, therefore, leaders must develop appropriate organizational power bases to use effectively their power to influence others. A power-base development model is constructed to show various deployments of power. This model establishes an interactive link between a leader’s power base and alternative influence strategies that produce positive power dynamics.
The significance of this proposed model is that it accentuates the leadership role in developing positive organizational and interpersonal relationships that are predicated on the employment of certain known power bases in an organization. The power dynamics described in this model apply to all organizations regardless of size, goal, mission, technology, and so forth. The structure of the model is fashioned from a review of recognized and accepted literature on power theory, power-base formation, leadership, and organizational dynamics. The works of John Kotter, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, David A.
Whetton, and Kim S. Cameron were invaluable in constructing an expanded model that displays both the dependent and interdependent relationships considered critical to power acquisition, power transformations, power dynamics, and organization effectiveness. The model’s design will permit the reader to examine both positive and negative power outcomes and provide an accelerated dramatization of known power relationships in complex organizations. Leadership and Power Power obviously is a pervasive reality in the life process of all modern-day organizations. Leaders regularly acquire and use power to accomplish pecific work goals and to strengthen their own positions vis-a-vis the reading of general or organizational goals. It is possible to see every interaction and every social relationship in an organization as involving an exercise of power. 2 Thus, in the context of this paper, the word leadership will be used to mean “the process of using power to obtain interpersonal influence. ”3 The question then arises, why must leaders achieve success at influencing the behavior of other people at work? Because, as Harry Truman succinctly stated, “Leadership is the ability to get men to do what they don’t want to do and like it. 4 In short, the core problem for leaders in any organization involves getting others to do what is required to accomplish the organization’s goals. 5 There are a number of other reasons to explain why leaders pursue power and view it as an important part of their work. In a general sense, power acquisition and power use can have an impact on career progress, on job performance, on organizational effectiveness, and on the lives of numerous people. 6 More specifically, the nature of work in today’s complex organizations requires that we become more enlightened with respect to issues of leadership, power, and influence.
John Kotter, writing in Power and Influence Beyond Formal Authority, states: “We can make rigid bureaucracies more flexible, innovative, and adaptive. We can even make the world of work more exciting and personally satisfying for most people. ”7 Kotter believes that in today’s complex organizations, the concept of using formal power (that is, legitimate authority) as a sole source of influencing behavior to make organizations more competitive, responsive, and responsible is outmoded. Leaders today work in socially intricate organizations where they need the assistance not only of subordinates but also of peers, superiors, and external parties to accomplish their goals. Accomplishing goals that positively impact the Dr. Barton J. Michelson is director of executive assessment and development and professor of leadership and management at the Air War College of Air University, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. He received a bachelor’s degree in international studies, a master’s in political science, and a doctorate in administration from Ohio State University.
He is also a graduate from the Federal Aviation Administration Executive School. Dr. Michelson is a management and training consultant. This article was prepared especially for AU-24, Concepts for Air Force Leadership. 193 organization requires effective leadership linked to strong power bases and workable influence strategies. Building a strong power base and developing effective influence strategies to produce power dynamics is an important leadership challenge. abuses of influence? How do effective leaders sustain and maintain power over time? Power Acquisition
The foundation of a strong power base starts with a leader’s individual power. As figure 5 indicates, leaders derive power from both position and personal sources. Power Acquisition Transforming Power The Leadership Challenge The social milieu of large and complex organizations can be characterized as highly diverse, highly interdependent, and rich in opportunities to generate power dynamics. The first characteristic, diversity, pertains to differences among organization members with respect to goals, values, outcomes, assumptions, and perceptions.
Interdependence relates to the situation in which multiple actors have power over each other due to job-related interdependence. In the literature, for instance, Kotter summarizes the logic of how high levels of diversity and interdependence set the stage for power acquisition, power base development, and the use of influence to create power dynamics. He writes . . . when a high degree of interdependence exists in the workplace, unilateral action is rarely possible. For all decisions of any significance, many people will be in a position to retard, block, or sabotage action because they have some power over the situation. Position Power • Centrality • Criticality • Flexibility • Visibility • Relevance Developing Effective Influence Strategies Leader Power Leader Influence over Others He concludes by indicating: The greater the diversity, and the greater the interdependence the more differences of power there will be. Because of the interdependence, people will not be able to resolve these differences either by edict or by walking away. As a result, high levels of diversity and interdependence in the workplace are quite naturally linked to conflicting opinions about action and thereby influence attempts to resolve that conflict. 0 Personal Power • Knowledge/ • Information • Personal • Attraction • Effort Execution that Minimizes Resistance and Resentment Thus, the leadership challenge becomes one of making diversity and interdependence work for organizational success. Whether the organization is private or public not-for-profit, the challenge is similar. Figure 5. Leadership: The Exercise of Power Position Power Five key factors have the ability to foster power in a leadership position. Centrality, criticality, flexibility, visibility, and relevance stimulate power acquisition by horizontal expansion or maneuvering.
The power potential is based on lateral relationships between positions and organization activities. Each factor is described in table 5. Acquiring or increasing leader position power happens when the key factors are used in the following manner:11 Centrality/Criticality. You secure a more central role in the work flow, influence the flow of information through you, structure elements of your job responsibilities in a unique way, expand your communication network both intra- and interorganizationally and maintain your office near the main traffic flow. Flexibility.
You enrich your job by eliminating routine activities, increasing task variety, generating novel ideas, 194 Managing Diversity, Interdependence, and Power Dynamics The nature of the leadership challenge, therefore, is clear. High diversity and high job-related interdependence often produce conflict. Leaders cannot simply ignore the conflict; they must attempt to influence factors to resolve it. Managing conflict when its roots are buried deeply in complex diversity and job-related interdependence requires a sense of power and influence strategies that can only be skillfully developed.
Once developed, one can produce effective and responsible power dynamics. The power that leaders need to produce these dynamics comes from numerous sources and multiple bases. Building such a power base is not easy. It takes time, energy, and management. Exactly how do effective leaders build a strong power base? How do effective leaders transform power into influence? What specific steps do effective leaders take to avoid Table 5 Factors Increasing Position Power
Factor Centrality Criticality Flexibility Visibility Relevance Description Relationship between positions in a communication network Relationship between tasks performed in a work flow process Amount of discretion vested in a position Degree to which task performance is seen by influentials in the organization Relationship between a task and organizational priorities The first stage of our model leader power represents power at rest; the second stage transforms power into influence to achieve desired results. Influence involves securing the consent of others to assist, collaborate, and work with you in achieving an objective. 3 Influence also entails any act or potential activity that affects the behavior of another person, group, or set of organizational entities. 14 Transforming power into successful influence requires the development of an influence strategy that minimizes resistance, resentment, and potential abuse. A leader must maintain perspective in terms of targeting power to achieve successful influence. Possessing a potentially strong power base to use power is worth little unless you are able to secure compliance, effort, and commitment from others. initiating innovative projects, getting involved at the outset of the ecision-making process, and avoiding standardized performance criteria for job success. Visibility. You increase the number of interactions you have with senior people, making important oral presentations, participating on problem-solving teams, publicizing accomplishments in the right places, and taking advantage of opportunities to enhance personal name recognition. Relevance. You have the opportunity to acquire or develop internal or external boundary-spanning roles. Boundary-spanning roles are defined as providing services and information to other work units, monitoring and assessing activities intra- and interorganizationally.
Other areas that increase relevance relate to getting involved in decision making pertaining to priority goal setting and assuming a socialization role for new work-unit members. Personal Power Three personal attributes are associated with building personal power: knowledge/information, personal attraction, and effort. 12 These are the characteristics you bring to the organization. Knowledge and Information. Leader power can be increased through expertise acquired by possession of special knowledge and information. Access to key people and data sources also enhances power potential. Personal Attraction.
Agreeable behavior, pleasant personality characteristics, and attractive personal appearance are referents that attract people to a leader. Effort. A leader’s capacity to demonstrate a high level of effort can be parlayed into increased expertise and personal attraction. Working hard on priority assignments may enhance visibility with superiors and set in motion other dynamics associated with position power. Developing Strategies of Influence There are numerous ways of exercising influence. Several studies suggest that influence strategies can be classified into three broad categories: retribution, reciprocity, and reason (table 6). 5 David Kipnis and others have developed several general strategies of leader influence. 16 They list the most to least popular strategies found in their three-nation study of managerial influence styles as shown in table 7. Another researcher, Gary A. Yuki, lists 11 forms of influence and a summary of leader and target-person requirements for each strategy. 17 Table 8 identifies the different forms of influence. The research on influence strategies indicates that each approach listed in the classifications has advantages and limitations.
Effective leaders generally use combinations of various strategies for different purposes and under different conditions. The challenge of complex organization diversity and job-related interdependence requires a leader to select the proper influence strategy to produce positive power dynamics. Leaders should avoid the pitfall of overreliance on and overuse of a particular influence strategy. Excessive use of an influence strategy could lead to abuses of influence that may provoke resistance leading to diminished leader influence over time.
It is important to maintain a balanced perception between the leader’s power and the target persons to be influenced. You do not want to place the target persons in the position of perceived helplessness or feeling abused, exploited, or manipulated against their will. Leaders should create power dynamics to secure the commitments necessary to achieve important organizational goals and objectives. Unbridled use of power and influence generally produce negative power dynamics that are self-defeating for all concerned.
Positive power dynamics shown in figures 6 and 7 contribute to managing diversity and opportunities to cope with job-related interdependence. 18 195 Transforming Power Position power and personal power are the building blocks upon which a leader has the potential to use power. Table 6 Influence Strategies Category Rely on fear of retribution Involve norms of reciprocity Use persuasive arguments based on reason Indirect Approach Intimidation (demand) Ingratiation (obligation) Appeal to personal values (apply general principles) Direct Approach Coercion (threaten) Bargaining (exchange) Present facts (stress, immediate need)
Source: David A. Whetten and Kim S. Cameron, Developing Managerial Skills (Glenview, Ill. Scott Foresman, 1984), 267. Table 7 Most-to-Least Popular Strategies Used in All Countries When Managers Influenced Superiors Most Popular to Least Popular Reason Coalition Friendliness Bargaining Assertiveness Higher Authority When Managers Influenced Subordinates Reason Assertiveness Friendliness Evaluation Bargaining High Authority Sanction Source: David Kipnis et al. “Patterns of Managerial Influence: Shotgun Managers, Tacticians, and Bystanders,” Organizational Dynamics 12, no. 3 (New York: American Management Association, 1984), 62. Table 8 Different Forms of Influence Form of Influence 1. Legitimate Request 2. Instrumental Compliance 3. Coercion 4. Rational Persuasion 5. Rational Faith 6. Inspirational Appeal 7. Indoctrination 8. Information Distortion 9. Situational Engineering 10. Personal Identification 11.
Decision Identification Agent Requirements Legitimate Justification Control over Rewards; Credibility of Promise Control over Punishments; Credibility of Threat Insight; Technical Expertise; Credibility Technical Expertise; Credibility Insight into Values and Beliefs; Persuasive Ability Control of Social Situation; Relevant Skills Credibility as Information Source Control of Relevant Aspects of Situation Attractiveness, Charisma Willingness to Allow Participation; Relevant Skills Target Person Requirements Relevant Values Relevant Needs, Openness to Manipulation Fear, Openness to Intimidation Relevant Values and Need Low Expertise, Relevant Need; Trust of Agent Relevant Values and Beliefs Alienation, Relevant Needs Use of Information for Impression Formation and Decision Making Willingness to Accept Situation Admiration of Agent Desire to Participate; Goals Consistent with Agent Goals Positive Power Dynamics
The proper selection and use of an influence strategy transforms leader influence into behavioral dynamics that produce inventive thinking, creative problem solving, and the develop196 ment of new prototypes, products, and services. Positive power dynamics enhances organization competitiveness, increases organization adaptability and responsiveness, and ultimately increases synergy under organization conditions of high diversity and job-related interdependence. Later, increases in organization synergy permit an organization to improve performance levels related to goal attainment and mission accomplishment. Thus, leader power and influence produce the dynamics that optimize results that in turn generate the greatest good for the greatest number of people. inate with entropy and the probable and eventual deterioration of the social fabric of the organization. 19 Organization Effectiveness The picture of organizational life depicted in our model of leader power and influence suggests a complex social environment of confrontation, struggle, manipulation, hostility, and battle. It also projects a fundamental reality found in contemporary complex organizations. The nature of work, work processes, goal setting, and decision making is grounded in high diversity and job-related interdependence. The achievement of organization effectiveness that then produces excellence is almost impossible without leader excellence.
Excellence in leadership can be attributed to how effectively a leader acquires and exercises power to produce positive power dynamics that in turn impacts the organization over the long run. The social milieu described in figure 8 creates exciting challenges to the leader, who must constantly exercise power to produce organization excellence. The leader in this environment recognizes that excellence requires much more than Organizational Outcomes Negative Power Dynamics Figures 6 and 7 also indicate that leader influence can produce negative behavioral dynamics. This model confirms that power abuse is a reality in complex organizations of high diversity and job-related interdependence.
Oftentimes leader influence simply fails or is used for personal self-aggrandizement. This kind of failure of leader power can lead to prolonged power struggles and intraorganizational/interorganizational warfare. Protracted power struggles, bureaucratic infighting, and parochial politics then produce myopic organization outcomes that increase inefficiency, elevate human/nonhuman costs, produce diminished innovative capabilities, and increase vertical and horizontal conflicts that culDynamics Positive Power Dynamics Inventive thinking Creative problem solving New prototypes products and services Enhanced competitiveness Increased adaptability and responsiveness Increased synergy Leader Influence
Negative Power Dynamics Selfaggrandizement Power struggles Tunnel vision Intra/interorganizational conflict Increased inefficiency and costs Decreased innovative capacity Increased vertical and horizontal conflict Turned-off people Figure 6. Leadership: The Exercise of Power 197 Organization Dynamics Goal and Mission Accomplishment Effectiveness Organizational Excellence Positive Power Dynamics Increased Power Opportunities Organizational Outcomes Negative Power Dynamics Weakened and Unproductive Diversity and Job-Related Interdependence Diminished Power and Leader Effectiveness Figure 7. Leadership: The Exercise of Power technical competence.
It demands a different context for managing social reality; and it necessitates power skills that can mobilize diverse people who are linked together through interdependence and a common need to pull together for meaningful purposes despite the many multiple countervailing forces working against that synergy. In conclusion, the presentation of this model suggests that if leaders are to cope and prosper under the conditions of high diversity and job-related interdependence, it is essential that they develop effective power bases and influence strategies to make social complexity work for them. Success translates into stronger power bases with greater opportunities to lead through the exercise of power.
Power misuse and abuse consistently lead to heightened and unproductive diversity and strain job-related interdependence that results in counterproductive power struggles. The end result of negative power dynamics is a general diminished power-base opportunity and specifically leader ineffectiveness.