Personal and positional power


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Personal and positional power

  1. 1. Personal and Positional Power<br />The Use and Misuse<br />A Synopsis of the Presentation to:<br />The Equity Educational Team at the University of Western Ontario<br />By Allan Stewart MBA<br />June 7, 2006<br />Power Definition<br />To have power over someone else means that an individual has the ability to make decisions and/or provide direction that affects other people. Power in an organization comes from status, position or the ability to coerce others. Most leaders have power over his/her subordinates. Some leaders have power over their peers, while a few have power over their superiors. Leaders can use their power sparingly and wisely, allowing others to have some influence over what happens to them and to their organization. While other leaders misuse their power by hoarding it - insisting that all decisions are made by them, and them alone. <br />The misuse of power is reinforced by the culture of an organization (what it takes to fit in), business leaders, society in general and even the media. There seems to be an environmental expectation that managers are forceful, assertive and self-reliant for decision making. <br />Sharing and Hoarding Power<br />Leaders that share power empower others by encouraging them to think for themselves, share their opinions, provide feedback and act to make things better. This creates high self-esteem, which in turn motivates and creates a high level of satisfaction in both the leaders and their " followers" . These leaders are referred to as enlightened and usually experience long-term success. It is not an abdication of leadership, rather the wise use of all the resources available.<br />Hoarding power means that the manager is making all of the decisions and delegating assignments, not responsibility. This results in a misuse of power because managers are expected to get maximum results from those people who surround them. This cannot happen if all communications and decisions are top down. Leaders that hoard power usually do so because of a lack of self-confidence in interpersonal relations and / or a belief that their ideas are best. This is usually coupled with an expectation that others want to, and will " blindly" follow their demands. Despite some proponents to the contrary, there is never a time or situation when top down decision-making is appropriate. <br />Results of Hoarding Power<br />In a " best-case" scenario, power-oriented leaders and their groups will experience short- term success if; the leader is a genius in his/her chosen profession or (s)he is a " benevolent dictator" of a simple service or production line. It is important to realize that if a " power leader" can force productivity, success (if it happens) will only be short lived. People today are much too educated and informed to be satisfied with following direction without question. They get disgruntled and either quit or mentally and emotionally shut down. <br />In the " worst-case" scenario, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Some individuals abuse their power, which can lead to ethical problems, harassment issues and major errors in decision-making. The problem for organizations is that there is always the potential for this type of abuse.<br />Power-orientation can be measured and observed in individuals, teams and organizations. In all three situations, people who are affected by the use of power report high levels of dissatisfaction, low morale and motivation, and high turnover. <br />The Use of Power in Individuals<br />In individuals, the use of power is defined as the use of force, intimidation and coercion to dominate others. People who power-oriented have a high need to control and dominate others. They need to be " in charge" at all times. They place an unhealthy amount of importance on status and unquestioned authority. There is often a tendency to try and manipulate others. <br />In managers, the overuse of power is derived from believing that managers are smart, hard-working, trustworthy and caring, while non-managers are lazy, not very bright, dishonest and do not care about the organization. <br />The Use of Power in Teams<br />In teams where power is used to affect others' opinions and decisions, members are assertive, over-confident, aggressive and arrogant. People spend valuable meeting time vying for position and trying to get their ideas accepted - even in the face of overwhelming evidence that someone else's viewpoint is better. Less assertive members are disregarded and ignored. Once ideas are accepted, there is a " blind faith" in the quality and level of acceptance by the assertive team members.<br />The Use of Power in Organizations<br />In organizations that have a power culture, winning is valued more than anything else is. Members are rewarded for outperforming each other. People think and operate in a win-lose framework. Conflict is often emotional and poorly managed. Members work against each other rather than cooperate. <br />Results Associated With the Misuse of Power<br />The misuse of power adversely affects subordinates, groups, organizations and the managers themselves.<br />Subordinates who work with power-needy managers have one of two reactions. They either regress by becoming more dependent and thereby reducing their initiative, or they leave. (Note that people can leave physically by quitting or becoming chronically ill, or they leave mentally by adopting an " I don't care" attitude. <br />Power-needy Managers themselves report a higher incidence of stress, poor physical and psychological health, deteriorating interpersonal relations and lowered effectiveness at decision-making. In other words, managers who are power-oriented suffer with negative side effects. While it is not certain if this is a result of lowered self-confidence, which is characteristic of this type of person or a direct result of the negative, unhealthy behaviour. What it certain is that there is a direct correlation between the severity of the need for power and the intensity of the negative outcomes. <br />In power-oriented groups, the quality of output is average at best. The potentially good ideas of less aggressive members are ignored. There is also a low level of commitment to the team and its output. As well, members of power-oriented groups complain of wasting time on needless conflict.<br />Organizations that have a power culture receive reports of inconsistent or poor quality service and /or products. Power-oriented organizations have high levels of employee dissatisfaction, high turnover, high levels of sick pay and an increased number of grievances. But perhaps the most negative outcome of this type of culture is that current employees would not recommend the organization to customers, potential employees or family members. <br />Changing Power-Orientation<br />The good news is that power behaviour is caused by power thinking and attitudes - both of which can be changed. <br />Changing Power in Corporations and Managers<br />In organizations, senior management must implement strategies primarily aimed at Human Resources systems and management attitudes. First, allay fears of job loss, layoffs and shutdowns. When there is a constant threat of job loss, a feeling of helplessness and insecurity permeates the organization. In these cases, managers tend to panic and adopt a " hard-nosed" , aggressive style in order to compensate. <br />Minimize the use of punishment, while maximizing the use of rewards. Punishment could be overt or hidden in HR systems. Train managers to understand how the use of punishment and rewards affect attitude and behaviour. Examine such HR systems as performance reviews and pay structure: Are they inadvertently punishing positive behaviour such as initiative, customer service and moderate risk taking? <br />Introduce management training programs aimed at equipping managers with the interpersonal, communication and delegation skills and attitudes necessary to motivate employees. Introduce a policy on respect and dignity. Finally, train employees properly on job skills that are aimed at lessening the likelihood of substandard performance and the necessity of punishment. <br />Changing Power in Teams<br />Remember that individuals make a team power-oriented. Start by emphasizing the importance of collaborative, consensual decision-making - of group cooperation and receiving input from many individuals versus a few. Be aware of members who are more aggressive and those who are not. Don't shy away from aggressive members - constructively question their dictates. Conversely, be aware of less aggressive members and make a special effort to draw them out. <br />It does not take too many people in a group to turn the whole group interaction into a major power struggle. Do not escalate the situation. Keep your emotions and your sense of self-worth in check. Do not allow the situation to get personal. Keep it professional and constructive. <br />Changing Power in Yourself<br />If you are an individual who needs to have power, recognize that your need could be based on fear or insecurity. Examine your need for power and why it is so important to you. Weigh the perceived benefits of being a power-seeker against the costs. Take a long, hard look at your current situation - your physical health, stress levels, quality of interpersonal relations, and psychological well-being. Consider the consequences of not controlling everything - what do you think would happen?<br />Establish at least one close, trusting relationship. Increase the amount of time you spend listening. Delegate assignments and then take an objective look at the results, including the amount of time you save now and into the future. When you see good performance, praise the individual and watch his/her reaction. <br />How to Deal With the Use of Powers in Others<br />If you are a senior manager or an executive in a large corporation, you probably have power-oriented managers reporting directly or indirectly to you. In those cases, don't reward the use of power in managers - either overtly or subtly. Do not let short-term gains override the use of power by managers. Take your time to assess their results versus their performance. Deal with the overuse of power by treating it as a substandard performance issue. Try providing power individuals with a proactive, constructive mentor. <br />Many people have superiors who are power-oriented. Your approach with them should be confident, direct, competent, prepared and professional. Avoid being defensive, slow, assuming and indecisive. Learn to focus on facts, detail and the competitive edge. Some power-oriented managers will want to know the benefits to him/her personally.<br />Conclusion<br />When someone is promoted to management, they are given the responsibility to produce results for their department, region or organization. Too often, managers believe that the only way to get results is by making all of the decisions themselves. When Ronald Reagan was questioned about his qualifications to be president, he replied that he did not know how to run a country, but he did know lead people the key to management was to " surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority and don't interfere" . <br />Sources<br />LSI Self-Description Self-Development Guide, J. Clayton Lafferty, Human Synergistics Inc., 1973, 1987, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 2004.<br />GSI Participant Guide, J. Clayton Lafferty and R. A. Cooke, Human Synergistics Inc, 1990, 1992, 1996, 2003.<br />OCI Interpretation and Development Guide, J. L. Szumal and R. A. Cooke, Human Synergistics Inc., 1998, 2003<br />