13Understanding Organizational, Political, and Personal Power. . . power is a positive concept, and several types of power are prerequisite for human development and self-expression.Sue Thomas Hegyvary
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The previous chapter reviewed organizational structure and introduced status, authority, and responsibility at different levels of the organizational hierarchy. In Chapter 13, the organization is examined further, with emphasis on the management functions and leadership roles inherent in effective use of authority, establishment of a personal power base, empowerment of staff, and the impact of organizational politics on power. The word power is derived from the Latin verb potere (to be able); thus, power may be appropriately defined as that which enables one to accomplish goals. Power can also be defined as the capacity to act or the strength and potency to accomplish something. Having power gives one the potential to change the attitudes and behaviors of individual people and groups. Authority, or the right to command, accompanies any management position and is a source of legitimate power, although components of management, authority, and power are also necessary, to a degree, for successful leadership. The manager knowledgeable about the wise use of authority, power, and political strategy is more effective at meeting personal, unit, and organizational goals. Likewise, powerful leaders are able to build high morale because they delegate more and build with a team effort. Thus, their followers become part of the growth and excitement of the organization as their own status is enhanced. The leadership roles and management functions inherent in the use of authority and power are shown in Display 13.1.
Display 13.1 Leadership Roles and Management Functions Associated with Organizational Politics, Power Acquisition, and AuthorityLeadership Roles 1. Creates a climate that promotes followership in response to authority. 2. Recognizes the dual pyramid of power that exists between the organization and its employees. 3. Uses a powerful persona to increase respect and decrease fear in subordinates. 4. Recognizes when it is appropriate to have authority questioned or to question authority. 5. Is personally comfortable with power in the political arena. 6. Empowers other nurses. 7. Assists staff in using appropriate political strategies. Management Functions 1. Uses authority to ensure that organizational goals are met. 2. Uses political strategies that are complementary to the units and organizations functioning. 3. Builds a power base adequate for the assigned management role. 4. Maintains a small authoritypower gap. 5. Is knowledgeable about the essence and appropriate use of power. 6. Maintains personal credibility with subordinates. 7. Serves as a role model of the empowered nurse.
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UNDERSTANDING POWERPower may be feared, worshipped, or mistrusted. It is frequently misunderstood. Our first experience with power usually occurs in the family unit. Power, in most ordinary uses of the term, appears to be more aligned with male than with female stereotypes (Ledet & Henley, 2000). Because childrens roles are likened to later subordinate roles and the parental power position is similar to management, adult views of the managementsubordinate relationship are influenced by how power was used in the family unit. A positive or negative familial power experience may greatly affect a persons ability to deal with power systems in adulthood. Sellers (1999) interviewed many of Fortune magazines 50 most powerful women in America and found that many of them credited their powerful mothers in developing their potential for leading companies.
Gender and PowerSuccessful leaders are aware of their views on the use and abuse of power. Some women, in particular, may hold negative connotations of power and never learn to use power constructively. Women have traditionally demonstrated, at best, ambivalence toward the concept of power and until recently have openly eschewed the pursuit of power. This may have occurred because women as a whole have been socialized to view power differently than men do. For some women, power may be viewed as dominance versus submission; associated with personal qualities, not accomplishment; and dependent on personal or physical attributes, not skill. Many women may not believe they inherently possess power but instead must rely on others to acquire it. Rather than feeling capable of achieving and managing power, some women may feel that power manages them. However, the historical view of women as less powerful than men appears to be changing. These changes are taking place within women, in womens view of other women holding power, in organizational hierarchies, and among both male subordinates and male colleagues (Fisher, 1999; Ledet & Henley, 2000). Today gender differences regarding power are fading and the corporate world is beginning to look at new ways for leaders to obtain and handle power. Stahl (1999) maintains that nurse leaders in the 21st century will need to deal with organizational power and politics in a completely different way and will need to develop political strategies for team building and establishing trust. Political skill in developing consensus, inclusion, and involvement are also needed, skills that have often been linked to female characteristics (Carli, 1999; Fisher, 1999). It is notable that these very attributes, which once closed corporate doors and created a glass ceiling, are now welcomed in the boardroom. These attributes are certainly not limited to women; many male leaders also possess these characteristics. However, despite significant gains, many women continue to remain unskilled in the art of the political process. While not all agree (Lips, 2000), many recent studies show that how others view men and women as being powerful has gradually changed over the last 10 years. At present it is difficult to say with certainty if the male or female is stereotypically viewed as the more powerful in organizations (Fisher, 1999; Ledet & Henley, 2000).
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Learning Exercise 13.1Is Power Different for Men and Women? Research studies differ on how men and women view power and how others view men and women in positions of authority. Do you think there are gender differences in how people are viewed as being powerful? Discuss this in a group and then go to the library or use Internet sources to see if you can find recent studies that support your views.
Politics is the art of using legitimate power wisely. It requires clear decision making, assertiveness, accountability, and the willingness to express ones own views. It also requires being proactive rather than reactive and demands decisiveness. Women in power positions in todays healthcare settings are more likely to recognize their innate abilities that support the effective use of power. In determining whether power is good or bad, it may be helpful to look at its opposite: powerlessness. Most people agree that they dislike being powerless. Everyone needs some control in his or her life. Powerlessness tends to breed bossiness. Thus, the leadermanager who feels powerless often creates an ineffective, petty, dictatorial, and rule-minded management style. Individuals who feel powerless become bossy and rules-oriented. They may become oppressive leaders, punitive and rigid in decision making, or they withhold information from others, and become difficult to work with. Although the adage that power corrupts might be true for some, it may be more correct to say that powerlessness, not power, corrupts. Power is likely to bring more power in an ascending cycle, whereas powerlessness will only generate more powerlessness. Because the powerful have credibility to support their actions, they have greater capacity to get things accomplished and can enhance their base. As managers gain power, they are less coercive and rule-bound; thus, their peers and subordinates are more cooperative. Apparently, then, power has a negative and a positive face. The negative face of power is the I win, you lose aspect of dominance versus submission. The positive face of power occurs when someone exerts influence on behalf of rather than over someone or something. Hegyvary (2003) maintains that several types of power are prerequisite for self-expression and human development. Power, therefore, is not good or evil; how it is used and for what purpose it is used determine if it is good or evil.
Types of PowerFor leadership to be effective, some measure of power must often support it. This is true for the informal social group and the formal work group. French and Raven (1959) postulate that several bases, or sources, exist for the exercise of power: reward power, punishment or coercive power, legitimate power, expert power, and referent power. Reward power is obtained by the ability to grant favors or reward others with whatever they value. The arsenal of rewards that a manager can dispense to get
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employees to work toward meeting organizational goals is very broad. Positive leadership through rewards tends to develop a great deal of loyalty and devotion toward leaders. Punishment or coercive power, the opposite of reward power, is based on fear of punishment if the managers expectations are not met. The manager may obtain compliance through threats (often implied) of transfer, layoff, demotion, or dismissal. The manager who shuns or ignores an employee is exercising power through punishment, as is the manager who berates or belittles an employee. Legitimate power is position power. Authority a