Power in Organization and the use of this power

Power is one of the most significant forces in an organization which can be extremely important component in organizational success or failure.

Defining Power:

Power can be defined as the potential ability of a person or group to exercise control or authority over another person or group. Power may reside in individuals (managers and informal leaders), in formal groups (departments and committees), and in informal groups (Clique of influential people).

There is a close link between the influence and the concept of power. And power is distinguished from influence due to the element of control. A person can convince another person to change the decision on some issue. Thus, the person is influencing another person and implying power to change the decision.


 “In organizations, real power and energy is generated through relationships. The patterns of relationships and the capacities to form them are more important than tasks, functions, roles, and positions.”

― Margaret J. Wheatley


Types of Power in an Organization

There are many types of organizational power practiced all over. These types usually are described in terms of -

  • Bases of power.
  • Position power vs personal power.

Bases of Power:

In 1959, John R.P French & Bertram Raven developed a framework to describe the bases of power in organization. According to them there are five general bases of power in organization and those are-

  1. Legitimate Power.
  2. Reward Power.
  3. Coercive Power.
  4. Expert Power.
  5. Referent Power.

1. Legitimate Power is the power that is granted by virtue of one’s position in the organization. Managers have legitimate power over their subordinates. He has the authority to give orders to his subordinates to accomplish the given task. Subordinates follows manager’s orders and they must follow what’s told by him. Legitimate power can be enhanced by ensuring that the business has a clearly defined chain of command and organizational structure.

2. Reward Power is a kind of motivation towards subordinates which forces them to work more effectively. If a subordinate does the given task accordingly than the manager may honor him with reward promotion. Mostly given reward in organization is pay, promotions or new work assignments with special responsibilities.

3. Coercive Power is a special type of power in workplace. Coercive power exists when a person has the authority to threaten or punish subordinates if the given task is not accomplished or not done accordingly. Usually coercive power is not practiced much in today’s time but it may be practiced when the organization is on crisis or threaten. Coercive power can also be used effectively when attempting to make cuts in personnel as a result of management shifts and transitions.

4. Expert Power is the extent to which a person controls information which is valuable to someone else. Expert power has been achieved through experiences and training that have marked his/her business career. Example, an inventory manager has information that a sales representative needs, the inventory manager has expert power over the sales representative. The more important the information, and the fewer the alternative sources for getting it, the greater the power.

5. Referent Power is gained by being admired by subordinates in an organization. Persons or leaders with referent power have gained it through entrusting their subordinates with increased responsibilities and how to perform their jobs. Referent power is mostly used in those organization where employee turnover is low and in an environment where personal relationships can be improved.


Position Power VS. Personal Power

Position Power is the power that resides in the position, regardless of who holds it. The legitimate, reward, and some aspects of coercive, expert power can all contributes to position power. Position power is similar to authority. While creating position an organization establishes power range for that position. The person filling that position has the control within his sphere of power. He or she cannot order or control activities that fall outside his or her sphere of power.

Personal Power resides in the person, rather than of the position he or she is filling in the organization. The primary bases of personal powers are referent, and some traces of expert, coercive & reward powers. A person with personal power can inspire greater loyalty & dedication compared to a person with position power. The followers will be acting more from choice than from necessity and will respond more readily to requests & appeals. The influence of a person with personal power is limited as the subordinates may freely decide not to accept orders.


The Uses of Power in an Organization

Powers can be used in many ways in an organization but it’s important for managers to understand how to use them rather than misusing it. Gary Yukl has developed a perspective how the power can be implemented. The perspectives consist of two closely related components. The first relates power bases, requests from individuals possessing power and probable outcomes in the form of prescriptions for the manager.

There are three possible outcomes when a manager tries to implement the power. These outcomes depend on the leader’s base of power, how the base is operationalized & subordinate’s individual characteristics.

  1. Commitments will result from an attempt to exercise power if the subordinate accepts and identifies with the leader. Such an employee will be motivated by the requests that seem important to the leader.
  2. Compliance refers that subordinates will do given task accordingly. Subordinates will do nothing extra or go beyond expectation of the job. Subordinates will not do any overtime.
  3. Resistance: this occurs when subordinates do not follow the orders or commands of the leaders. Here, subordinate fights or rejects leader’s wishes.


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