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 specific work goals and to strengthen their own positions vis-à-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...
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