Power as a Managerial Tool

Since time immemorial power has been a thing desired, coveted, feared and sometimes unleashed too to give people what they needed. From the courtrooms of the kings to the boardrooms of top leaders, power has held an integral part in determining how things get done. So, what is power in relevance to the modern-day originations and their leaders? More so, will the power become more, or less relevant, in the wake of the paradigm shift in working environments due to the recent pandemic? These are interesting questions and the key to them may unlock the bigger picture of how organizations will function in the new post pandemic world.

There are different types of power identified within an organizational setting.

Legitimate Power: The power that comes with holding a position of importance in the organization, for ex. A CEO or a key member of the Strategic Team. These leaders determine the future and current course of the organization and therefore hold immense power in their hands.

Reward: When a leader is in a capacity to reward compliance through perks, bonuses raises, promotion, compensatory off, he/she is said to have this power. This category of power is extremely useful only if the managers are in sync with their teams and the individual members. As it is not difficult to comprehend that each team member may be motivated by different things, a young mother may value flexible work timings more than a raise and for a young intern, promotion can be the fuel for performance.

Coercive: This is the kind of power that is exercised like a punishment rod for misbehaving children. Some examples are firing from the job, demotion, taking away perks and bonuses are some of the ways in which this power is displayed by managers. While it may seem pretty straight forward, if an employee is not in line, he is punished however it goes way beyond that.

Especially, in organizations where toxic office politics is accepted a s a way of life. Coercion as a term itself as negative connotation and so is the power associated with it because it is difficult to establish objectivity with respect to the need to use this particular subcategory of power.

While it may lead to temporary disciplining or aligning to manager’s goals in the long run it creates an organization which is authoritarian thus killing entrepreneurial spirit of the employees crippling innovation and new ideas.

While the above powers come by virtue of being in a position, there are some powers that an individual brings to the table in his/her capacity as a human being who can influence another human being. The world has always been in awe of and far more forgiving towards leaders who are charismatic. Kings often relied on their personal charm and ability to influence in their capacity as a friend or a father figure to diffuse hostile situations or to ask life risking favors from their subjects. It is not surprising to learn that a leader’s individual power works much better and much more than the power he/she exerts by virtue of position. Let’s examine what those powers are.

Expert: When a leader possesses a special skill set or a superior variation of skill sets possessed by other team members they get in the position where they can influence other people.

The power which comes from knowledge is positive and helps foster an environment of healthy competition where team members are motivated to work extra to push the envelope. These leaders are in a special position where they can contribute significantly to the positive transformation in the organization and create strong foundation for learning and development, training and knowledge sharing which in turn can lead to better ideas and business solutions.

This often leads to the next type of power which a leader can have in his/her individual capacity.

Referent: This power is earned when leaders are respected and valued for their contributions. They have displayed a consistent stream of noteworthy accomplishments which has helped the organization towards achieving goals better and faster. Such leaders are valued not just within their own industry, but their expertise translates well even beyond their respective field of work. These are the leaders who are valued board members of various organizations, commissions and community serving institutions. Their work continues even when they bow out of their professional lives but are sought for their deep knowledge about people and business. When a request comes from a referent power holder people go the extra mile and commit to it in their personal capacity as well which makes referent power holder extremely valuable for organizations they associate with.

However, with the dawn of the information age it will be a folly to overlook the power of information.

Information Power: In an organization if leaders or managers are privy to critical information they get in the position of power. But, this edge over the others may be short lived unless the leader can manage to be ahead with new information at any given point of time.

Having discussed the various types of power it only logical to discuss them in the wake of the pandemic and how it has changed and realigned how power works. With remote working becoming the only way of functioning for most of the organizations, leaders and managers need to think of better ways to exercise the powers to contribute positively to the organizational goals. The ability to influence, motivate and propel people from across the screen brings its own set of challenges. Virtual business meetings provide little scope for relying entirely on either positional or personal power and leaders would have to find a healthy balance, a medium path between the two.

Sharing knowledge and learning as a continuous process will help employees keep up with the changing dynamics while adding to leaders individual influencing power as well. Clearly defined performance parameters and objectives alone will not sail the boat, effective management of teams, exerting influence across vertical and horizontal hierarchies will become an integral part of the job for the leaders. A wide understanding of how power affects people within their respective sphere will help managers to choose what works best in a given scenario. In addition to this, empathy, understanding and valuing people will go a long way in ensuring that the rapidly changing work environment and organizational goals are met with optimum efficiency.

People in general are skeptical of power for the fear of ruffling feathers, being punished or getting manipulated, but in an organizational set up power can be an important managerial tool to get things done.

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