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METHODS OF USING POWER

Inner leaders do not arise simply as a result of a grant by others of the powers of command claimed and exercised by them. They acquire power only when they appeal to followers by stimulating their emotions and offering suggestions to them that they see as helpful in attaining the followers’ personal and professional goals. This explanation of the inner leader’s source of power is counter to the authority basis for top leader power. The inner leader’s role in using follower emotions and personal motives to insure commitment to work-community purposes is also distinct from traditional top leadership theory.

Effective use of power asks inner leaders to master specific skills that implement the subtleties of this leadership technique within their work community. Mastering the techniques of power use in the interior regions of the corporation centers on developing skill in intimate interaction by the inner leader who is in a kind of competition with stakeholders over who gets control and use of needed and scarce resources. These power-use skills take the form of a variety of tasks centering in the intimate one-on-one relationships constituting the conventions of inner leadership relationships.

Power Use Techniques

Inner leaders prepare themselves to exercise power within their work communities in many ways (see also Fairholm, 1993).

Creating (or Making Use of Existing) Power Situations

Inner leaders are aware of the power component in every interpersonal interaction in which they engage. In fact, all members of the work community are continually negotiating for power to gain their desires. It is a ubiquitous and legitimate part of work—all—life. All members of the work community are regularly in situations where they compete for advantage so they can get their own way in the face of competing action by others. Inner leaders understand that the component parts of a power relationship (a situation in which power is and ought to be used to gain success) are normally present in most work relationships. The components of such a power situation include interdependence, differing goals, and competition to see who will achieve desired goals in a situation of scarcity where if one participant gains his or her goals the others do not. It is a situation where at least one participant in the relationship attaches enough importance to the situation, goals, or approach to be willing to expend energy in the relationship. Unless all these factors are present, operational power use need not be called upon to get one’s way. But the fact is that almost every interpersonal situation in a work community can be defined in terms of these characteristics.

Understanding the Classic Power-Use Model

Understanding the theory of power use is a crucial aspect of the inner leader’s success in using this technique. The characteristics of any group where power politics is a part of a relationship include the following: The relationship must involve a decision situation characterized by choice among competing alternatives. Power use depends on a social situation where action by one party impacts the behavior or choices of the others and where a condition of scarcity of resources critical in achieving the work community’s or an individual’s purposes is present. Inner leaders use power in situations where participants are free to act to achieve desired results. Power arises from the leader’s ability to take needed action to achieve desired results or to withhold action. It is a dynamic, interactive process.

Using Power to Increase Power

Using power increases one’s cache of power. Failure to exercise it can result in its loss. This characteristic of power use places inner leaders in a complex interactive and dynamic power relationship with everyone with whom they interact, one purpose of which is to gain and maintain their relative power positions in the work community.

Facilitating Power Use by Creating Conditions That Foster It

Inner leaders insure the presence of the following factors in their work culture as these factors increase their relative power in the work community and further the potential for its productive use.

Discretion. Inner leaders structure the work community to maximize discretion.

Centrality. They manipulate relationships to insure that they are at the center of activity.

Exchange. Inner leader create situations where both parties have something to give and some expectation of potential attractive results from their decision to engage in communal relations.

Status vis--vis superiors. Inner leaders endeavor to have multiple intimate contacts and influence with people superior to them in the hierarchy.

Conformance to work-community norms. They take actions to insure that followers see them as the personification of work-community norms. They model desired behavior.

Legitimacy. Inner leaders insure that followers see them as having legitimate authority.

Association. Inner leaders associate in friendly ways with members of the work community and with other like-minded people.

Personal status. Inner leaders try to present themselves in ways that induce followers to hold them in high esteem.

Personal characteristics. They also try to get others to think of them as possessing personal attributes like integrity, commitment, high energy use, interest, skill, and personal and professional attractiveness.

Accommodating to the Limits of Power Use

Power use is constrained by a variety of factors in both the situation and the character of participants. Effective inner leaders understand and accommodate to these limitations. For example, they are constrained by whether they see power per se as an end or as only instrumental to other ends. Their character and physical appearance may also impact their effective use of power. Position held in the hierarchy may help or hurt their capacity to use power, as also their socioeconomic status, the size of the work community, or the nature of the tasks dealt with.

Overcoming Resistance to the Inner Leader’s Power Use

The act of applying power can, and often does, produce a countervailing power use by the inner leader’s coworkers, the intent of which is to (1) destroy or limit the inner leader’s power, (2) to wrest from the inner leader sources of power held, or (3) to disengage from relationship with the leader. Of course, resistance sometimes results from the followers’ inability to respond appropriately. Or followers may fail to respond to power use because they do not have the requisite skills, time, materials, or information needed to effect desired outcomes. Resistance also can result from an unwillingness to comply. In any case, the resistance is genuine, and the impact on the inner leader is similar. Leaders must increase the force or scope of their power use or give up. Inner leaders understand that using power is a risk relationship that can produce resistance and failure if improperly applied.

Power Is Both an Offensive and a Defensive Tool

Inner leaders use power to realize desired behavior, attitudes, or attributes in others or in their work community. They use power when the situation requires a choice. Using power speeds up work-community member action and hastens goal accomplishment. And power use increases the assertiveness quotient of the inner leader.

Controlling as Many Sources of Power as Possible

The essence of power is control over needed and scarce resources. The more needed and scarce the resource, the more useful it is as a basis for achieving the holder’s desires from others who require that “commodity.” The more scarce resources an inner leader controls, the more powerful that leader is in the eyes of followers. Resources include anything physical or psychological inner leaders own, control, or exclusively can make available to others and valuable to them in meeting their perceived needs. To be useful from a leadership perspective, the target of the leader’s power action must see the resources as available only (or most economically) from the inner leader. In effect, inner leaders have power when others perceive them as having desired resources in some kind of monopoly. Examples of power sources include

Controlling rewards. The inner leader’s capability to provide benefits to followers allows him or her to control follower behavior and achieve desired results to the extent of the followers’ need for that tangible or intangible reward.

Criticality. Control over vital information, time, expertise, or other resources needed by the work community or any member gives inner leaders power over those in need.

Alliances. Inner leaders multiply their power as they collaborate with groups of independently powerful people and thus increase their potency to attain a sufficient critical power mass to achieve desired results.

A perception of legitimacy. As recipients believe their inner leaders have a legitimate right to command, whether those leaders have actual authority or not, leaders can exercise power toward those persons or groups. Legitimacy comes from a perceived delegation from the community or higher corporate—or other—entity. Acceptance of that delegation comes as affected individuals accept the inner leader’s actions as appropriate.

Identification with powerful others. Affiliation with other people whom their followers perceive as important can augment inner leaders’ power. Such identification can be actual or merely perceived, or it can be symbolic. Inner leaders can acquire or increase their power by adhering to the ideals, norms, or goals stakeholders value in their heros (Covey, 2001). Perceived identification with ideas, values, methods, or goals of famous, wise, attractive, or powerful people adds to the inner leader’s perceived power in the same way that direct association does.

Expertise. The leader’s own expertise becomes an important base of power as the targets of the leader’s power use come to depend on his or her expertise in needed skill areas. Being perceived as expert lets inner leaders exert power beyond their official role in the work community in any direction—up, down, and laterally.

Use of power. The act of using power tends to increase one’s power.

Personal difference. As inner leaders make themselves different from their colleagues (positively, but also negatively—say, as a curmudgeon), they are more likely to have and exercise power.

Centrality. Physical location in the center of activity, in the middle of work operations, or close in proximity to powerful people. A central location adds to the development and effective use of inner leaders’ power and the likelihood that they will be in the circle of powerful cliques and have access to other powerful people in the hierarchy.

Becoming Expert in Many Power Techniques

Inner leaders have learned to use several kinds of power such as these:

Reward power. Founded on the inner leader’s ability to provide benefits to another.

Information power. Based on unique data needed by others.

Coercive power. Based on the leader’s ability to punish noncompliance.

Expert power. Built on the unique skill or knowledge that the inner leader has.

Referent power. Fashioned on desires others have to be identified with the inner leader.

Legitimate power. Based on a perceived grant of power from an external and recognized source.

Wielding Power in Relationships with Top Leaders

Inner leaders continually engage in power politics with those people who are superior to them in the formal corporate structure. Several specific tactics of power use with superiors are listed below. This listing follows Fairholm’s (1993) work and relies largely on aspects of personal character rather than prerogatives of position.

Proactivity. Using proactive power is nothing more than using power first and seeking permission afterward. It is often seen as a fait accompli, a situation in which the inner leader presents the boss with a completed decision or action and seeks support and endorsement after the fact.

Using outside experts. Inner leaders at times use authorities not connected with their immediate work community to convince others that their proposed decisions or alternatives are the correct ones. They frequently select an expert who is known to favor a given approach, philosophy, or technique so they can ensure that the perspective they favor will be reflected in the recommendations ultimately given.

Displaying charisma. Charisma—personal magnetism—is based on an almost visceral connection between the powerful and the relatively powerless. It involves inner leaders in any of a wide variety of behaviors and demeanor intended to elicit follower compliance because of their attraction to the character of the leader in some ways.

Rationalization. Anything an inner leader does to consciously engineer reality, to justify decision results or specific points of view, can be included in the rationalization power technique. The rationalization tactic uses language or symbols to construct a particularized view of reality that legitimizes the inner leader power user’s decisions. Rationalization involves persuasion, structuring reality, appeal to the emotions, and the use of humor.

Using ambiguity. Inner leaders use or create situations of multiple, chaotic interactions where understood norms of human interaction are broken down and new standards have not been solidified to gain their desires. These ambiguous situations allow the leader to assume power and authority for accomplishment in ways and to degrees not possible in a highly structured, controlled, and predictable environment.

Building a favorable image. Building a favorable image refers to attempts inner leaders make to create or change the perceptions others have of their personalities, skills, capacities, values, or attitudes to enhance their power among colleagues including their bosses.

Exerting Power in Relationships with Peers

A peer relationship is one between persons who do not have a clear, unambiguous hierarchal relationship defining their association. Peer relationships require a nonhierarchal formal or informal relationship. Because of this structural relationship parameter, inner leader power behavior is not commonly characterized by force or authority forms of power. When working with their peers, inner leaders exert power through the following kinds of power use tactics:

Allocating resources. Inner leaders often allocate needed resources to others in their work community in exchange for their compliance. Examples of use of this power tactic range from giving or withholding needed or desired space, material, information, financial resources, skills, association, cooperation, or work assignments to allowing a competitor to participate in decision or policy activity or have access to other powerful, influential, or attractive people. These and similar resources are routinely used to aid the inner leader in gaining compliance from peers.

Quid pro quo. Inner leaders spend much of their power-related time in exchange relationships with peers where one person has comparably more of a desired resource and is willing to trade it for specified peer behavior or support or access to another scarce resource. This tactic involves any of a wide variety of efforts to negotiate tradeoffs with others to secure desired results from peers using both material and nonmaterial resources as negotiating “chips.”

Forming coalitions. Coalition building involves leaders in allying themselves with certain members of the work community, and sometimes with persons outside the work community, to add to their perceived influence. Examples of this power tactic include creating informal work groups or associations of people who belong to professional associations or other work-community clusters of like-minded people. However, such coalitions are fragile. Typically, they are specifically formed for each power issue.

Coopting opposition members. Using a kind of coalition building, inner leaders sometimes attempt to add potentially powerful individuals from opposing forces whose support would aid in goal attainment or whose opposition would hamper goal realization to their decision councils. Coopting a rival causes the coopted person to become linked in the public mind with the position and rationale of his or her former opponent. Often persons thus coopted begin to defend the position (or at least not oppose it as vigorously) in public forums.

Incurring obligation. This tactic involves inner leaders in developing a sense of obligation in others to induce them to do what they (the leaders) want. Obligation is incurred when the inner leader provides another person with specific and needed actions or rewards which then places the recipient under debt to him or her.

Friendship, too, can be a form of debt. Self-sacrifice may seem altruistic and moral, but it can also be capitalized on as an obligation and thus become a power behavior. Obligation can also be incurred through praise.

Using surrogates. This tactic describes situations in which the inner leader makes use of a third party (or parties) through which to exercise power. Leaders sometimes use other people to mask their use of power and seek to gain compliance by having their proposals for action presented by a popular individual who “fronts” for them.

Controlling the agenda. Inner leaders also use the simple expedient of controlling meeting agendas to attain their desires over possible opposition from peers. Selecting agenda items and even controlling their placement on an agenda insures that the issues discussed are those the inner leader wants to discuss and has prepared for. Obviously, placing an item on the agenda when the leader is ready increases the likelihood that arguments proffered will, at the least, receive a hearing. Withholding an item until the inner leader is prepared or placing it on the agenda when others are not expecting it and, therefore, are not prepared to deal with it also enhances this leader’s relative power position.

Brinkmanship. Any effort directed toward disturbing the equilibrium of the work community as a prelude to other action the inner leader might take to control peer choice is brinkmanship. The key element for success lies in proper timing in introducing the inner leader’s preferred action to ameliorate the crisis that he or she has allowed to develop. This is a risky technique but an often-used one.

Building a favorable image. As noted, this power tactic is also often used in inner leaders’ relationships with top leaders. Many mid-level leaders also find it helpful in achieving their goals in peer relationships. A carefully cultivated reputation can attract other peers to the inner leader’s point of view or dissuade them from opposing it. Building an image of expertise, of having special knowledge, status, wisdom, prestige, presence, or specialization, allows inner leaders to influence peers’ behavior and aids them in personal goal attainment. Sometimes building a reputation for hard-headedness, confrontation, or other nominally negative personality achieves a similar result.


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