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Introduction to Organizational Behavior

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Chapter 19 : Power and Politics

Definition and Meaning of Power

Distinctions between Power, Authority and Influence

Bases of Power

Coercive Power
Reward Power
Legitimate Power
Expert Power
Referent Power

The Dependency Factor


Contingency Approaches to Power

Interdependence and Influencability
Overall Contingency Model for Power

Power in Groups: Coalitions

Organizational Politics

Definition and Nature of Politics
Factors Relating to Political Behavior

The Ethics of Power and Politics

Chapter Summary

Power and politics are among the most important concepts in the study of organization behavior. Both power and politics are dynamic concepts and are a function of the interaction between different elements in organizations. Power has been defined as "the ability to influence and control anything that is of value to others." It is the ability to influence the behavior of other people in the organization and to get them to do what they otherwise would not have done.

Although the terms power, authority and influence are often used synonymously, there is a difference between them. Power is the ability to effect a change in an individual or a group in some way. Power may or may not be legitimate. That is, power need not correspond with a person's organizational position. Authority, on the other hand, is legitimate. It is the power which is sanctioned by the organization and is often the 'source' of power. Influence is a much broader concept than both power and authority.

French and Raven, social psychologists, identified five sources of power - coercive, reward, legitimate, expert and referent. Coercive power is based on fear and is the ability to influence another person through threats or fear of punishment. Reward power is a positive power which refers to the ability to get things done through others on the basis of one's power to grant rewards. Legitimate power depends on organizational position and authority. It refers to the power conferred by a person's organizational position. Expert power is derived from a person's expertise or specialized knowledge of a certain subject that is perceived as important to the organization. And referent power is based on people's identification with a certain individual and their attempt to emulate his behavior. The person who acts as a model for reference has power over the person who emulates his behavior.

Dependency is the most important concept of power. The degree of dependence of the target determines the power exercised by the agent. Dependency is a function of importance, scarcity and non substitutability of the resources controlled by a person.

Contingency approaches to power are also gaining importance. The contingency approach suggests that power depends on being in the 'right place' at the right time and the influencability of the target. The overall contingency model combines the theories of French and Raven with those of Herbert Kelman and identifies the three main processes of power, namely, compliance, identification and internalization.

When people lose power, they try to regain it individually, or by forming a coalition with other less powerful people. Organizational coalitions are different from political coalitions in some basic ways.

Organizational politics is often called 'power in action.' Politics may be legitimate (within sanctioned organizational limits) or illegitimate (exceeding sanctioned organizational limits) in nature. The degree of politicking engaged in depends on individual as well as organizational factors. Individual politicking is a function of the person's power motive, personality factors and background, and current work environment. Organizational politicking is a function of culture, goal and role clarity and the attitude of top management.
Considerable importance has also been given to the ethical aspects of power and politics. It is not always easy to develop ethical standards because of the ambiguous and subjective nature of certain actions.

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