COMM 222 Lecture Notes - Lecture 12: Scapegoating
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I. What Is Power?
Power is the capacity to influence others who are in a state of dependence. This does not necessarily imply that a poor
relationship exists between the power holder and the target, as most friendships involve reciprocal influence processes.
Power can flow in any direction in an organization, although members at higher levels typically have more power. Power is a broad
concept that applies to individuals as well as to groups.
II. The Bases of Individual Power
Power can be found in the position that you occupy in the organization or the resources that you are able to command. Legitimate
power is dependent on one's position or job. The other bases (reward, coercion, referent, and expert power) involve the control of
A. Legitimate Power
Legitimate power derives from a person's position or job in the organization. It constitutes the organization's judgment about
who is formally permitted to influence whom, and it is often called authority. As we move up the organization's hierarchy, we find that
members possess more and more legitimate power. Legitimate power works because people have been socialized to accept its
influence. Even across various cultures, employees cite legitimate power as a major reason for following their boss's directions.
B. Reward Power
Reward power exists when the power holder can exert influence by providing positive outcomes and preventing negative
outcomes. It corresponds to the concept of positive reinforcement. It is often used to back up legitimate power.
C. Coercive Power
Coercive power is available when the power holder can exert influence by the use of punishment and threat. Although it too is
employed as a support for legitimate power, its use by managers is generally ineffective and can provoke employee resistance.
D. Referent Power
Referent power exists when the power holder is well liked by others. It is potent because it stems from identification with the
power holder and represents a truer or deeper base of power than reward or coercion. Second, anyone in the organization may
possess referent power.
E. Expert Power
Expert power is derived from having special information or expertise that is valued by an organization. This power can be
obtained by lower-level organizational members and is especially likely to exist for those members in scientific and technical areas.
Of all the bases of power, expertise is most consistently associated with employee effectiveness. Employees perceive women
managers as more likely than male managers to be high on expert power.
Employees will respond differently to the bases of power. Coercion is likely to produce resistance and lack of cooperation. Legitimate
power and reward power are likely to produce compliance with the boss’s wishes. Referent and expert power are most likely to
generate true commitment and enthusiasm for the manager’s agenda. </PARA>
III. How Do People Obtain Power?
People get power by doing the right things and cultivating the right people.
A. Doing the Right Things
Activities lead to power when they are extraordinary, highly visible, and especially relevant to the solution of organizational problems.
Extraordinary Activities. Excellent performance in unusual or nonroutine activities is required to obtain power. Such activities include
occupying new positions, managing substantial changes, and taking great risks.
Visible Activities. Extraordinary activities will fail to generate power if no one knows about them. Therefore, people who seek power
must try to publicize their efforts and ensure that they are visible.
Relevant Activities. Extraordinary, visible work may fail to generate power if no one cares. Activities must be relevant to the needs of
the organization for power to accrue. Therefore, being in the right place at the right time and doing the right things are important in
the effort to gain power.
B. Cultivating the Right People
To obtain power, one must develop informal relationships with the right people. The right people can include organizational
subordinates, peers, and superiors as well as crucial outsiders.
Outsiders. Establishing good relationships with key people outside one's organization can lead to increased power within the
Subordinates. An individual can gain influence if she is closely identified with certain up-and-coming subordinates. Subordinates can
also provide power when a manager can demonstrate that he or she is backed by a cohesive team.
Peers. Cultivating good relationships with peers is mainly a means of ensuring that nothing gets in the way of one's future acquisition
of power. As one moves up through the ranks, favours can be asked of former associates.
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Superiors. Liaisons with key superiors probably represent the best way of obtaining power through cultivating others. Mentors, for
example, can provide special information and useful introductions to other "right people."
IV. Empowerment – Putting Power Where It Is Needed
Power need not be seen as something of fixed quantity which must necessarily be in short supply at the bottom of the organization if
it is largely held at the top. Empowerment gives people the authority, opportunity, and motivation to take initiative and solve
organizational problems. Authority comes from pushing legitimate power down to lower levels so that decisions can be made by
those with the information to make them. Opportunity means freedom from bureaucratic barriers and any relevant training and
information about the impact of one's actions on other parts of the organization. The motivation part of empowerment works when
people are intrinsically motivated by power and opportunity and see their rewards linked to their performance. People who are
empowered have a strong sense of self-efficacy, the feeling that they are capable of doing their jobs well and "making things
happen." Empowering lower-level employees can be critical in service organizations, where providing customers with a good initial
encounter or correcting any problems that develop can be essential for repeat business. There is also growing evidence that
empowerment fosters job satisfaction and high performance. Used properly, empowerment puts power where it is needed to make
the organization effective.
V. Influence Tactics-Putting Power to Work
Power is the potential to influence others. Influence tactics are tactics that are used to convert power into actual influence over
others. These tactics include assertiveness, ingratiation, rationality, exchange, upward appeal, and coalition formation. Which tactics
are used may be influenced by the power bases of the individual exercising power and who you are trying to influence. Men using
rationality as an influence tactic received better performance evaluations, earned more money, and experienced less work stress. A
particularly ineffective influence style is a "shotgun" style that is high on all tactics with particular emphasis on assertiveness and
VI. Who Wants Power?
The old concepts of power seekers were that they were neurotics covering up feelings of inferiority; striving to compensate for
childhood deprivation; and substituting power for lack of affection. There is little doubt that these characteristics do apply to some
power seekers and some seek it for its own sake and use it irresponsibly.
According to psychologist David McClelland, power can also be used responsibly to influence others. Need for power is the need to
have strong influence over others. It is a reliable personality characteristic.
Some individuals have a need for power which can make them effective managers when used in a responsible and controlled
manner. In addition to having a high need for power, they use their power to achieve organizational goals; they adopt a participative
or "coaching" leadership style; and they are relatively unconcerned with how much others like them.
McClelland calls these managers institutional managers because they use their power for the good of the institution. He
stresses the greater effectiveness of these managers compared to personal power managers, who use their power for
personal gain, and affiliative managers, who are more concerned with being liked than with exercising power.
VII. Controlling Strategic Contingencies - How Subunits Obtain Power
Subunit power is the degree of power held by various organizational subunits, such as departments. They obtain this power
through the control of strategic contingencies, which are critical factors affecting organizational effectiveness that are
controlled by a key subunit. This means that the work performed by other subunits is contingent on the activities and performance of
a key subunit. Again, we see the critical role of dependence in power relationships. The conditions under which subunits can control
strategic contingencies involve scarcity, uncertainty, centrality, and substitutability.
Subunits tend to acquire power when they are able to secure scarce resources that are important to the organization as a whole.
When resources such as budget dollars become scarce, subunits that are able to secure additional resources from outside the
organization can obtain power. For example, university departments that have the ability to bring in external funding through
consulting contracts and research grants gain power in this way.
Since organizations dislike uncertainty, those subunits with the ability to cope with the unexpected are most likely to obtain power.
Those functions that can provide the organization with greater control over what it finds problematic and can create more certainty
will acquire more power. The intervention of governments into human resource policies in recent years has allowed human resource
departments to gain power by coping with the various uncertainties.
Subunits whose activities are most central to the workflow of the organization are more apt to obtain power than those whose
activities are more peripheral. They are central to the extent that they influence the work of most other subunits; when they have an
especially crucial impact on the quantity or quality of the organization's key product or service; or their impact is more immediate
compared to other subunits.
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