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Power and Politics

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Power and Politics
An individual sets out in life, and in work, to achieve his or her own goals, and to promote his or her own interests. Therefore, in a hierarchal setting of an organization, individuals will naturally contend for their own interests. Aided by the use of personal power, politics, influence, and empowerment, many individuals achieve their goals within organizations.
Through analyzing power and politics in the workplace and organization, one may understand the organizational behavior that is touched by power and politics in the workplace (Robbins & Judge, 2009).
Leadership Practices that Influence Organizations
A key organizational management and leadership practice that influences an organization is the exhibition of power and the resulting influence that exhibit of power has on organizational behavior. According to Schermerhorn, et. al., “Power is the ability to get someone else to do something you want done, or the ability to make things happen or get things done the way you want. The essence of power is control over the behavior of others” (p. 214, 2008). In contrast to power, which is the energy behind making people behave in a certain way, “influence is what an individual has when he or she exercises power, and it is expressed by others’ behavioral response to that exercise of power” (Schermerhorn, et. al, p. 215, 2008). Together, power and influence in an organization or workplace are fundamental behavioral practices that influence an organization.
Power in organizations comes in many different shapes and sizes. Some powers are grounded in the position or title within the organization and transfer to whomever holds that position. Some examples of position power are: legitimate power, reward power, process power, and information power. Legitimate power stems from a manager controlling his or her own resources, reward power is the manager’s control of rewards such as bonuses, process power stems from the control of a process used within an organization, and information power is controlling the flow and access of information (Schermerhorn, et. al, 2008).
Other powers are rooted in an individual and are personal powers that stand separate from his or her position in the workplace. Some examples of personal powers are: expert power, rational persuasion, and referent power. Expert power is exercised when one influences another’s behavior by exhibiting expert knowledge on a subject. Rational persuasion is exercised when an individual can convince another to behave a certain way through persuasion. Referent power is exercised when a person acts a certain way to be associated with one he or she perceives as possessing power (Schermerhorn, et. al, 2008).
According to Schermerhorn, et. al, “Organizational politics is the management of influence to obtain ends not sanctioned by the organization or to obtain sanctioned ends through non-sanctioned means; it is also the art of creative compromise among competing interests” (p. 227, 2008). Additionally, politics in an organization are often described as a necessary avenue for resolving conflict that is a result of competing interests (Schermerhorn, et. al, 2008). Again, the use of politics, power, and influence in the workplace or organization are a direct result of an individual seeking to fulfill his or her self-interests, which may benefit the organization or team. Whether politics in an organization have a positive or negative effect on the behavior of the members is a matter of opinion. Schermerhorn, et. al (2008), noted multiple studies that each concluded in different results; one showing that politics in an organization helps meet strategic initiatives and the other showing that organization politics damaged relationships and credibility(Schermerhorn, et. al, 2008). Some examples of political actions used organizations to protect one’s self interests are redirecting responsibility, avoiding risks, and defending their territory (Schermerhorn, et. al, 2008).
An example of the relationship between power and politics is one in which a mid-level manager is assigned a special improvement project to manage on top of her regular duties. The project manager is assigned her team members who include a senior manager from four different divisions. The goal of the project is to reduce operating costs in a particular department within one year in such a way that it allows a reduction in force of at least 10 people. In this example, the project manager has no position power that would result in influence over the team because the team members are all of a higher or equal hierarchal rank. The project manager must tap into her expert and rational personal power to influence the team’s behavior on the project. As the project gains momentum, the board of directors begins to give rewards for progress on the team and the teams work is touted as a financial savior for the organization. Suddenly, the project manager has referent power; others outside the team want to be associated with the success and begin to offer up resources. Politically, this team is both loved and hated by the organization because the result will be a loss in jobs, and at the same time the organization needs to cut costs to be financially viable. The team members need to maintain relationships and build good will with key managers throughout the project to ensure that they are not politically ostracized.
Another example of the relationship between power and politics is one in which an employee begins to emulate the behavior of a manager who he or she holds in high regard. The manager has position power, personal power, and political power and the employee seeks to gain that power for him or herself by emulating the manager’s behavior. Because the employee does not have any position power themselves, his or her behavior becomes out of sync with their position and he or she suffers negative political repercussions as a result. A better approach for this individual would be to emulate only those behaviors that are associated with personal powers to avoid the political repercussions of acting above their hierarchal position.
Conclusion
It is through the understanding of power and politics in a workplace that one can begin to understand how these key organizational concepts affect behaviors within an organization. Power is derived from position within an organization as well as from personal attributes and experiences. Political behaviors in the workplace often are a result of an individual’s instinctive desire to protect their own interests. When combined, power and politics may aid many individuals in achieving his or her goals within organizations.

References
Robbins, S., & Judge, T. (2009). Organizational Behavior (13th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Schermerhorn, J. R., Hunt, J. G., & Osborn, R. N. (2008). Organizational Behavior (10th ed.). Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.

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