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Last week, we saw that there are different kinds and bases for power available to the manager in the workplace. While the essence of power is control over the behaviour of others, managers use power to achieve influence over workers in the organization or business.We distinguished between position power and personal power. Position power was further classified into reward power and coercive power, using rewards and punishment as tools to influence the workers. Legitimate power was the third form of position power and refers to the formal authority the manager has. Personal power was divided into expert power and referent power. Expert power is derived from the extent to which somebody is knowledgeable or experienced in a certain area, while referent power relates to the extent to which workers identify with the manager.
We also saw that people who seem to have power do not always get their way, which led to the subject of obedience. Why do some people obey directives, while others do not? More specifically, why should subordinates respond to a managers’ authority or “right to command,” in the first place? And what determines the limits of obedience? We concluded that subordinates will accept or follow a directive from the boss only under special circumstances, all four of which must be met:
The effective manager will thus, in giving orders, recognize that the acceptance of a request is not assured and will try and need to understand with is considered acceptable or unacceptable.
How does this framework help us to understand how issues related to power work in the Ethiopian context of doing business?
The extent to which the manager is in a position to use rewards and punishments as tools very much depends on the nature and size of the company or organization. In more mature companies we find that conditions of service are laid down in policies and there are certain rules and regulations, which need to be followed. There may also be a labour union or official representation of the employees which have influence on the way rewards and punishment can be used to influence the workers. Reward and coercive power can thus be used here but to a limited extent and within the policy framework that is set. In less formalised companies, the circle of influence to use rewards and punishment may be bigger and if used wisely, reward and coercive power could be effective. Care must be taken though not to introduce a culture of fear amongst workers to be punished unjustly or too often as this will prevent them from taking initiative and learning from making mistakes. Rewarding a few outstanding employees at the end of the year is a good example of using reward power thereby setting the example of what is regarded as good achievement.
In Ethiopia, we see that the boss or manager has more legitimate power over the employees. In the Ethiopian culture we often attribute status to somebody on the basis of ascription, in other words, the boss is the boss because of his or her position or background. The superior is respected on the basis of the position (s)he holds and derives power from that. Employees may thus follow instructions because the boss says so, not necessarily because they are confident that the boss is right. Expert power on the other hand can be used more in cultures, which attribute status because of achievement. One is followed because (s)he has proved to master the material and is trusted for it.
So far, we have been discussing the ways managers can use power to influence the behaviour of subordinates, but often power is exercised to influence superiors and also people in lateral relations like peers and outsiders. When facing upward, managers must rely on the use of personal power (expertise and reference) to achieve influence over higher level superiors. In contrast, when facing downward, both position and personal power can be mobilized in dealing with subordinates. In lateral relations with peers and outsiders, the manager must again emphasize personal power to achieve the desired influence.
The effective manager is one who succeeds in building and maintaining high levels of both position and personal power over time. Only then will sufficient power of the right types be available when the manager needs to exercise influence over subordinates, superiors and lateral relations.
Position power is, according to my own observations – please correct me if I am wrong – especially referred to in the Ethiopian context of doing business. It is power based on formal authority and the legitimacy of a manager’s position in the organization’s hierarchy of authority. Personal power arises from personal characteristics of the manager rather than from his or her position in the company’s hierarchy.
Next week, we will look into ways to enhance position and personal power and thus contribute to achieving organizational goals and results.
Source: Managing Organizational Behavior, by Schermerhorn, Hunt and Osborn