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Power flows from consistent high performance, we concluded last week. This week we will look into how power can be turned into influence and how empowering others can help in increasing the total power available in the organization and thus enhance the organization’s effectiveness in achieving its goals.
Acquiring power is certainly an important task for any manager. Actually using this power well to achieve the desired influence over other people is yet another challenge. Here follow a few examples of how some managers attempt to exercise their influence:

  1. Being loud in expressing what they want.
  2. Tit for tat. Or, if they do for me, I will do for them.
  3. Repeating a point over and over again until getting their way.
  4. Having all figures and facts ready for use when necessary.
  5. Going to higher levels of authority when turned down.

There are many other useful ways though to exercise influence, the most common strategies of which are:

  1. Reasoning. Using facts and data to support a logical argument.
  2. Friendliness. Using compliments, goodwill and favourable impressions.
  3. Coalition. Using relationships with other people for support.
  4. Assertiveness. Using a direct personal approach.
  5. Going to higher authorities for higher level support.
  6. Sanctions. Using organizationally derived rewards and punishments.

Do you recognise any of these strategies, used by either yourself or other managers? What strategy do you consider effective? Especially in the Ethiopian context and culture in which relationship building is considered important, but in which also status is given to the boss because of his/her position in the organization. Generally speaking, and we must make reservations for the Ethiopian cultural context here, downward influence will generally include mobilization of both position and personal power sources, while upward influence will more likely draw on personal power. So far about strategies to exercise power; next we will look into empowerment.
Empowerment is the process by which the manager helps others acquire and use the power needed to make decisions affecting themselves and their work. This is a rather new way of looking at power and management and may be somewhat challenging in the Ethiopian context, where power is still considered something to be held only at higher levels in the traditional pyramid structure of the organization. This new view considers power to be something that can be shared in organizations with a flatter structure. It is a new paradigm that is seen in today’s industries worldwide and for that reason alone we need to know about it, especially if we are dealing with foreign companies, which is happening more and more. What we see today is that staff, management layers, workers are cut back, leaving a leaner and trimmer organization staffed by fewer people who share more power as they go about daily tasks. Empowerment is than a key foundation of the increasingly popular self managing work teams and other creative worker involvement groups. In job adverts we see more and more that flexibility, teamwork, assisting & coaching others and problem solving are included in the competencies required from the applicant.
One of the bases of empowerment is thus a radically different view of power itself. So far we discussed power as something that is exerted over others. In contrast, the concept of empowerment emphasises the ability to make things happen. What are some of the consequences of this? When an organization attempts to move power down the hierarchy, it must also alter the existing pattern of position power, which in its turn raises some questions. For example, can empowered individuals give rewards and sanctions? Or, has their new right to act been legitimized with formal authority?
All too often, attempts at empowerment disrupt well established patters of position power and threaten middle and lower level managers. Thus, when embarking on an empowerment programme in the organization, management needs to show precisely how empowerment will benefit the individuals involved. Along with empowerment, employees need to be trained to expand their power and their new influence potential. This is a challenging task both for management and employees as it changes the dynamics between supervisors and subordinates. In practical terms, empowerment means that all managers will need to emphasize different ways of exercising influence. Reasoning, relationship building and bargaining will become important strategies, many employees (also in Ethiopia) will not feel comfortable at the beginning. This needs to be learnt and support to develop assertiveness may be required.
Everyone can gain from empowerment and it may help to keep the company competitive. While top management concentrates on strategies and dynamic change, others must be ready and willing to make critical operating decisions. Empowerment increases the total power in the organization, in other words, top level management does not have to give up power in order for the lower levels to gain it. The same is true for the supervisor-subordinate relationship, while the chances that organizational goals and results will be achieved may be enhanced. Here follow a few practical guidelines for implementing empowerment to conclude with:

  1. Delegation of authority to lower levels should be clear and unambiguous. People should know what they are empowered to do and what they are being held accountable for.
  2. Planning must be integrated and participative at all levels, if they are to understand plans and goals, and they must have the commitment needed to implement them effectively.

Managers at all levels, especially at the top, must have strong communication skills, as information is the key to understanding goals and responsibilities as well as understanding the bigger picture within which they become meaningful. 

Source: Managing Organizational Behavior, by Schermerhorn, Hunt and Osborn