Power And Politics In Organizations Essays On Friendship

Jenna Doucet (March, 2010).

Power and Politics

Power is commonly given a negative connotation. For example, the color red, which is a symbolism for power, is much less frequently used in advertisements than the color blue because of its obtrusiveness. Furthermore, a popular political slogan during the cold war days was “better dead than red” (Pigments through the ages, 2009, n.p). The meaning of power has been misunderstood because of abuses made by individuals in positions of authority and power. However, according to McShane (2006) the true meaning of power is simply the ability of an individual or organization to influence. Although power and influence can be exercised positively or negatively and for both positive and negative outcomes, it would be a mistake for organizations to allow negative connotations to limit the benefits of power within an organization because. Rather, organizations should avoid promoting and instead condone political behavior. Organizational politics is an influence tactic exercised at the expense of one’s coworkers, and the entire organization (Gilmore, Ferris, Dulebohn, & Harrell-Cook, 2010). Power and organizational politics, frequently intertwined, make drawing the line between the two a difficult task. A throughout understanding of both, however, may serve as an important first step.

Organizational power

One of the most important factors to bear in mind is that power is a two-way relationship. To this effect Ambur (2009) states: “ Power and authority come from the person being influenced- not the person in the more powerful position. If the follower chooses to not follow them, they are no longer leaders. Leadership is really followership” (p. 3). Furthermore, McShane (2006) believes that “ The most basic prerequisite of power is that one person or group believes it is dependent on another person or group for something of value” (p. 345). Interdependence between parties forges the relationship of power and hierarchy in organizations. Power can only really exist in relationships in which each individual has something of value to offer. Five categories make up organizational power, which identify the various ways individuals extrude and perceive power. The key to organizational power is the perceptionof others as legitimate, reward, coercive, expert, or referent power. It is important to note that the perception of power extends beyond the individual’s position of authority within an organization (McShane, 2006). In evaluating the bases of social power identified by French and Raven (also depicted above by McShane) Ambur (2009) illustrates the relationships between the various expressions of power. Ambur (2009) says that:

“Reward power results from the ability to provide reinforcement for desired behavior. Conversely, coercive power reflects the potential to inflict punishment. In a sense these are not so much two different types of power as they are opposite ends of a continuum. The common and essential element for both reward and punishment is that they are controlled by the superior person and are conferred upon subordinates based upon relationships that are less than perfectly aligned with theirbehaviors. Referent power is a function of the respect and esteem accorded to an individual by virtue of personal attributes with which others identify. By contrast, legitimate power is based upon authority recognized in accordance, with position in an organizational structure. Referent power is person oriented,while legitimate power is depersonalized.Expert power is a form of referent power resulting from recognized expertise” (p. 1).

Organizational politics

Within any organization there is bound to be a struggle between the power of individuals to influence positivelythe organization and self-serving politics played around situations or people for selfish reasons. Organizational politics are influence tactics exercised at the expense of one’s coworkers, or the entire organization (Gilmore, Ferris, Dulebohn, & Harrell-Cook, 2010). McShane (2006) states that, “organizational politics is either supported or punished, depending on team norms and the organization’s culture” (p. 345). An important question is to consider why an organization allows such behavior if research shows that it has negative consequences. Political tactic are attributed to conflicts in the workplace, stress, and job dissatisfaction, to name a few(McShane, 2006 andGilmore, Ferris, Dulebohn, & Harrell-Cook, 2010). The answer can be found by a combination of the following. A work environment with scarce resources will support political behavior if it allows individuals to pursue their goals. A lack of clear structure and decisions may leave more room for ambiguity in political power. Furthermore, team leaders who value personal power have higher propensities to use and support political tactics (McShane, 2006). Gilmore, Ferris, Dulebohn, and Harrell-Cook (2010) state, “ the political environment is created by the actions of organizational members and is influenced by the policies, practices, and culture of the organization” (p. 482). “ Organizational politics can be minimized by providing clear rules for resource allocation, establishing a free flow of information, using education and involvement during organizational change, supporting team norms and a corporate culture that discourage dysfunctional politics, and having leaders who role model organizational citizenship rather than political savvy” (McShane, 2006, p. 347).

Real life applications of power and politics

Conflicts of interest and the use of political tactics to influence individuals within an organization or society make headlines in business on a regular basis. Take for instance the U.S. propaganda of the Bush administration and voting machines controversy. The chief executive officer of the machines manufacturing company at the time, Wally O’Dell, openly declared that he would “deliver” Bush as president. Over the years, there has been muchcontroversy surrounding the public support of political campaigns from influential individuals living public lives. One article devoted to the Winfrey and Obama controversy questions ifOprah is misusing her power and influence to sway the political campaign in her own favour. To this effect, Kohut (2007) says “ there is no telling whether Winfrey can do for Obama what she has done for the countless books and products she’s endorsed over the years” (p. 1). What isunique in the O’Dell and Bush controversy is that O’Dell had the potential to ‘fix’ the election. Although never charged with fixing the election, O’Dell’s actions had significant consequences on the company he was working for. In other words, O’Dell was displaying a classic political stunt, in which he was exercising his influence and power for his own self-serving purposes at the expense of the company’s well being. Further complications aroused when O’Dell openly declared upon investigation of his company’s stock performance by the SEC “ There is a lot of pressure in the corporation to make the numbers: We don’t tell you how to do it, but do it” (p. 1). In response, Byrne (2005) states “O’Dell is probably the number culprit putting pressure on people” (p. 1). This type of behavior occurs more often than one wantsto believe. Political pressures and power struggles can be found in almost any industry and if the appropriate guidelines in the use of power are not well defined it becomes easy for individuals to abuse their influence.

Power plays an important role in organizations. The consequences can yield positive results or if used in conjunction with political tactics can yield negative results. In practice, power is a two-way relationship in whichparties interact accordingly to the resources or values they hold or control. Conflicts arise when resources are scarce, and when there is pressure to achieve goals that may not be realistic. To compensate individuals often manipulate their power to jockey for position and serve their own needs at the expense of others.


Ambur, O. (July, 2000). Bases of social power. University of Maryland. Retrieved on March 9, 2010 from: http://www.slideshare.net/viteriange/bases-of-social-power-2009.

Bryne, J. (2005) Diebold CEO resigns after reports of fraud litigation, internal woes. The raw story. Retrieved on March 11, 2010 from: http://www.rawstory.com/news/2005/Diebold_CEO_resigns_after_reports_of_12 12.html.

Gilmore, C., Ferris, G., Dulebohn, J., & Harrell-Cook, G. (2010). Organizational politics and employee attendance. Group & Organization. Retrieved on March 9, 2010 from: Sage database.

Kohut, A. (September, 2007). The Oprah factor and campaign 2008. The Pew Research Center. Retrieved on March 11, 2010 from: http://people-press.org/report/357/the-oprah-factor-and-campaign-2008

McShane, S.L. (2006). Canadian Organizational Behaviour (6th ed). McGraw-Hill: Ryerson.

Pigments through the ages. (2009). Retrieved on March 9, 2010 from: http://www.webexhibits.org/pigments/.

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For everyone to have the opportunity to be involved in a given group and to participate in its activities the structure must be explicit, not implicit. The rules of decision-making must be open and available to everyone, and this can happen only if they are formalized. This is not to say that formalization of a structure of a group will destroy the informal structure. It usually doesn't. But it does hinder the informal structure from having predominant control and make available some means of attacking it if the people involved are not at least responsible to the needs of the group at large. "Structurelessness" is organizationally impossible. We cannot decide whether to have a structured or structureless group, only whether or not to have a formally structured one. Therefore the word will not be used any longer except to refer to the idea it represents. Unstructured will refer to those groups which have not been deliberately structured in a particular manner. Structured will refer to those which have. A Structured group always has formal structure, and may also have an informal, or covert, structure. It is this informal structure, particularly in Unstructured groups, which forms the basis for elites.


"Elitist" is probably the most abused word in the women's liberation movement. It is used as frequently, and for the same reasons, as "pinko" was used in the fifties. It is rarely used correctly. Within the movement it commonly refers to individuals, though the personal characteristics and activities of those to whom it is directed may differ widely: An individual, as an individual can never be an elitist, because the only proper application of the term "elite" is to groups. Any individual, regardless of how well-known that person may be, can never be an elite.
Correctly, an elite refers to a small group of people who have power over a larger group of which they are part, usually without direct responsibility to that larger group, and often without their knowledge or consent. A person becomes an elitist by being part of, or advocating the rule by, such a small group, whether or not that individual is well known or not known at all. Notoriety is not a definition of an elitist. The most insidious elites are usually run by people not known to the larger public at all. Intelligent elitists are usually smart enough not to allow themselves to become well known; when they become known, they are watched, and the mask over their power is no longer firmly lodged.
Elites are not conspiracies. Very seldom does a small group of people get together and deliberately try to take over a larger group for its own ends. Elites are nothing more, and nothing less, than groups of friends who also happen to participate in the same political activities. They would probably maintain their friendship whether or not they were involved in political activities; they would probably be involved in political activities whether or not they maintained their friendships. It is the coincidence of these two phenomena which creates elites in any group and makes them so difficult to break.
These friendship groups function as networks of communication outside any regular channels for such communication that may have been set up by a group. If no channels are set up, they function as the only networks of communication. Because people are friends, because they usually share the same values and orientations, because they talk to each other socially and consult with each other when common decisions have to be made, the people involved in these networks have more power in the group than those who don't. And it is a rare group that does not establish some informal networks of communication through the friends that are made in it.
Some groups, depending on their size, may have more than one such informal communications network. Networks may even overlap. When only one such network exists, it is the elite of an otherwise Unstructured group, whether the participants in it want to be elitists or not. If it is the only such network in a Structured group it may or may not be an elite depending on its composition and the nature of the formal Structure. If there are two or more such networks of friends, they may compete for power within the group, thus forming factions, or one may deliberately opt out of the competition, leaving the other as the elite. In a Structured group, two or more such friendship networks usually compete with each other for formal power. This is often the healthiest situation, as the other members are in a position to arbitrate between the two competitors for power and thus to make demands on those to whom they give their temporary allegiance.
The inevitably elitist and exclusive nature of informal communication networks of friends is neither a new phenomenon characteristic of the women's movement nor a phenomenon new to women. Such informal relationships have excluded women for centuries from participating in integrated groups of which they were a part. In any profession or organization these networks have created the "locker room" mentality and the "old school" ties which have effectively prevented women as a group (as well as some men individually) from having equal access to the sources of power or social reward. Much of the energy of past women's movements has been directed to having the structures of decision-making and the selection processes formalized so that the exclusion of women could be confronted directly. As we well know, these efforts have not prevented the informal male-only networks from discriminating against women, but they have made it more difficult.
Because elites are informal does not mean they are invisible. At any small group meeting anyone with a sharp eye and an acute ear can tell who is influencing whom. The members of a friendship group will relate more to each other than to other people. They listen more attentively, and interrupt less; they repeat each other's points and give in amiably; they tend to ignore or grapple with the "outs" whose approval is not necessary for making a decision. But it is necessary for the "outs" to stay on good terms with the "ins." Of course the lines are not as sharp as I have drawn them. They are nuances of interaction, not prewritten scripts. But they are discernible, and they do have their effect. Once one knows with whom it is important to check before a decision is made, and whose approval is the stamp of acceptance, one knows who is running things.
Since movement groups have made no concrete decisions about who shall exercise power within them, many different criteria are used around the country. Most criteria are along the lines of traditional female characteristics. For instance, in the early days of the movement, marriage was usually a prerequisite for participation in the informal elite. As women have been traditionally taught, married women relate primarily to each other, and look upon single women as too threatening to have as close friends. In many cities, this criterion was further refined to include only those women married to New Left men. This standard had more than tradition behind it, however, because New Left men often had access to resources needed by the movement -- such as mailing lists, printing presses, contacts, and information -- and women were used to getting what they needed through men rather than independently. As the movement has charged through time, marriage has become a less universal criterion for effective participation, but all informal elites establish standards by which only women who possess certain material or personal characteristics may join. They frequently include: middle-class background (despite all the rhetoric about relating to the working class); being married; not being married but living with someone; being or pretending to be a lesbian; being between the ages of twenty and thirty; being college educated or at least having some college background; being "hip"; not being too "hip"; holding a certain political line or identification as a "radical"; having children or at least liking them; not having children; having certain "feminine" personality characteristics such as being "nice"; dressing right (whether in the traditional style or the antitraditional style); etc. There are also some characteristics which will almost always tag one as a "deviant" who should not be related to. They include: being too old; working full time, particularly if one is actively committed to a "career"; not being "nice"; and being avowedly single (i.e., neither actively heterosexual nor homosexual).
Other criteria could be included, but they all have common themes. The characteristics prerequisite for participating in the informal elites of the movement, and thus for exercising power, concern one's background, personality, or allocation of time. They do not include one's competence, dedication to feminism, talents, or potential contribution to the movement. The former are the criteria one usually uses in determining one's friends. The latter are what any movement or organization has to use if it is going to be politically effective.
The criteria of participation may differ from group to group, but the means of becoming a member of the informal elite if one meets those criteria art pretty much the same. The only main difference depends on whether one is in a group from the beginning, or joins it after it has begun. If involved from the beginning it is important to have as many of one's personal friends as possible also join. If no one knows anyone else very well, then one must deliberately form friendships with a select number and establish the informal interaction patterns crucial to the creation of an informal structure. Once the informal patterns are formed they act to maintain themselves, and one of the most successful tactics of maintenance is to continuously recruit new people who "fit in." One joins such an elite much the same way one pledges a sorority. If perceived as a potential addition, one is "rushed" by the members of the informal structure and eventually either dropped or initiated. If the sorority is not politically aware enough to actively engage in this process itself it can be started by the outsider pretty much the same way one joins any private club. Find a sponsor, i.e., pick some member of the elite who appears to be well respected within it, and actively cultivate that person's friendship. Eventually, she will most likely bring you into the inner circle.

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