managingwithpowerIt hasn’t been long since I finished a book.  Went from a several month gap to a few weeks gap between reads.  There’s a good reason for that, this is without a doubt one of the most important business books I’ve read.  Actually check that, it’s one of the most important BIG business books I’ve read.

The reason I make the distinction is that “power” exists in all kinds of organizations, even the church book club, but it really matters in organizations of scale.  Not just business.  All organizations.  In fact, the book, written by Jeffrey Pfeffer (go check out his landing page, unintentional comedy, how DO you master that turning arms crossed glance?),  is a thorough explanation of power in all kinds of organizations…though it focuses mostly on business and the US government as practical examples.

First things first, what is power?  Most of us have a good idea of what it is in general, but for the purposes of this explanation, I’ll define it as “the ability to influence people and resources within an organization which alters the actions and therefore the output of the organization.”  Power has a tenuous reputation in the states, I can’t comment on other countries, but around the US many people really dislike the idea of having power, mostly because the misuse of power is highly newsworthy and the good use of power doesn’t often see the light of day.  But power in itself is neither good nor bad, it’s a concept much like money; it can be used for all kinds of things and it’s necessary to accomplish things.  You may be thinking that you don’t need power to accomplish things, but if you state any one person that achieved something worthwhile in the past beyond discovery (I’m thinking Einstein/Tesla, et. al.), they DID wield power.  Ghandi, Hitler, Columbus, Caesar, Mother Teresa, community leaders, presidents and union leaders.  Good, bad or otherwise, power was in play.

The book begins by looking at the importance of power and how it must be utilized to achieve much of anything in organizations and why it exists.  Power, as defined in the book, is actually a result of the interdependence of individuals and groups of people in an organization.  At lower levels of an organization where tasks are fairly straightforward and don’t require working with others, power is not nearly as obvious, or may be solely based on formal authoritative roles.  Yet as you go up the hierarchy of an organization, power becomes increasingly more obvious due to the complexity of tasks and the need to work with other people and functions to achieve what is often the same goal; in business this goal is higher profit.

The idea that we can have similar goals yet have different perspectives on how to achieve them is not a new one on this blog, so I won’t dive into it.  Yet that very differential in viewpoints is why power is such a crucial factor in organization achievement, when perspectives clash about where resources and direction of efforts should lead, who wins out?  The person(s) with power.  Even in organizations where there is a clear authority figure, the decision making process and information presented will lead to power struggle and eventual subjugation of certain party viewpoints.  That’s OK.  Seriously.  We have a tendency to act like power struggles are the end of the world, they’re not.  Life goes on.  Just a caveat.

The book then details multiple sources of power including direct authority over people, authority over information, control over analysis and the processes of making decisions.  There are multiple areas where power can be given, or the connotation of power can be announced nonverbally.  And what’s more, there are multiple ways of developing a powerful position from situations where there was seemingly little.

Next up is the way to influence and utilize power.  This aspect of the book seemed a bit unrealistic to me, the reason being that so many of the situations given were of very extraordinary circumstances.  It doesn’t make them illegitimate, but it does make them somewhat fuzzy in terms of real world value.  It covers off on tactics such as promoting people that will feel beholden to help you when situations requiring assistance arise, altering processes such that your power is more potent, grabbing hold of power where you can take it in an organization, etc.  The most important of these ideas, to me, is interpersonal influence…but I don’t believe you need to be in a position of power for this.

The book ends on a strong note.  It states that power itself is actually necessary for accomplishment within organizations.  Organizations need leaders who will push forward and attempt to accomplish things, hopefully great things.  Again, power itself is not good or bad, but it is necessary.

The idea of “power” was pretty ambiguous to me prior to working in a larger organization.  It was always there, but the amplification was not.  Power is very much a real force in our society and something that people who work in large organizations should really understand if they hope to do great work and accomplish large goals.  If you are at all curious about organizational dynamics and the impact of power, you need to read this book.