Organizations are envisioned to be lucid entities. For this reason, employees have clearly defined duties and accountability which are defined by norms of behavior, rules and regulations, and code of conduct. Nonetheless, this is an imagined perspective. In real practice, organizations rarely follow their own systems to the letter which results in politics and power play within. This is not a present day phenomena as it has been acknowledged over many centuries ago by Machiavelli in his works (the prince) and by Chanakya in his works (arthshastra). However, it appears that present day organizations have a tendency to establish a climate that propagates political maneuvering and power-seeking in almost each and every facet of organized life (Hellriegel & Slocum, 2007). Politics and power, despite being two varying concepts, are closely correlated and in real sense they complement each other. Power play and political realities within an organization enables one to get acquainted with the dynamics of organizational behavior.
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Power can be defined as some form of influence that an individual or a group has over another to yield to its demands. It is in part about inequalities, control and acquisition or ownership of resources in its different forms. It reveals the capability of individuals or groups to take advantage of disproportion that exist within a given organization to gain advantage, and therefore power over their opponents.
There are five major interpersonal avenues through which individuals can acquire or gain power including; reward power, referent power, legitimate power, coercive power and expert power. Leaders and other individual or groups use these avenues to gain power in different situations. Leaders employ some of these avenues, for gaining power ,to influence their followers by pleasing them by appealing to some of their needs. Power is appreciated if it is legitimized via, structures, organizational and social norms, and their explicit and implicit rules. The primary avenue through which power is acquired is by acquiring influential positions within an organization. A person with no position typically has no or little power. It is also worth noting that a position confer an individuals with capacity to control organizational resources. Power also dictates the way other members of the organization relate to those with it. It is worth noting that in the absence of legitimate power established by position, organizations cannot function; as it forms the basis for control and decision making.
On the other hand, politics is seen as an illegitimate use of power with the aim of self satisfaction. Politics circumnavigates the legitimate power dwells in organizations, and is therefore a means of getting power via other avenues, save for those prescribed by the organization, a good example is the use of hidden a agenda by organizational management. This is a regular demonstration of political behavior and is perceived as a means of manipulating those with the ability to give access to the power these managers are yearning for.
It is also worth noting that if organizations were to follow their own procedures and systems, regulations and rules, both in deed and spirit, the window for politics in organization would be closed for ever. However, in real life strict adherence to procures and rules is impossible and hence power play takes center stage. If power is not used in the right way within an organization, it will make way for politics. Consequently, politics and power are closely interrelated issues. Political maneuvers takes place to gain and use power, and therefore get the preferred results. According to Saiyadain (2003) Lasswell 1963 defined politics as “who gets what, when, and how”. This basic definition entails the maneuverability that take place during the distribution of essential resources. According to Pfeffer (1992) in Martin and Fellez (2009) politics refers to the study of power in the state of action. But, the most preferred definition of the term politics is the one put forward by Peterson and Farrell (1982). According to these two individuals, political behaviors in an organization “are those activities that are not considered as part of one’s formal role in the organization but influences or attempt to influence, the distribution of disadvantages and advantages within the organization” (Carter & Ulrich, 2005).
Political behavior may manifest through many forms. It may involve bypassing given chain of commands, spreading rumors, withholding information, lobbying , ‘fixing’ people leaking confidential information, protest, employing pressure tactics and even calling sick at a time critical decisions are meant to be made.
Various factors have been cited as the potential stimulators of political maneuvering in organizations. The most common ones being a given organization’s policies .e.g. some organizations have policies whose definition is ambiguous leaving some room for interpretation resulting in judgments, which may not be accepted by a section of individuals. Whereas, politics can occur both in complex and mundane situations, certain factors have been shown to be critical in causes of political behaviors in many organizations. These factors are commonly grouped into three categories: organizational, personality and organizational.
Leadership and power are two closely linked concepts. Leaders primarily focus on the downward influence on their juniors. The central question is how leadership style influences on use of power and which leadership style should be employed in a given situation. Different studies have shown that different power strategies correspond with different leadership strategies. Personalized relationship and dependency by subordinate has been related to leaders who are task-oriented and nurturing, while subordinate dependency has been shown to be related to authoritarian leadership (Carter & Ulrich, 2005). Employees respond in different ways when power is employed. High commitment has been shown to result from high identification with the supervisor. However, in most instances, use of power has been shown to result in detrimental consequences. Accordingly, managers of organizations have to make informed choices on when to or not to use a given form of power in order to get along with subordinate.
Proper use and allocation of organizational resources with leadership styles that involves the other employees in every aspect of decision making is very important in organizational success. If the senior management of any organization uses their power in the wrong way, the organization’s credibility could be place at risk. Good examples of such organizations whose credibility have been enhanced because of exemplary behaviors of their senior management include Cisco systems and Centre for Disease control in the United States of America.
Organization management and the leadership styles by any organization have a critical role to play in establishment of the necessary environment for the organization’s progress. For instance leaders in any organization have to show good example to their juniors if they expect the same from them. Organizational ethics are also very essential for organizational success.