Much has been written about Power, Authority, and Influence, and a lot of it has landed on the Web. Google reports 976 million hits. Impressive, but to keep things in perspective, how to find a woman get 4.19 billion hits, and how to find a man gets 8.1 billion. Evidently, we care about Power, Authority, and Influence, but not as much as some other things.
I haven't looked at all 976 million pages yet, but I'm a little troubled by what I've found so far. Given our interest, one might expect that we'd have a clearer understanding of Power, Authority, and Influence, and their interrelationship, than we do.
True, what I found is a good beginning, but it's only a beginning. It ignores an important reality of human systems: human systems are systems. Any definitions of Power, Authority, and Influence in human systems must take into account the web of interrelationships of the human members of that system. Our understanding of Power, Authority, and Influence must encompass the idea that everyone affects everyone.
Let's look at these three concepts one by one. For each one, I'll give the conventional definition — the one I found over and over again in my unscientific survey — and then take a look at a systems view of the same concept.
- Conventionally, to influence people is to change the opinions or behavior of others.
- From a systems Any definitions of Power, Authority,
and Influence in human systems
must take into account the web
of interrelationships of the human
members of that systemview, influencers do not change opinions or behavior. Influencers provide a nudge, a catalyst, or a force that people use to change themselves. When influencers engage in this way with the influenced, they are in turn influenced themselves.
- Conventionally, Power is the ability of an influencer — a person or group or institution — to change people, by some means or other.
- To believe that influencers do the changing is to ascribe more power to them than they actually have. Influencers say or do, but the people they influence are the ones who actually do the changing. Two powers are needed: the power to influence and the power to change. The power that actually matters is thus an attribute of the system, rather than an attribute of influencers.
- Conventionally, Authority is legitimate Power — some say "legitimized" Power.
- Authority need not be "legitimate." Rather, authority is something conferred, voluntarily or under duress, on an influencer or would-be influencer by the person or people the influencer wants to influence. Because it's conferred on the influencer by the influenced, both parties are involved. Authority, too, is an attribute of the system.
When we assess the effectiveness of attempts to influence, the legitimacy of authority matters less than the precise kind of authority that the influenced have conferred on the influencer. A catalog of the kinds of authority will be our topic in two weeks. Next in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Organizational Change:
- Now We're in Chaos
- Among models of Change, the Satir Change Model has been especially useful for me. It describes how people
and systems respond to change, and handles well situations like the one that affected us all on September
- He's No Longer Here
- Sometimes we adopt inappropriate technologies, or we deploy unworkable processes, largely because of
the political power of their advocates, and despite widespread doubts about the wisdom of the moves.
Strangely, though, the decisions often stick long after the advocates move on. Why? And what can we
do about it?
- When Fear Takes Hold
- Leading an organization through a rough patch, we sometimes devise solutions that are elegant, but counterintuitive
or difficult to explain. Even when they would almost certainly work, a simpler fix might be more effective.
- When Change Is Hard: II
- When organizational change is difficult, we sometimes blame poor leadership or "resistance."
But even when we believe we have good leadership and the most cooperative populations, we can still
encounter trouble. Why is change so hard so often?
- Deciding to Change: Choosing
- When organizations decide to change what they do, the change sometimes requires that they change how
they make decisions, too. That part of the change is sometimes overlooked, in part, because it affects
most the people who make decisions. What can we do about this?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
- And on December 25: Disjoint Awareness
- In collaborations, awareness of how our own work might interfere with the work of others is essential. Unless our awareness of others' work — and their awareness of ours — matches reality, the collaboration's objective is at risk. Available here and by RSS on December 25.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.