In the first installment of this series, we examined the interrelationships between power, authority, and influence, emphasizing the value that a systems view provides. Let's take a closer look now at the kinds of authority we find in organizations, beginning with kinds most often recognized as formal.
- Cognitive authority
- This term, coined by Patrick Wilson, denotes authority that influences thoughts that people consciously recognize as proper. It's specific to some particular field of knowledge. People usually confer it only upon someone whom they consider influential. In organizations, a common form of cognitive authority relates to the organization's mission and work. Since the organization's work usually factors into weakly interacting cells, its cognitive authority usually factors similarly.
- We're most comfortable citing cognitive authority. Even when we must yield to other kinds of authority, we sometimes seek cognitive authority to support our choices. We call this process "rationalization."
- Legal or regulatory authority
- Because laws and regulations can constrain everything we do, this form of cognitive authority deserves special attention. Since it is one of the few forms of cognitive authority that doesn't factor easily into cells, those who possess it usually work closely with those at the center of power.
- Ironically, legal authorities don't necessarily understand how to apply their authority in detail to the organization's work. Collaboration between legal experts and content experts is often necessary. The need for this collaboration is not always fully appreciated.
- Administrative authority
- Since this is the authority vested in an organizational position, it is sometimes (somewhat illegitimately) called "legitimate" authority. Administrative authority is thus founded on three relationships: that between the bearer of the authority and the organization; that between the organization and the conferrer; and that between the conferrer and the bearer.
- For some, being influenced by administrative authority is difficult, because it entails acknowledging one's own inferior station in the organization. On the other hand, to some, using administrative authority can also be difficult, because it can feel like saying, For some, being influenced by
administrative authority is
difficult, because it entails
acknowledging one's own
inferior station in
the organization"Because I said so." Thus, the exercise of administrative authority can be stressful to the relationship for both parties. This can lead both of them to seek the haven of cognitive authority, real or illusory.
- Resource authority
- This authority derives from control of inanimate resources, such as facilities, equipment, or finance. Although it's usually a form of administrative authority, resource authority is unique in that it excludes administrative authority over the people. Exercising resource authority as a means of influence entails, for example, the using rewards, rationing, withholding, bribing, granting, secreting, scheduling, and so on.
- Using resource authority can be constructive or destructive for relationships. It can be facilitative or coercive. And there are gray areas: people can assert authority over resources that aren't formally theirs to control. Resource authority can thus be fertile territory for political wrangling.
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More articles on Organizational Change:
- Look Before You Leap
- When we execute complex organizational change, we sometimes create disasters. It's ironic that even
in companies that test their products thoroughly, we rarely test organizational changes before we "roll
them out." We need systematic methods for discovering problems before we execute change efforts.
One approach that works well is the simulation.
- 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.
- Letting Go of the Status Quo: the Debate
- Before we can change, we must want to change, or at least accept that we must change. And somewhere
in there, we must let go of some part of what is now in place — the status quo. In organizations,
the decision to let go involves debate.
- Good Change, Bad Change: I
- Change is all around. Some changes are welcome and some not, but when we distinguish good change from
bad, we often get it wrong. Why?
- Good Change, Bad Change: II
- When we distinguish good change from bad, we often get it wrong: we favor things that would harm us,
and shun things that would help. When we do get it wrong, we're sometimes misled by social factors.
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- And on August 19: Motivated Reasoning: I
- When we prefer a certain outcome of a decision process, we risk falling into a pattern of motivated reasoning. That can cause us to gather data and construct arguments that lead to the outcome we prefer, often outside our awareness. And it can happen even when the outcome we prefer is known to threaten our safety and security. Available here and by RSS on August 19.
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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.
- Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?
Decision-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.