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.
- Comfortable Ignorance
- When we suddenly realize that what we've believed is wrong, or that what we've been doing won't work,
our fear and discomfort can cause us to persevere in our illusions. If we can get better at accepting
reality and dealing with it, we can make faster progress toward real achievement.
- Obstacles to Finding the Reasons Why
- When we investigate what went wrong, we sometimes encounter obstacles. Interviewing witnesses and participants
doesn't always uncover the reasons why. What are these obstacles?
- 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?
- Motivation and the Reification Error
- We commit the reification error when we assume, incorrectly, that we can treat abstract constructs as
if they were real objects. It's a common error when we try to motivate people.
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- When things go wildly wrong, someone is usually designated to investigate and assess the probability of further trouble. That role can be risky. Here are three guidelines for protecting yourself if that role falls to you. Available here and by RSS on August 29.
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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.