- Kim, Sara A New Focus in Healthcare Conflict Research Journal of Community and Public Health Nursing Volume 3, Issue 4, 2017
- Baker, Neil Flattened Hierarchy = Increased Empowerment?
- Liu, Eric You’re More Powerful Than You Think: a citizen’s guide to making change happen Public Affairs 2017
(text of video)
The true nature of power
Also, in my experience, power in organizations is predominantly seen as top-down and controlling. Due to this negative view, guidance emphasizes countering as opposed to harnessing power. For example, a common recommendation is to eliminate layers of leadership—also called “flattening the hierarchy.” But, such structural solutions too frequently hurt morale and productivity. (2)
Recently, I discovered the work of Eric Liu, an activist who writes about similar experiences in the civic arena. He observes that illiteracy about power is widespread in our society because it is seen as inherently bad or evil or Machiavellian. So, it is uncomfortable to talk about power. (3)
Negative views of power are completely understandable. Power has been and will always be used for bad and evil purposes. But, as Liu states, the true nature of power is neither good or bad. It just is. Its impact depends on clarity about the type of power we use and our intended purpose.
Two important types of power in organizations
In organizations, two types are particularly important--Relational Power and Positional Power. All of us have Relational Power. For positive impact, it means getting involved to influence others toward collaboratively defined goals and solutions. Strong evidence links collaboration to better results.
Paradoxically, Positional Power, the authority to make decisions about direction and expectations, is necessary to foster aligned actions through Relational Power. For positive impact, decisions must be primarily participatory which means assuring the opportunity to give input and problem-solve concerns.
The risks of power
Psychological studies show that having power puts us all at risk for expressing it in negative ways. Especially under stress, Relational Power can quickly shift from collaboration to win-lose debates. Positional Power can quickly shift from participatory decisions to top-down directives. Sustaining positive power requires strength of purpose and constant vigilance.
At times, all of us think of power negatively. Staying negative evokes powerlessness. Seeking power literacy enables effective action with integrity.