Strategic Leadership and Decision Making

17

LEVERAGING

POWER AND POLITICS

The challenges faced by strategic leaders in implementing complex and long-range consequential decisions demand that they be sophisticated with respect to issues of leadership, power and influence. The changes that are shaping the nature of work in today's complex organizations require that we develop the political will, expertise and personal skills to become more flexible, innovative and adaptive. Without political awareness and skill, we face the inevitable prospect of becoming immersed in bureaucratic infighting, parochial politics and destructive power struggles, which greatly retard organizational initiative, innovation, morale and performance (Kotter 1985)

Making organizations more innovative, responsive and responsible requires focusing on a number of leadership, power and influence issues. These issues are critical in coping with the strategic environment with all its VUCA characteristics, and strategic leader performance requirements in that environment. The issues influence developing teams at the strategic level, as well as managing organizational processes linked to values and ethics, organizational culture, visioning and the management of change. Such issues include:

This chapter will not by itself change your view or way of acquiring power and effectively exercising influence. It does provide an opportunity to think differently about power, politics and influence, and it can refocus your attention on organizational issues and problems. For strategic leaders in most organizations the key to successfully implementing organizational change and improving long term performance rests with the leader's skill in knowing how to make power dynamics work for the organization, instead of against it.

POWER IN ORGANIZATIONS

THE CONCEPTS OF POWER AND ORGANIZATIONAL POLITICS John Gardner, writing about leadership and power in organizations, notes, "Of course leaders are preoccupied with power! The significant questions are: What means do they use to gain it? How much do they exercise it?" To what ends do they exercise it? He further states, "Power is the basic energy needed to initiate and sustain action or, to put it another way, the capacity to translate intention into reality and sustain it." In a similar vein, Richard Nixon wrote, "The great leader needs . . . the capacity to achieve. . . . Power is the opportunity to build, to create, to nudge history in a different direction." Dahl writing about the pervasiveness of the concept of power states, "The concept of power is as ancient and ubiquitous as any that social theory can boast." He defined power "as a relation among social actors in which one actor A, can get another social actor B, to do something that B would not otherwise have done." Hence, power is recognized as "the ability of those who possess power to bring about the outcomes they desire" (Salancik and Pfeffer 1977).

The concept of organizational politics can be linked to Harold Lasswell's (1936) definition of politics as who gets what, when and how. If power involves the employment of stored influence by which events, ac- tions and behaviors are affected, then politics involves the exercise of power to get something done, as well as to enhance and protect the vested interests of individuals or groups. Thus, the use of organizational politics suggests that political activity is used to overcome resistance and implies a conscious effort to organize activity to challenge opposition in a priority decision situation. The preceding discussion indicates that the concepts of power and organizational politics are related. Thus, in this chapter, we define organizational politics as the use of power, with power viewed as a source of potential energy to manage relationships.

THE POLITICAL FRAME As discussed earlier, Bolman and Deal describe four "frames" for viewing the world: structural, human resources, political, and symbolic. The political frame is an excellent tool for examining the concept of organizational politics and makes a number of assumptions about organizations and what motivates both their actions and the actions of their decision makers.

 

The five propositions of the political frame do not attribute organizational politics to negative, dysfunctional or aggrandizing behavior. They assert that organization diversity, interdependence, resource scarcity, and power dynamics will inevitably generate political forces, regardless of the players. Organizational politics cannot be eliminated or fantasized away. Leaders, however, with a healthy power motive can learn to understand and manage political processes.

POWER AS A MOTIVE . Power is attractive because it confers the ability to influence decisions, about who gets what resources, what goals are pursued, what philosophy the organization adopts, what actions are taken, who succeeds and who fails. Power also gives a sense of control over outcomes, and may in fact convey such enhanced control. Particularly as decision issues become more complex and outcomes become more uncertain, power becomes more attractive as a tool for reducing uncertainty.

Power and the ability to use it are essential to effective leadership. Strategic leaders who are uncomfortable with either the presence of great power in others or its use by themselves are probably going to fail their organizations at some point. The critical issue is why the leader seeks power and how it is used. Some see power as a tool to enhance their ability to facilitate the work of their organizations and groups. Others value power for its own sake, and exercise power for the personal satisfaction it brings. There can be good and bad in both cases. However, the leader who uses power in the service of his/her organization is using power in the most constructive sense. The leader who seeks power for its own sake and for personal satisfaction is at a level of personal maturity that will compromise his/her ethical position, risk his/her organization's effectiveness, and perhaps even jeopardize the long-term viability of the organization(Jacobs 1996).

Power competition exists at two levels. Individuals compete for power within agencies and organizations; agencies and organizations compete for power within the broader governmental context. The mechanics of power competition are much the same. In both cases, power accrues when an individual or an organization achieves control of a scarce commodity that others need. And in both cases, the operations are essentially political. Even when compelling physical force is the means, the mechanism is political. The scarce commodity is the means of inflicting harm on others. So dictators, by hook or by crook, gain a monopoly on the means for inflicting harm on others. During the course of the Cold War, the massive build-up of armaments was aimed at maintaining a "balance of forces" so as to prevent intimidation by either side. Even after Glasnost, the level of armaments on both sides was carefully negotiated so as to preclude imbalance that might tempt one side or the other toward risky moves.

Power competition within an organization or agency is generally for resources- personnel spaces or funding, or both, in governmental agencies. And the basis for the competition can be constructive as well as destructive. If the top-level leadership is wise and capable, the basis for competition can be defined as meritorious performance of either individual or group. In that case, performance becomes the basis for determining who accumulates power. The process is still political, but it is also constructive because the organization as a whole benefits.

So, the political process can be either destructive or constructive, depending on the resource to be accumulated, the means by which the competitors seek to accumulate it, and the value that accrues to all competitors by virtue of the competition. (Of course, competition based on performance, if conducted at such an extreme that human values or key norms governing competition are violated, may substantially hurt the organization in the long term).

However, internal politics can also be detrimental in ways not readily apparent. Sub-units within agencies may develop objectives and goals at odds with those of the agency. For example, a given "desk" owes its stature in its own agency to the constituency needs it serves. An extremely important constituency is the nation it represents within its own agency and with which it deals. The "desk" therefore may find it valuable to promote the needs of that constituency over the needs of the agency by "selling" important positions or programs that benefit the constituency-thereby unwittingly becoming co-opted and increasingly vulnerable to manipulation by that constituency.

Organizations also play a political game. Organizations seek influence. Influence increases autonomy (freedom to control own assets); organizational morale (the ability to maintain cohesion and effectiveness); essence (sanctity of essential tasks and functions); roles and missions (exclusion of options that would challenge these); and budgets (increased roles and missions will always favor larger budgets) (Jefferies).

To increase their own influence, agencies in government and other organizations will provide information, recommend options, and execute directives in ways that enhance their own self interest. Jefferies illustrates with the decision to send a U-2 reconnaissance aircraft to overfly the Cuban missile sites. The decision to send the U-2 was actually made 10 days before the flight occurred, but the implementation was delayed by the CIA-USAF struggle for the mission. The CIA defined the mission as intelligence gathering and advanced the argument that it had a better U-2 than did the USAF. The USAF was concerned that the pilot be in uniform to avoid repetition of the Gary Powers crisis if the aircraft was shot down. (The total mission delay came from five days to make the decision and five days to train an Air Force pilot to fly CIA U-2s.)

Because key leaders who form the centralized circle at the top of the policy making apparatus have different viewpoints, particularly with something as uncertain as strategic policy, they are obligated to fight for what they consider right. Thus, decision making is not a unitary process, but also "a process of individuals in politics reacting to their own perceptions of national, organizational, and personal goals" (Jefferies 1992). Because the scope and scale are too great for one person to master, the president must persuade in order to develop the consensus required for broad support of decision outcomes. (Those who wind up executing must be product champions for these decisions, or they are not likely to implement them.) The president is also open to persuasion, because the various branches or agencies may also build power bases outside government or outside the executive branch.

While our focus has been on establishing a legitimate context for understanding organizational politics, a countervailing view to the political frame is the rational frame of organizational decision making

THE RATIONAL FRAME. By definition, rational processes are different from political processes. Rational decisions rest heavily on analytic process. An analytic process can be defined as one in which there are agreed-upon methods for generating alternative solutions to problems, and for assigning values to the benefits and costs expected from each of the alternatives. And sophisticated computational methods are readily available for calculating benefits/costs ratios once these values are assigned. The essence of rational process is the belief that, "All good persons, given the same information, will come to the same conclusion." Those seeking to employ the rational process to the exclusion of political process thus seek open communication, perhaps through more than just formal (vertical) organizational channels.

The rapid expansion of electronic mail systems that permits anyone in an organization to address anyone else probably rests on a rationality premise-that transcending organizational channels by allowing all members to address directly even the highest official will give that official more complete information and thus enable higher quality decisions. This is very difficult for some people to understand especially those with narcissistic power needs and maturity issues. There is also a trust assumption: that members can be trusted not to abuse the privilege and that high officials will not misuse the information. A political process would view valuable information as a commodity to be traded for influence (Jacobs).

There is another important difference between rational and political views of appropriate operations both within and between organizations. The political frame does not depend on trust between persons. In the preceding example, both trust assumptions would be discounted as unrealistic. Trust in the probable future actions of coalition members is based on perception of gain to be expected from not violating agreements on which a coalition is based, for example. The intrinsic morality of being trustworthy is not particularly useful as a concept.

Trust probably is not particularly a part of the rational frame, either, except that a strong rationalist believes in and trusts the logic of the process by which information is converted into decision outcomes. So a strong rationalist will trust others to be similarly logical. This leads to important postulates about rational communication within a system. For a rationalist, systems are information-consuming engines. Particularly at the strategic level, the unimpeded flow of information is crucial to the health of the system as a whole. However, politics and power dynamics strongly influence communication processes. To the extent organizations and the people in them are motivated by political gain and power dynamics, rational processes are inevitably shortchanged.

POWER DYNAMICS AND THE RATIONAL FRAME.

The National Security Strategy apparatus exists to support the formulation of policy and implementing strategy and thus presidential decision making. George writes insightfully about both the demands of these processes, and obstacles to their effective operation-particularly those attributable to bureaucratic politics. He comments that political scientists of an earlier generation "were intrigued by the possibility that an overburdened executive might be able to divide his overall responsibilities into a set of more manageable subtasks to be assigned to specialized units of the organization. It was hoped and expected that division of labor and specialization within the organization, coupled with central direction and coordination, would enable the modern executive to achieve the ideal of 'rationality' in policy making." He goes on to say that this hope has not been realized because: Some problems of large scale are not amenable to fragmentation.

As an example, the task of central coordination and direction of foreign policy making has gotten steadily worse as the range, complexity, and scope of foreign policy problems has increased. The distinction between foreign and domestic policy has also eroded. George illustrates by noting that the deployment of US troops in Europe has implications for defense posture (DOD), balance of payments (Treasury), and U.S. relations with foreign nations (State). Such problems must be approached from a broader, holistic viewpoint, and there must be interaction among representatives of agencies with diverse viewpoints. This is prevented, however, by power competition within organizations, and between organizations and agencies within the government. As Jefferies puts it, individuals play politics within organizations, and organizations play the political game within the broader context.

Rationalist guidelines for good policy making would include something like the following (George): get all the information needed for incisive and valid diagnosis of the proble/situation; identify all dimensions of value complexity so there can be balanced consideration of value priorities; identify a broad range of alternatives, considering uncertainties; take into account the policy implementation factor; and arrange for feedback information. In a politicized structure, the dynamics of organizational politics impacts all of these by giving a "win-lose" flavor to information-giving and position advancement. Thus, mixing organizational politics with a rational decision making process will likely lead to the following consequences:

As George points out, while the rational frame to organizational decision making may be highly desirable to most decision makers, it is not immune to political influences. The fact is there are politics involved in innovation and change and suc- cessful strategic leaders must be effective politicians. The higher one goes in organizations, the more use of organizational politics becomes an important social process; politics are often required to get important decisions implemented in complex systems (Pfeffer).

NATURE OF STRATEGIC LEADER POWER

A number of authors writing in Strivastva's Executive Power (1992) argue that power at the strategic organization level is manifested and executed through three fundamental elements: consensus, cooperation, and culture.

"An organization is high in consensus potential when it has the capacity to synthesize the commitment of multiple constituencies and stakeholders in response to specific challenges and aspirations." In this area, strategic leader power is derived from the management of ideas, the management of agreement, and the management of group and team decision making processes.

"Cooperative potential refers to an organization's capacity to catalyze cooperative interaction among individuals and groups." Power is employed by a strategic leader in the management of organization structures, task designs, resource allocation, and reward systems that support and encourage this behavior.

"Cultural/spiritual potential refers to a sense of timeless destiny about the organization, its role in its own area of endeavor as well as its larger role in its service to society." Strategic leaders use power in this area to manage and institutionalize organizational symbols, beliefs, myths, ideals and values. Their strategic aim is to create a strong culture that connects the destiny of the organization to the personal goals and aspirations of its members.

Jacobs' seminal work of general officer job requirements can be linked to the above conceptual requirements for successfully acquiring and managing strategic leader power potential. His study of the work environment of general officers provides a context for looking at strategic performance requirements. He found three job demands consistently reported by the survey respondents. They were long-term vision, consensus building, and command team building.

Although the road to power is open to those who wish to travel it, not all will distinguish themselves as master practitioners. What skills and attributes distinguish those strategic leaders who use power effectively from those who do not?

INDIVIDUAL SKILLS AND ATTRIBUTES AS SOURCES OF POWER

Pfeffer's (1992) research and observations emphasize the following characteristics as being especially important for acquiring and maintaining strategic power bases:

The skills and attributes identified in the ICAF Strategic Leader Development Inventory are relevant not only to the work of strategic leaders but may contribute to the their overall capacity to acquire and use power effectively. These skills and attributes are grouped as conceptual skills and attributes and positive attributes.

CONCEPTUAL SKILLS AND ATTRIBUTES.

POSITIVE ATTRIBUTES.

Understanding the character of strategic leader power and the requisite personal attributes and skills sets the stage for employing power effectively. We need to know more than the conceptual elements that constitute power in organizations at the strategic level. But, we need to know the strategies of how to use power effectively and to get things done.

LEADING WITH POWER

The acquisition and use of strategic leader power involves managing a sequential process that is described below:

1. The first task is to decide what it is the leader is trying to achieve that necessitates the use of power.

2. With the goal in mind, the leader must assess the patterns of dependence and interdependence among the key players and determine to what extent he or she will be successful in influencing their behavior. It is critical that the leader develop power and influence when the key players have expressed a differing point of view. It is important to remember there is more interdependence at the strategic level of the organization where task accomplishment is more complex.

3. Getting things done means the leader should "draw" a political map of the terrain that shows the relative power of the various players to fully understand the patterns of dependence and interdependence. This involves mapping the critical organization units and sub-units and assessing their power bases. This step is very important because a leader needs to

determine how much power these units have to leverage influence either in support or opposition to their effort. For example, if a leader is proposing to introduce a consensus team decision making process in a joint interdependent environment, this implementation decision could change power relationships among the players. In this case, the leader needs to know the opposing players and the depth of their power bases. This move will likely require the mobilization of allies and the neutralization of resisters.

4. Developing multiple power bases is a process connected to those personal attributes and skills previously discussed and to structural sources of power. Structural sources of power comes from the leader's creation and control over resources, location in communication and information networks, interpersonal connections with influential others, reputation for being powerful, allies or supporters, and the importance of leading the "right" organization.

6. Recognizing the need for multiple power bases and developing them is not enough. The strategic leader must have an arsenal of influence strategies and tactics that convert power and influence into concrete and visible results. Research on strategies and tactics for employing power effectively suggests the following range of influence tactics: (Allen, 1979, Bennis and Nanus, 1985, Blau, 1964, Kotter, 1985, 1978, Pfeffer, 1992, 1981, Salancik and Pfeffer, 1977)

This chapter has addressed what strategies and tactics are required for leading with power at the highest organizational level. In a micro context, it is about managing power, which translates as being personally effective in knowing how to get things done and having the political will to do so. At a macro level, it means coping effectively with the strategic environment and dealing with innovation and organizational change.

HOW POWER IS LOST

In a general sense power is lost because organizations change and leaders don't. Organizational dynamics create complex conditions and different decision situations that require innovative and creative approaches, new skill sets and new dependent and interdependent relationships. Leaders who have learned to do things a specific way become committed to predictable choices and decision actions. They remain bonded and loyal to highly developed social networks and friendships, failing to recognize the need for change, let alone allocating the political will to accomplish it. Ultimately, power may be lost because of negative personal attributes that diminish a leader's capacity to lead with power effectively. The SLDI identifies a number of negative attributes that when linked to certain organizational dynamics will generate potential loss of power:

CONCLUSIONS

What are the key learning points in this chapter and what are the practical implications for strategic leaders and decision makers. Pfeffer has described learning about power most succinctly: "it is one thing to understand power--how to diagnose it, what are its sources, what are the strategies and tactics for its use, and how it is lost. It is quite another thing to use that knowledge in the world at large...In corporations, public agencies, universities, and government, the problem is how to get things done, how to move forward, how to solve the many problems facing organizations of all sizes and types. Developing and exercising power require having both will and skill. It is the will that often seems to be missing."

Leveraging Power and Politics in Strategic Decision Making:

Practical Implications

1. POWER IS NOT AMERICA'S LAST DIRTY WORD. THE EXISTENCE OF ORGANIZATIONAL POLITICS IS A REALITY TO MOST ORGANIZATIONS AND SUCCESSFUL STRATEGIC LEADERS MUST BE GOOD POLITICIANS.

2. IN LARGE, COMPLEX ORGANIZATIONS WITH MORE CENTRALIZED CONTROL AND INSTITUTIONALIZED POWER, THE SKILLS OF USING POWER AND INFLUENCE ARE CRITICAL TO GETTING CHANGE ACCOMPLISHED.

3. IT IS CRITICAL TO RECOGNIZE THAT IN ALMOST EVERY ORGANIZATION, THERE ARE CLUSTERS OF INTERESTS, AND LEADERS NEED TO UNDERSTAND WHERE THEY ARE LOCATED AND WHAT ISSUES ARE OF CONCERN TO THEM.

4. LEADING AND MANAGING WITH POWER TAKES TIME, ENERGY AND EFFORT.

5. INNOVATION AND ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGE ALMOST INEVITABLY THREATENS THE STATUS QUO. CONSEQUENTLY, IMPLEMENTING NEW IDEAS REQUIRES DEVELOPING POLITICAL WILL AND THE SKILLFUL USE OF POWER AND INFLUENCE.

6. ORGANIZATIONAL CHANGE FREQUENTLY CREATES ORGANIZATIONAL ALIGNMENTS THAT CAUSE THOSE IN POWER TO LOSE THAT POWER.

7. EMPLOYING POWER AND INFLUENCE TACTICS AT THE STRATEGIC LEVEL IS MORE ABOUT METHOD AND PROCESS THAN EXERCISING FORMAL AUTHORITY.

8. THE USE OF POWER GOES BEYOND EXERCISING FORMAL AUTHORITY. IT REQUIRES BUILDING AND MAINTAINING A REPUTATION FOR BEING EFFECTIVE AND IT NECESSITATES THE SKILL IN GETTING THINGS DONE.

9. IT IS IMPORTANT TO BE ABLE TO RECOGNIZE AND ASSESS THE ORGANIZATION CONTEXT OF POWER IF IDEAS AND PLANS ARE TO BE IMPLEMENTED EFFECTIVELY.

10. TO BE EFFECTIVE IN THE IMPLEMENTATION PROCESS, IT IS CRITICAL TO KNOW HOW TO DEVELOP SOURCES OF POWER AND HOW TO EMPLOY THAT POWER STRATEGICALLY AND TACTICALLY.

11. IT'S IMPORTANT TO DETERMINE WHETHER THE MOST CRITICAL SOURCES OF POWER ARE PERSONAL ATTRIBUTES OR LOCATION IN THE ORGANIZATION.

12. IN EVALUATING PERSONAL ATTRIBUTES AS EFFECTIVE SOURCES OF POWER, THE KEY QUESTION IS NOT WHETHER THEY ARE ATTRACTIVE OR UNATTRACTIVE, BUT WHETHER THEY ARE USEFUL.

13. IT IS IMPORTANT TO HAVE MULTIPLE BASES OF POWER TO TRANSLATE INFLUENCE TACTICS INTO CONCRETE RESULTS.

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