Yves Morieux and Peter Tollman

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Power is the possibility for one person to make a difference on issues—or stakes—that matter to someone else. Because A can make a difference on issues that matter to B, then B will do things that he or she would not have done without A’s intervention. Power always exists, one way or another, either helping or hindering good outcomes. It helps mobilize people, either directly or indirectly, toward a specific target or a goal. Look to the places in an organization where people are doing things that, if left to their own devices, they probably would not be doing. It is a sure bet that someone is exercising power over them.

Another way of putting it is that power comes from having control over uncertainties that are relevant to others and to the organization. The control of uncertainties determines the terms of exchange between the individual and the organization. The greater the uncertainties controlled by one actor for other organization members, the better that actor can negotiate his or her participation and the more he or she will get in return from the organization.

Power exists only in the relations between people; it is an imbalanced exchange of behaviors. Despite popular belief, power is not particularly related to an imbalance of information available to the parties. Instead, the asymmetry relates to the terms of exchange in a relationship: the reciprocal possibilities of action. The imbalance—thus, the power—comes from the fact that A can make a greater difference regarding stakes that matter to B than the reverse. On another issue or as the stakes change, though, B may have power over A. Power is an attribute neither of position nor of people’s personality traits. Rather, it stems from a relationship tied to a situation.

Power has significant implications for how behaviors adjust to each other. The people with the most power bear the least adjustment cost; those with the least power bear the most. The powerless will adjust their behavior to the powerful. Depending on how these behaviors adjust and combine with each other, the results will be more or less beneficial for performance. If what is ideal for the powerful deviates from the company’s overall goals, the power balance will not be beneficial to the company.

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