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Organizational Behavior: Solutions for Management
Paul D. Sweeney, University of Central Florida
Dean B. McFarlin, University of Dayton

Power and Influence: Exercising Leadership and Practicing Politics

Chapter Objectives


Power refers to the leader’s potential capacity to influence others. To actually leverage their sources of power, however, leaders rely on influence tactics. To be successful as leaders, managers need to understand how to use their power and influence tactics effectively.


Personal power includes sources of potential influence that managers must develop on their own, such as expertise and referent power. Position power includes what the manager can legitimately ask others to do and the control over information that comes with a manager’s position in the organizational hierarchy. Control over rewards is also part of position power, as is control over punishments and control over the environment (which includes the physical layout, work organization, and work schedules).


When leveraging expertise, confidence and good communication skills are very important. To tap referent power, a leader must model appropriate behaviors. Recognize that: 1) the exercise of legitimate authority may tap sensitivities about power and status differences; and 2) the impact of rewards tends to be overestimated by managers.


The choice of influence tactics depends on who the target person is (superior, subordinate, or peer), what power sources are available, whether the manager is making an initial influence attempt or trying to follow up, whether there is a likelihood of resistance, and what influence norms are commonly used in the organization. In general, inspirational appeals and consultation are influence tactics that work well. However, their effectiveness depends on the target to some extent. Rational persuasion also works pretty well and is used frequently, especially with superiors.


Organizational politics involves the use of power and influence for personal gain. Personalities, stage of organizational development, scarce resources, and ambiguous circumstances are all factors that determine the likelihood of political behavior in a firm. Political behavior becomes problematic if the rights or needs of others are abused or if organizational goals are undercut.


Political tactics include scapegoating, manipulating information, as well as a variety of positive and negative image management tactics. The effective management of politics involves confronting destructive behavior, building an open culture, developing clear expectations/procedures, and role modeling appropriate behaviors. On the positive side, managerial careers often involve a political seasoning process that can prove to be a very helpful learning experience - one that is important for success and effectiveness.