[p2p-research] The Workplace Power That’s Not on Any Chart - NYTimes.com
Paul D. Fernhout
pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Mon Aug 17 03:15:27 CEST 2009
This seemed to be somewhat relevant to p2p aspects even within formal
organizations, touching on interesting research aspects of peer-to-peer systems:
"The Authority That’s Not on Any Chart" by Daniel Sorid
No one likes a power grabber, but there’s nothing inherently obnoxious
about building and applying authority to help your company or organization
achieve its goals.
Executive assistants and secretaries can wield much power, if not to the
extremes shown in the film "9 to 5."
Good employees with good ideas almost always face antagonism from
entrenched interests. In these cases, one needs power to prevail in the
inevitable political battle. But formal authority — the kind that shows up
in organizational charts — doesn’t always work with peers or superiors, and
it generates stiff resistance when used nakedly or illegitimately.
Sometimes, informal power can be much more effective, and it doesn’t have
to follow a hierarchy. Such influence can be exercised, say, by an executive
assistant who controls a vice president’s calendar, or by a midlevel manager
who trumpets her team’s outstanding sales record — but leaves out its
soaring costs — when seeking a budget increase.
Eric Abrahamson, a management professor at Columbia Business School,
teaches a course called Power and Influence, where I learned to identify
sources of informal power.
The simplest to spot is the power of personal characteristics, which is
more than just charisma. Just as some individuals appreciate certain traits,
like kindness or empathy, organizations also value personality types.
Another source of power that transcends the traditional hierarchy is
control over resources. This exists when someone has the discretion to
withhold an important resource — whether something tangible, like a
signature on an expense form, or intangible, like access to a senior
executive or information about how to use a piece of software. Executive
assistants, benefits managers and others can have immense powers of resource
An equally effectual power base involves control of a different kind,
over the premises of a decision. Just because you don’t have the power to
make a decision doesn’t mean you can’t steer its outcome. A savvy employee
knows how to order, emphasize and withhold information when making a
presentation. Some meeting organizers, for example, place controversial
issues at the end of a long meeting, when everyone is too exhausted to put
up a fight.
In 1959, two social psychologists — Bertram Raven and John French — laid
out an authoritative taxonomy of power in society, which remains the basis
of the field today. Among their discoveries was that attempts to influence
others work best when perceived as legitimate. One source of legitimacy is
reciprocity, the nagging sense of obligation felt when someone does you a favor.
This “favor bank” mentality is the root of another informal base of
power: alliances. Whether between peers or a mentor and mentee, alliances
involve an exchange of support or resources that can be banked, owed or
redeemed. Effective power brokers build alliances all around an
organization, so they can withdraw support if needed or build a reputation
for being able to do so. ...
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