[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. ...

--Paul Fernhout

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