Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Organisational Behaviour Lecture Series – Part 12 – How Power Affects Behaviour

Organisational Behaviour Lecture Series – Part 12 – How Power Affects Behaviour


Like all resources, power is susceptible to misuse.

Power corrupts, and to quote Lord Acton: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

Let us see, in the organisational scenario, what power does to people and discuss the process by which managers may get corrupted by the acquisition of power.

This process of corruption due to power is a four-stage process and the sequence seems to be quite consistent:


After you acquire power, especially position power, say after a promotion to a senior position like CEO, first, there is surprise at how quickly erstwhile peers or equals change their behaviour towards you. There is a distancing process. You can no longer be “one of the boys”. Your privileges increase – after all Rank has its Privileges.


The second phase is a feeling of excitement, of recognition that when you, as the new leader, use your power to make a decision, your decision is both sought after and gratefully received. This develops into strong feelings of self-worth and you have a feeling of doing something worthwhile. You have a feeling of importance owing to the satisfaction of the inner need for significance.


The third phase is the one most likely to begin the process of corruption. It is feeling of potency. You, as a powerbroker, start to understand how much power and concomitant resources you can employ in order to amplify your own person, role and achievements. There is an accompanying feeling of isolation. The “leader”, possessing power, becomes inexorably drawn away from the subject (follower or victim) of his power and is tempted to feel bigger for it.

In the final phase, there is a split. In this stage, persons possessing power behave in two distinct ways.

On one side are those prudent managers or leaders who begin to realise the negative aspects of power. They sense the reactions of their subordinates and peers in the organisation to the power equations and they evaluate the situation and respond in a positive manner by appropriate delegation of power and empowerment of subordinates.

The unequivocal others begin to believe that power is something that they can now command because of who they are. They take their power for granted and begin to believe that their own identities are of prime importance to those they lead (followers). They create defences against potential attack. They surround themselves with reinforcements (siege mentality). Finally, like Nero, Hitler and many other tyrants and totalitarian rulers, autocrats, depots and dictators, they prefer illusions of their own glory to the reality of their impending end. In extremis, all those who hold on to power risk turning into paranoids and megalomaniacs like the ones we read about in history books, including the corporate world.


The advent of the information age and knowledge worker and fast changing business environment owing to proliferation of information technology and implementation of modern management practices and consequent dynamic changes in traditional power equations necessitate an understanding of the different kinds of power relationships in organisational situations and their impact on organisational behaviour. It is, indeed, vital to recognise that power is a key resource which must be prudently managed so as to minimise power conflict for the good of the individuals involved and the organisation to which they belong.

I will end with another quote from Lord Acton:

And remember, where you have a concentration of power in a few hands, all too frequently men with the mentality of gangsters get control. History has proven that. All power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Lord Acton

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2011 
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
© vikram karve., all rights reserved. 

VIKRAM KARVE educated at IIT Delhi, ITBHU Varanasi, The Lawrence School Lovedale, and Bishop's School Pune, is an Electronics and Communications Engineer by profession, a Human Resource Manager and Trainer by occupation, a Teacher by vocation, a Creative Writer by inclination and a Foodie by passion. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories and creative non-fiction articles in magazines and journals for many years before the advent of blogging. His delicious foodie blogs have been compiled in a book "Appetite for a Stroll". A collection of his short stories about relationships titled COCKTAIL has been published and Vikram is currently busy writing his first novel and with his teaching and training assignments. Vikram lives in Pune with his family and his muse – his pet DobermanX girl Sherry, with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts.

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