A Shift In Organizational Power

by Jay Deragon on 07/03/2012

It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.

Organizational power has traditionally been contained to the few with the many expected to follow the rules set by the rulers. Power is different than influence yet influence can be used to gain power. Power can also be used to influence people and outcomes.

Power is largely independent of intelligence (emotional or otherwise) and job performance. All of us know individuals who are brilliant but who punch below their weight when it comes to office politics. Conversely, we all know dim bulbs who’ve somehow found their way to the top of the tree. Cunning power players can even slough off failure. Think, for example, of all those executive vice presidents and board members who dithered while the banking system burned and yet managed to hold on to their positions, or even grab better ones in the wake of the collapse. It’s not that IQ and value-added aren’t important; it’s just that they haven’t always been the path to power.

A Shift In Organizational Power

Organizational structures of the past created top down power structures that are out of alignment with today’s workforce and the dynamics of modern markets. Social media are fueling rapid changes that are creating power shifts within and around organizations.  The dynamics of these shift reflect a move from power structure to structures of influence. There is a significant difference between organizations whose structure is built around power vs. those built around influence.

Richard McKeownprovides a clear contrast between power and influence.  Let’s take a look at those distinctions and consider which organizational structure is likely to produce lasting results.

  1. Power is positional. Influence is personal.
  2. Power is wielded. Influence is granted.
  3. Power pushes. Influence persuades.
  4. Power is resented. Influence is respected.
  5. Power expires. Influence endures.
The 21st Century organization focuses on creating influence. The 20th Century organization is still struggling to hold on to its power while losing influence.  The shift in organization power has moved to the crowds whom have the influence over the marketplace rather than the few whom think they have influence over your organization.
You gain power when influence is granted. You lose power when you try and wield it to gain influence.


varun November 8, 2012 at 7:57 am

very nice article

Singkit August 7, 2012 at 12:08 am

I learned much from this post. Thanks for making it accessible to students like me. All the best to you 🙂

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