Wednesday, August 24, 2016

New President Interview -- Part 38 Organizational Power

Organizational Power

Preliminary remarks

This article continues the study of stupidity.  In the preparation of this article I asked for stories of management decisions that were made without consulting those affected by the decisions.  Some of the results made the situation worse.  Since the story tellers wanted anonymity, all the stories used here are composites; retold to support the ideas expressed in this article. That is the reason the examples have no citations.  

Q: In the Bible (Deuteronomy 1:12-18)[1]  Moses admits that he does not know have the power to govern without help.  He is told to appoint heads of tribes, captains, and officials who will help lead and adjudicate disputes. Those appointed should be wise and men of knowledge.  Rarely have I seen a job description or written job requirements that require wisdom.  Those running for political office here have no requirement concerning knowledge, wisdom or academic preparation.

Given that officials or officers need some kind of power and authority to do their jobs, how does one use power wisely?

A:  In order to form any kind of group one must give up a part of one’s self.  Group living even in two
person groups means surrendering part of the individuality of the self for a greater good.  At any given time in the group’s existence one member has more power than the others.  People need power.  How many times did you hear of oppressed people who felt powerless? Many therapists treat people who lack control over their lives and feel powerless. Since people need power over themselves to succeed, it is no small wonder that when put in positions of power, not everyone is able to understand how to act for the common good and use power for the group’s advancement.

Let me start with some descriptions of power that effect those involved every day.   1) An architect designs a visually fascinating building that is artistically beautiful.  The architect has the power to make the space fit the needs or the customer or fit some sort of artistic vision; 2) A space designer designs an office that looks great, but doesn’t serve the occupants needs; 3) A member of the information technology staff orders and installs equipment that does not fit the room or solve the users’ needs.

The architect and space designer think that because they have done x number of projects, they are the experts in buildings.  They are not the experts in knowing how my company uses space.  The IT expert may know the computer equipment, but not how it is used in a particular space.  They have the power to design as they please.  That is not the best way to use power as an administrator I have to empower my managers and supervisors and trust they know how to do their jobs.  If I can’t trust them, it is time to part company.

Q:  How does institutional power flow in the College?

A:  We have an academic side and an operational side.  The operational side includes financial, building maintenance, human resources, and infrastructure.  The operational side has to work similar to a business or any other organization.  On the academic side we have departments and faculty.  Faculty are managers of their classes.  Some of the power and authority comes from the district office. The district office controls the finances such as collecting tuition and fees and authorizing disbursements.
One of our complaints is how the decisions are made that the College has no input.  I can tell you my theory of how I want the College to be run, but I am limited by outside forces such as state laws, federal regulations and district operations. Power flow from above.  The organizational structure dictates who has what powers.

Q: Is there another kind of organization?  I’ve heard of something called a matrix organization.

A:   A matrix organization has multiple reporting lines.  It has a great ability to work on projects and solve problems.   People with similar skills work together.  A limitation is people working on multiple projects may have multiple bosses. Middle management sometimes gets frustrated because they are unclear as to what should be the priorities.  They may find a lack of clarity and feel overburdened.   One advantage is that people can be assigned according to their abilities.  The departments may compete to the get the job done better or at a lower cost.

Some of the matrix management ideas can be applied to the college. For special projects we can appoint a project manager.  An academic committee operates with this theory.  A class that divides into group projects uses this kind of management. The class or committee has one member who is in charge or the chairman.

Q: How does one use consultants in the college? I have heard of some organizations that bring in lots of consultants and just ignores their advice.

A:  We work with consultants for computer systems.  They have the global knowledge of many companies, but recognize that we have the knowledge of the College’s people and hardware.  We work well together because we understood our roles, knowledge, and limitations. Consultants are needed to augment internal knowledge.  They can learn about products and processes that internal people don’t have to time or ability to master. For short term projects consultants may be cost effective. For long time needs, consultants can bring outside knowledge that internal people don’t have and can’t easily obtain.
In a non-functional organization, management hires a consultant to prove what they already decided.  Or the consultants spend a lot of time doing analysis work and the management ignore their advice. Management just wanted to show that they did their “due diligence.”

Another example of not listening occurred many times when school is building a new building.  For example:  The powers that be budget for a building, but forget about furnishings.  They build a library, but make no provision for staffing and books. They build beautiful spaces, but forget to properly sound proof them, making working difficult.  They build spaces that make future changes costly or impossible.  They build spaces that inappropriate for the age of the students.   Architects even forgot about locating light switches and power outlets in ways that are easy to use.  I have heard of classrooms with light switches on one wall and the other side of the room had the switch for the computer projector and screen.[2]

Q> How does an organization encourage the cooperation needed for the success and well-being of itself?

A> Positive communication and social interaction are essential for the success of most groups.  The group could be a couple, a class, or a formal organization. Leaders need to create or enhance social bonds so that members feel they have a stake in the outcomes.  Positive social bonds make members more committed to success.  When leaders fail to create lines of communication and create divisions among the group members, the leaders are failing to strive for success.  Divisiveness is counterproductive to the group’s success. This “divide and conquer” strategy is frequently used in military situations to defeat enemies.  It dates back to ancient times and is attributed to Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great.

According to Case and Maner leaders who do not enhance cooperation are protecting their power.  If the organization from the very top on down made people more secure i.e. not afraid to lose their jobs, people would be able to be more loyal to the success of the group?  Some leaders become more concerned with the benefit of power than fostering the groups goals and organizational success.  When leaders think their power is threatened, they start using strategies such as threats, intimidation, ostracization, and withholding of information so that power can be protected.

To encourage success these negative behaviors, need to be recognized and removed from the organization.  Sometimes the unwanted behaviors are so subtle that they are not recognized.  People grumble and senior management is clueless as to how to identify and solve the problems. The vicious circle repeats itself – misuse of power leads to a breakdown of social connections, which leads to unhappy workers, which leads to lost productivity.   Getting workers to recognize the misuse of power is a major role of senior management.  Misuse of power is not limited to managers.  Even a clerk or tradesperson can misuse his/her authority and power.  For example, a tech person may be slow to do his job because he has the power to fix or install a machine and does not want to have anyone take away his powers.  Case and Maner[3] conclude that understanding the divide and conquer strategy has important implications for understanding the fundamental forces that lead to group success.  If one understands the forces of misuse corrupt uses of power, we can build a better group.

Q> If I understand you correctly, all the stories of people not listening to subordinates or consultants is based on a misuse of power.  Is that correct?

A> Everyone wants power.  Everyone want control over their lives. Sometimes the misuse of power is a subconscious malady; sometimes is part of a calculated plan.  Understanding the flow of power helps the organization to root out the misuse of power and take step to make a better organization.

Q> We are out of time for this interview. This is obviously an emotionally charged issue.  Thank you very much.


Case, Charleen R.; Maner, Jon K. “Divide and conquer: When and why leaders undermine the cohesive fabric of their group” From:  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 107(6), Dec 2014, 1033-1050.  Retrieved Aug. 15, 2016 from:
DeCelles, Katherine A. et al  “Does Power Corrupt or Enable? When and Why Power Facilitates  Self-Interested Behavior” from  Journal of Applied Psychology  2012, Vol. 97, No. 3, 681–689.  Retrieved on August 15, 2016 from :

Maner, John K.  “The Essential Tension Between Leadership and Power: When Leaders Sacrifice Group Goals for the Sake of Self-Interest”  / Jon K. Maner and Nicole L. Mead. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2010, Vol. 99, No. 3, 482–497. Retrieved on August 15, 2016 from:

Stone, Emily. “Why Bad Bosses Sabotage Their Teams : Bosses who crave power but fear they might lose it can undermine their teams’ productivity”  : from Evanston, IL : Kellogg Insight, Northwestern University, January 5, 2015. Retrieved on August 15, 2016 from :
Based on the research of Jon Maner and Charleen R. Case. 

[1] This was read in the weekly portion for Shabbat August 13, 2016. 
[2] In the example a person wrote about, the reporter said if she turned off the lights, she had to walk the length of the library in the dark to get to the computer.  She surmised that the electricians and the projector installers did not follow the plans.  The room light switch was next to a door that led to a service hallway.  It was not used to enter the classroom.

Another person reported that the room with the computer projector could not be made dark enough to easily see the screen.  There are other stories of administrators who move around teachers and librarians so much that no quality work can be done.  Administrators have been known to hire aids who are not certified librarians to supervise the libraries.  They have been known to hire library help without consulting the certified librarians in charge.

One librarian, new to her school, told a story about a volunteer who previously ordered books.  The volunteer had no concept of collaboration with teachers or building collections that served the students.  The librarian could stop her even when the principal supported the librarian.  The volunteer didn’t want to surrender the “power” even when it was harming the organization and possibly was illegal fiscal mismanagement.  

[3] Case and Maner page 16.

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