In my last quarter of grad school, I took a class called, “Politics and Power in Organizations.” I chose this class partially because it sounded interesting, but mostly because it fit my schedule. I didn’t entirely know what to expect going into the course, but I ended up with a really interesting perspective on power.
Jeffrey Pfeffer was the author of our textbook, and his work laid the foundation for what we would learn in the class. Pfeffer defined power based on the ability to influence others. He believes that to get power, one must identify his goals, figure out who is important to achieving them, identify the power bases of other players and one’s own sources of power, and consider the tactics and strategies available to get what is wanted . This is a very self-serving viewpoint of power, but it’s not entirely unrealistic. What Pfeffer is using is a traditional approach to power which is based on decision making, control of resources and ability to influence others.
There are other approaches to power that take into consideration “discourses of difference,” such as race, class, gender and sexuality that also affect power in both a macro and micro sense. These approaches acknowledge that there are forces at play in our society that affect our ability to obtain and enforce power. For instance, in many cultures, men are inherently given more power than women. We also see this occurrence between races and social classes. In that case, if you are born as one of the “have nots,” how do you go about obtaining power?
Pfeffer has a couple of tips for obtaining power that is not inherently bestowed upon you. He says, choose where you want to start- diagnose the power players, situation and location, don’t be afraid to stand out or break some rules, create your own resources, network and use social alliances, and act powerful. Being in an environment where I get to watch startup companies come together out of nowhere, and in some cases become very successful and influential, I believe there is a lot of merit to this kind of power. Looking at leaders that were born with power gives me no great feeling of pride. Hearing about influential people like J.K. Rowling and Oprah that had a troubled past, experienced failures, and pulled themselves up by the bootstraps, is 100% more inspirational. As your kids grow up, encourage them to become these kind of leaders. I believe that people who come by their power and influence through hard work and determination become the best leaders.
Right now we have people in power that did not earn their place. That is resulting in selfish acts an uninformed decisions. By teaching your children to work their way towards power and influence, you are giving them the opportunity to experience hardships and tribulations that will give them a depth of experience to pull from when making important decisions. This kind of leadership understands those beneath them, because they have been in those positions themselves. Not only will this make your child more genuine and authentic, but it will also give him compassion in his decisions and wisdom in his actions. To achieve this, you must let your child pursue power on his own and experience failure and success of his own merit. This will help your child become the kind of person you would want to work for.