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Power Over - Overused But Still Important

The term "power over" someone reflects what most of us think of when we consider the use of power in organizations. It means that the person using "power over" is exercising control OVER another person or people through the use of formal authority and position, and the dispensation of rewards and punishments. It is generally associates with the transactional leadership approach.

Currently the use of this kind of power is frowned upon by most leadership experts, on ideological grounds, and while it is true that leadership that is based solely on "power over" is inefficient and hard to sustain, there is a role for it in the carrying out of leadership responsibilities.

Leaders are expected (by followers) to make the tough decisions, and sometimes those decisions may adversely affect one or a few organizational members. Sometimes the use of "power over" is required to implement organizational change, for example. To abdicate this responsibility often means the leader may lose effectiveness and credibility.

However, the difficulty is that in many ways "power over" is an illusion. The ability for a leader to "make" someone (or many someone's) do something they do not want to do solely through the use of threats, rewards and punishments is actually based on the implicit consent of followers. Even when leaders believe they have "power over", they often find that this kind of power will only work to the extent that organizational members agree to its use.

The use of "power over" should be limited to situations where it is absolutely required, and it should not take the place of other leadership methods to create voluntary action.

See Also: What is "power with" and why is it important to me as a leader?

What is "power over" and why is it important to me as a leader?


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