Much has been written about Power, Authority, and Influence, and a lot of it has landed on the Web. Google reports 447 million hits. Impressive, but to keep things in perspective, how to find a woman get 64.4 million hits, and how to find a man gets 748 million. Evidently, we care about Power, Authority, and Influence, but not as much as some other things.
I haven't looked at all 447 million pages yet, but I'm a little troubled by what I've found so far. Given our interest, one might expect that we'd have a clearer understanding of Power, Authority, and Influence, and their interrelationship, than we do.
True, what I found is a good beginning, but it's only a beginning. It ignores an important reality of human systems: human systems are systems. Any definitions of Power, Authority, and Influence in human systems must take into account the web of interrelationships of the human members of that system. Our understanding of Power, Authority, and Influence must encompass the idea that everyone affects everyone.
Let's look at these three concepts one by one. For each one, I'll give the conventional definition — the one I found over and over again in my unscientific survey — and then take a look at a systems view of the same concept.
- Conventionally, to influence people is to change the opinions or behavior of others.
- From a systems Any definitions of Power, Authority,
and Influence in human systems
must take into account the web
of interrelationships of the human
members of that systemview, influencers do not change opinions or behavior. Influencers provide a nudge, a catalyst, or a force that people use to change themselves. When influencers engage in this way with the influenced, they are in turn influenced themselves.
- Conventionally, Power is the ability of an influencer — a person or group or institution — to change people, by some means or other.
- To believe that influencers do the changing is to ascribe more power to them than they actually have. Influencers say or do, but the people they influence are the ones who actually do the changing. Two powers are needed: the power to influence and the power to change. The power that actually matters is thus an attribute of the system, rather than an attribute of influencers.
- Conventionally, Authority is legitimate Power — some say "legitimized" Power.
- Authority need not be "legitimate." Rather, authority is something conferred, voluntarily or under duress, on an influencer or would-be influencer by the person or people the influencer wants to influence. Because it's conferred on the influencer by the influenced, both parties are involved. Authority, too, is an attribute of the system.
When we assess the effectiveness of attempts to influence, the legitimacy of authority matters less than the precise kind of authority that the influenced have conferred on the influencer. A catalog of the kinds of authority will be our topic in two weeks. Next in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Organizational Change:
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming November 29: Manipulators Beware
- When manipulators try to manipulate others, they're attempting to unscrupulously influence their targets to decide or act in some way the manipulators prefer. But some targets manage to outwit their manipulators. Available here and by RSS on November 29.
- And on December 6: Reframing Revision Resentment: I
- From time to time, we're required to revise something previously produced — some copy, remarks, an announcement, code, the Mona Lisa, whatever… When we do, some of us experience frustration, and view the assignment as an onerous chore. Here are some alternative perspectives that might ease the burden. Available here and by RSS on December 6.
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