Leveraging Power and Politics

The challenges faced by strategic leaders in implementing complex and long-range consequential decisions demand that they be sophisticated with respect to issues of leadership, power and influence. The changes that are shaping the nature of work in today's complex organizations require that we develop the political will, expertise and personal skills to become more flexible, innovative and adaptive. Without political awareness and skill, we face the inevitable prospect of becoming immersed in bureaucratic infighting, parochial politics and destructive power struggles, which greatly retard organizational initiative, innovation, morale and performance (Kotter 1985)

Making organizations more innovative, responsive and responsible requires focusing on a number of leadership, power and influence issues. These issues are critical in coping with the strategic environment with all its VUCA characteristics, and strategic leader performance requirements in that environment. The issues influence developing teams at the strategic level, as well as managing organizational processes linked to values and ethics, organizational culture, visioning and the management of change. Such issues include:

  • Implementing strategic or adaptive change in the face of formidable resistance.
  • Fostering entrepreneurial and creative behavior despite strong opposition.
  • Gaining resources and support from bosses whose personal agendas might include organizationally harmful political games.
  • Avoiding destructive adversarial relationships with others whose help and cooperation are paramount to your success, but who are outside your chain of command and your direct control, and who may suspect your motives.
  • Building and developing effective teams in an internal environment where the natural tendency is to conflict with each other and engage in "turf battles".
  • Avoiding becoming a victim or casualty of destructive power struggles.
  • Avoiding the numerous traps that generate power misuses and ultimately power loss.
  • Fostering organizational excellence, innovation and creativity, and not getting mired in bureaucratic politics or dysfunctional power conflicts.

This chapter will not by itself change your view or way of acquiring power and effectively exercising influence. It does provide an opportunity to think differently about power, politics and influence, and it can refocus your attention on organizational issues and problems. For strategic leaders in most organizations the key to successfully implementing organizational change and improving long term performance rests with the leader's skill in knowing how to make power dynamics work for the organization, instead of against it.


THE CONCEPTS OF POWER AND ORGANIZATIONAL POLITICS John Gardner, writing about leadership and power in organizations, notes, "Of course leaders are preoccupied with power! The significant questions are: What means do they use to gain it? How much do they exercise it?" To what ends do they exercise it? He further states, "Power is the basic energy needed to initiate and sustain action or, to put it another way, the capacity to translate intention into reality and sustain it." In a similar vein, Richard Nixon wrote, "The great leader needs . . . the capacity to achieve. . . . Power is the opportunity to build, to create, to nudge history in a different direction." Dahl writing about the pervasiveness of the concept of power states, "The concept of power is as ancient and ubiquitous as any that social theory can boast." He defined power "as a relation among social actors in which one actor A, can get another social actor B, to do something that B would not otherwise have done." Hence, power is recognized as "the ability of those who possess power to bring about the outcomes they desire" (Salancik and Pfeffer 1977).

The concept of organizational politics can be linked to Harold Lasswell's (1936) definition of politics as who gets what, when and how. If power involves the employment of stored influence by which events, ac- tions and behaviors are affected, then politics involves the exercise of power to get something done, as well as to enhance and protect the vested interests of individuals or groups. Thus, the use of organizational politics suggests that political activity is used to overcome resistance and implies a conscious effort to organize activity to challenge opposition in a priority decision situation. The preceding discussion indicates that the concepts of power and organizational politics are related. Thus, in this chapter, we define organizational politics as the use of power, with power viewed as a source of potential energy to manage relationships.

THE POLITICAL FRAME As discussed earlier, Bolman and Deal describe four "frames" for viewing the world: structural, human resources, political, and symbolic. The political frame is an excellent tool for examining the concept of organizational politics and makes a number of assumptions about organizations and what motivates both their actions and the actions of their decision makers.

  • Organizations are coalitions of individuals and interest groups, which form because the members need each others' support. Through a negotiation process, members combine forces to produce common objectives and agreed upon ways to utilize resources thus aggregating their power. Power bases are developed that can accomplish more than individual forces alone.
  • There are enduring differences among individuals and groups in values, preferences, beliefs, information, and perception of reality. Such differences change slowly, if at all.
  • Most of the important decisions in organizations involve allocation of scarce resources: they are decisions about who gets what. Scarcity exacerbates political behavior. In government at present, the competition is for personnel spaces and funding. Mission is the means to gain both, because resources tend to follow mission. For this reason, the Services compete for strategic mission (e.g., the omnipresent roles and missions debate), and thus make the job of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs more challenging. In the government as a whole, agencies compete for significance in the national/international picture, because significance means public approval and that means resources. (The two dominant political parties also attempt to present the American public with different views of what is significant.)
  • Because of scarce resources and enduring differences, conflict is central to organizational dynamics and power is the most important resource. Conflict is more likely in under-bounded systems (less regulation and control). In an over-bounded system with power concentrated at the top (e.g., pre-Glasnost Russia), politics remains, but underground. Jefferies makes the point that organizations play the political game within the broader governmental context, but those individuals also play politics within organizations. So both influences are at work. And power is key in both cases, because it confers the ability both to allocate resources- in itself a way to increase power-and to consolidate power by bringing others with similar goals and objectives into the inner decision making core.
  • Organizational goals and decisions emerge from bargaining, negotiating, and jockeying for position among members of different coalitions. Bolman and Deal offer the space shuttle program as an example of a strategic effort backed by a complex coalition consisting of NASA, contractors, Congress, the White House, the military, the media, and even portions of the public. The difficulty in the Challenger disaster was that different members of the coalition were in disagreement about how to balance technical and political concerns. These became increasingly salient as the enormously expensive shuttle program encountered one delay after another for safety-related technical reasons. At the time of the Challenger shuttle disaster, both Thiokol and NASA were under increasing pressure to produce on schedule at programmed cost. The decision to launch on that fateful day was made when political forces overcame technical considerations. But, of course, this only illustrates the decision maker's difficulty in weighing one kind of consideration against another-subjective assessment of constituency demands versus rational data that may nonetheless lack substantiated cause-and-effect relationships with downside outcomes-under conditions of great time pressure.

The five propositions of the political frame do not attribute organizational politics to negative, dysfunctional or aggrandizing behavior. They assert that organization diversity, interdependence, resource scarcity, and power dynamics will inevitably generate political forces, regardless of the players. Organizational politics cannot be eliminated or fantasized away. Leaders, however, with a healthy power motive can learn to understand and manage political processes.

POWER AS A MOTIVE . Power is attractive because it confers the ability to influence decisions, about who gets what resources, what goals are pursued, what philosophy the organization adopts, what actions are taken, who succeeds and who fails. Power also gives a sense of control over outcomes, and may in fact convey such enhanced control. Particularly as decision issues become more complex and outcomes become more uncertain, power becomes more attractive as a tool for reducing uncertainty.

Power and the ability to use it are essential to effective leadership. Strategic leaders who are uncomfortable with either the presence of great power in others or its use by themselves are probably going to fail their organizations at some point. The critical issue is why the leader seeks power and how it is used. Some see power as a tool to enhance their ability to facilitate the work of their organizations and groups. Others value power for its own sake, and exercise power for the personal satisfaction it brings. There can be good and bad in both cases. However, the leader who uses power in the service of his/her organization is using power in the most constructive sense. The leader who seeks power for its own sake and for personal satisfaction is at a level of personal maturity that will compromise his/her ethical position, risk his/her organization's effectiveness, and perhaps even jeopardize the long-term viability of the organization(Jacobs 1996).

Power competition exists at two levels. Individuals compete for power within agencies and organizations; agencies and organizations compete for power within the broader governmental context. The mechanics of power competition are much the same. In both cases, power accrues when an individual or an organization achieves control of a scarce commodity that others need. And in both cases, the operations are essentially political. Even when compelling physical force is the means, the mechanism is political. The scarce commodity is the means of inflicting harm on others. So dictators, by hook or by crook, gain a monopoly on the means for inflicting harm on others. During the course of the Cold War, the massive build-up of armaments was aimed at maintaining a "balance of forces" so as to prevent intimidation by either side. Even after Glasnost, the level of armaments on both sides was carefully negotiated so as to preclude imbalance that might tempt one side or the other toward risky moves.

Power competition within an organization or agency is generally for resources- personnel spaces or funding, or both, in governmental agencies. And the basis for the competition can be constructive as well as destructive. If the top-level leadership is wise and capable, the basis for competition can be defined as meritorious performance of either individual or group. In that case, performance becomes the basis for determining who accumulates power. The process is still political, but it is also constructive because the organization as a whole benefits.

So, the political process can be either destructive or constructive, depending on the resource to be accumulated, the means by which the competitors seek to accumulate it, and the value that accrues to all competitors by virtue of the competition. (Of course, competition based on performance, if conducted at such an extreme that human values or key norms governing competition are violated, may substantially hurt the organization in the long term).

However, internal politics can also be detrimental in ways not readily apparent. Sub-units within agencies may develop objectives and goals at odds with those of the agency. For example, a given "desk" owes its stature in its own agency to the constituency needs it serves. An extremely important constituency is the nation it represents within its own agency and with which it deals. The "desk" therefore may find it valuable to promote the needs of that constituency over the needs of the agency by "selling" important positions or programs that benefit the constituency-thereby unwittingly becoming co-opted and increasingly vulnerable to manipulation by that constituency.

Organizations also play a political game. Organizations seek influence. Influence increases autonomy (freedom to control own assets); organizational morale (the ability to maintain cohesion and effectiveness); essence (sanctity of essential tasks and functions); roles and missions (exclusion of options that would challenge these); and budgets (increased roles and missions will always favor larger budgets) (Jefferies).

To increase their own influence, agencies in government and other organizations will provide information, recommend options, and execute directives in ways that enhance their own self interest. Jefferies illustrates with the decision to send a U-2 reconnaissance aircraft to overfly the Cuban missile sites. The decision to send the U-2 was actually made 10 days before the flight occurred, but the implementation was delayed by the CIA-USAF struggle for the mission. The CIA defined the mission as intelligence gathering and advanced the argument that it had a better U-2 than did the USAF. The USAF was concerned that the pilot be in uniform to avoid repetition of the Gary Powers crisis if the aircraft was shot down. (The total mission delay came from five days to make the decision and five days to train an Air Force pilot to fly CIA U-2s.)

Because key leaders who form the centralized circle at the top of the policy making apparatus have different viewpoints, particularly with something as uncertain as strategic policy, they are obligated to fight for what they consider right. Thus, decision making is not a unitary process, but also "a process of individuals in politics reacting to their own perceptions of national, organizational, and personal goals" (Jefferies 1992). Because the scope and scale are too great for one person to master, the president must persuade in order to develop the consensus required for broad support of decision outcomes. (Those who wind up executing must be product champions for these decisions, or they are not likely to implement them.) The president is also open to persuasion, because the various branches or agencies may also build power bases outside government or outside the executive branch.

While our focus has been on establishing a legitimate context for understanding organizational politics, a countervailing view to the political frame is the rational frame of organizational decision making

THE RATIONAL FRAME. By definition, rational processes are different from political processes. Rational decisions rest heavily on analytic process. An analytic process can be defined as one in which there are agreed-upon methods for generating alternative solutions to problems, and for assigning values to the benefits and costs expected from each of the alternatives. And sophisticated computational methods are readily available for calculating benefits/costs ratios once these values are assigned. The essence of rational process is the belief that, "All good persons, given the same information, will come to the same conclusion." Those seeking to employ the rational process to the exclusion of political process thus seek open communication, perhaps through more than just formal (vertical) organizational channels.

The rapid expansion of electronic mail systems that permits anyone in an organization to address anyone else probably rests on a rationality premise-that transcending organizational channels by allowing all members to address directly even the highest official will give that official more complete information and thus enable higher quality decisions. This is very difficult for some people to understand especially those with narcissistic power needs and maturity issues. There is also a trust assumption: that members can be trusted not to abuse the privilege and that high officials will not misuse the information. A political process would view valuable information as a commodity to be traded for influence (Jacobs).

There is another important difference between rational and political views of appropriate operations both within and between organizations. The political frame does not depend on trust between persons. In the preceding example, both trust assumptions would be discounted as unrealistic. Trust in the probable future actions of coalition members is based on perception of gain to be expected from not violating agreements on which a coalition is based, for example. The intrinsic morality of being trustworthy is not particularly useful as a concept.

Trust probably is not particularly a part of the rational frame, either, except that a strong rationalist believes in and trusts the logic of the process by which information is converted into decision outcomes. So a strong rationalist will trust others to be similarly logical. This leads to important postulates about rational communication within a system. For a rationalist, systems are information-consuming engines. Particularly at the strategic level, the unimpeded flow of information is crucial to the health of the system as a whole. However, politics and power dynamics strongly influence communication processes. To the extent organizations and the people in them are motivated by political gain and power dynamics, rational processes are inevitably shortchanged.


The National Security Strategy apparatus exists to support the formulation of policy and implementing strategy and thus presidential decision making. George writes insightfully about both the demands of these processes, and obstacles to their effective operation-particularly those attributable to bureaucratic politics. He comments that political scientists of an earlier generation "were intrigued by the possibility that an overburdened executive might be able to divide his overall responsibilities into a set of more manageable subtasks to be assigned to specialized units of the organization. It was hoped and expected that division of labor and specialization within the organization, coupled with central direction and coordination, would enable the modern executive to achieve the ideal of 'rationality' in policy making." He goes on to say that this hope has not been realized because: Some problems of large scale are not amenable to fragmentation.

As an example, the task of central coordination and direction of foreign policy making has gotten steadily worse as the range, complexity, and scope of foreign policy problems has increased. The distinction between foreign and domestic policy has also eroded. George illustrates by noting that the deployment of US troops in Europe has implications for defense posture (DOD), balance of payments (Treasury), and U.S. relations with foreign nations (State). Such problems must be approached from a broader, holistic viewpoint, and there must be interaction among representatives of agencies with diverse viewpoints. This is prevented, however, by power competition within organizations, and between organizations and agencies within the government. As Jefferies puts it, individuals play politics within organizations, and organizations play the political game within the broader context.

Rationalist guidelines for good policy making would include something like the following (George): get all the information needed for incisive and valid diagnosis of the proble/situation; identify all dimensions of value complexity so there can be balanced consideration of value priorities; identify a broad range of alternatives, considering uncertainties; take into account the policy implementation factor; and arrange for feedback information. In a politicized structure, the dynamics of organizational politics impacts all of these by giving a "win-lose" flavor to information-giving and position advancement. Thus, mixing organizational politics with a rational decision making process will likely lead to the following consequences:

  • Each actor acquires information on its own policy issues and not those of others, thereby denying full, balanced information flow to the decision maker.
  • Its own parochial interests and goals shape each actor's participation in identification and evaluation of policy options.
  • Oversimplification and rhetorical exaggeration distort policy debate (overstate benefits of own position and risks of opponents' positions).
  • Actors use their own bargaining advantage to manipulate the flow of advice to influence the executive's choice of policy.
  • Actors may arrange compromises (logrolling deals) among themselves to avoid presidential decisions that might be damaging to their perceived interests, thereby keeping policy issues from rising to the presidential level.
  • Actors may seek to avoid an area, in order to avoid responsibility for it.
  • Actors rely on policy routines and SOP that were previously developed, but which may not be appropriate for novel problems.
  • Actors may be prevented from dealing incisively with foreign-policy issues by the time, energy, and attention expended on internal politics.

As George points out, while the rational frame to organizational decision making may be highly desirable to most decision makers, it is not immune to political influences. The fact is there are politics involved in innovation and change and suc- cessful strategic leaders must be effective politicians. The higher one goes in organizations, the more use of organizational politics becomes an important social process; politics are often required to get important decisions implemented in complex systems (Pfeffer).


A number of authors writing in Strivastva's Executive Power (1992) argue that power at the strategic organization level is manifested and executed through three fundamental elements: consensus, cooperation, and culture.

"An organization is high in consensus potential when it has the capacity to synthesize the commitment of multiple constituencies and stakeholders in response to specific challenges and aspirations." In this area, strategic leader power is derived from the management of ideas, the management of agreement, and the management of group and team decision making processes.

"Cooperative potential refers to an organization's capacity to catalyze cooperative interaction among individuals and groups." Power is employed by a strategic leader in the management of organization structures, task designs, resource allocation, and reward systems that support and encourage this behavior.

"Cultural/spiritual potential refers to a sense of timeless destiny about the organization, its role in its own area of endeavor as well as its larger role in its service to society." Strategic leaders use power in this area to manage and institutionalize organizational symbols, beliefs, myths, ideals and values. Their strategic aim is to create a strong culture that connects the destiny of the organization to the personal goals and aspirations of its members.

Jacobs' seminal work of general officer job requirements can be linked to the above conceptual requirements for successfully acquiring and managing strategic leader power potential. His study of the work environment of general officers provides a context for looking at strategic performance requirements. He found three job demands consistently reported by the survey respondents. They were long-term vision, consensus building, and command team building.

Although the road to power is open to those who wish to travel it, not all will distinguish themselves as master practitioners. What skills and attributes distinguish those strategic leaders who use power effectively from those who do not?


Pfeffer's (1992) research and observations emphasize the following characteristics as being especially important for acquiring and maintaining strategic power bases:

  • High energy and physical endurance is the ability and motivation to work long and often times grueling hours. Absent this attribute other skills and characteristics may not be of much value.
  • Directing energy is the ability and skill to focus on a clear objective and to subordinate other interests to that objective. Attention to small details embedded in the objective is critical for getting things done.
  • Successfully reading the behavior of others is the ability and skill to understand who are the key players, their positions and what strategy to follow in communicating with and influencing them. Equally essential in using this skill is correctly assessing their willingness or resistance to following the Strategic Leader's direction.
  • Adaptability and flexibility is the ability and skill to modify one's behavior. This skill requires the capacity to re-direct energy, abandon a course of action that is not working, and manage emotional or ego concerns in the situation.
  • Motivation to engage and confront conflict is the ability and skill to deal with conflict in order to get done what you want accomplished. The willingness to take on the tough issues and challenges and execute a successful strategic decision is a source of power in any organization.
  • Subordinating one's ego is the ability and skill to submerge one's ego for the collective good of the team or organization. Possessing this attribute is related to the characteristics of adaptability and flexibility. Depending on the situation and players, by exercising discipline and restraint an opportunity may be present to generate greater power and resources in a future scenario.

The skills and attributes identified in the ICAF Strategic Leader Development Inventory are relevant not only to the work of strategic leaders but may contribute to the their overall capacity to acquire and use power effectively. These skills and attributes are grouped as conceptual skills and attributes and positive attributes.


  • Professional Competence is one of the many ways leaders "add value" by grasping the essential nature of work to be done and providing the organizing guidance so it can be done quickly, efficiently, and well.
  • Conceptual Flexibility is the capacity to see problems from multiple perspectives. It includes rapid grasp of complex and difficult situations as they unfold, and the ability to understand complex and perhaps unstructured problems quickly. It also includes tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity.
  • Future Vision reflects strategic vision, appreciation of long-range planning, and a good sense of the broad span of time over which strategic cause and effect play out.
  • Conceptual Competence relates to conceptual flexibility in that both are essential for strategic vision. It has to do with the scope of a person's vision and the power of a person's logic in thinking through complex situations.
  • Political Sensitivity is being skilled in assessing political issues and interests beyond narrow organizational interests. It means possessing the ability to compete in an arena immersed in the political frame to ensure that your organization is adequately resourced to support your stated organization interests and those of the nation.


  • Interpersonal Competence is essential for effectiveness in influencing others outside your chain of command, or negotiating across agency lines. It suggests high confidence in the worth of other people, which is reflected in openness and trust in others.
  • Empowering Subordinates goes beyond simple delegation of tasks and is crucial for creating and leading high performing organizations. It involves the personal capacity to develop meaningful roles for subordinates and then to encourage initiative in the execution of these roles.
  • Team Performance Facilitation includes selecting good people in assembling a team, getting team members the resources to do a job, providing coordination to get tasks done and moving quickly to confront problem individuals.
  • Objectivity is the ability to "keep one's cool" and maintain composure under conditions that might otherwise be personally threatening.
  • Initiative/Commitment is the ability to stay involved and committed to one's work, get things done, be part of a team effort and take charge in situations as required.

Understanding the character of strategic leader power and the requisite personal attributes and skills sets the stage for employing power effectively. We need to know more than the conceptual elements that constitute power in organizations at the strategic level. But, we need to know the strategies of how to use power effectively and to get things done.


The acquisition and use of strategic leader power involves managing a sequential process that is described below:

1. The first task is to decide what it is the leader is trying to achieve that necessitates the use of power.

2. With the goal in mind, the leader must assess the patterns of dependence and interdependence among the key players and determine to what extent he or she will be successful in influencing their behavior. It is critical that the leader develop power and influence when the key players have expressed a differing point of view. It is important to remember there is more interdependence at the strategic level of the organization where task accomplishment is more complex.

3. Getting things done means the leader should "draw" a political map of the terrain that shows the relative power of the various players to fully understand the patterns of dependence and interdependence. This involves mapping the critical organization units and sub-units and assessing their power bases. This step is very important because a leader needs to

determine how much power these units have to leverage influence either in support or opposition to their effort. For example, if a leader is proposing to introduce a consensus team decision making process in a joint interdependent environment, this implementation decision could change power relationships among the players. In this case, the leader needs to know the opposing players and the depth of their power bases. This move will likely require the mobilization of allies and the neutralization of resisters.

4. Developing multiple power bases is a process connected to those personal attributes and skills previously discussed and to structural sources of power. Structural sources of power comes from the leader's creation and control over resources, location in communication and information networks, interpersonal connections with influential others, reputation for being powerful, allies or supporters, and the importance of leading the "right" organization.

6. Recognizing the need for multiple power bases and developing them is not enough. The strategic leader must have an arsenal of influence strategies and tactics that convert power and influence into concrete and visible results. Research on strategies and tactics for employing power effectively suggests the following range of influence tactics: (Allen, 1979, Bennis and Nanus, 1985, Blau, 1964, Kotter, 1985, 1978, Pfeffer, 1992, 1981, Salancik and Pfeffer, 1977)

  • Framing/Reframing tactics establishes the context for analyzing both the decision and the action taken. By framing the context early in the process, the strategic leader is positioned to influence what looks reasonable or inappropriate in terms of language and the overall process for generating the decision itself. Framing and reframing decision making is an important tactic for influencing organizational behavior. This process sensitizes the leader to the context of organizational decision making by increasing his or her self-awareness of history-the history of past relationships and past choices. Framing and reframing tactics thus give the leader the ability to set a context within which present and possible future decisions are evaluated, and an important perceptual lens that provides leverage for producing innovative ideas for getting things done.
  • Interpersonal influence tactics recognizes that power and influence tactics are fundamental to living and operating in a world where organizations are characterized as interdependent social systems that require getting things done with the help of other people. A leader employing interpersonal influence tactics typically demonstrate behaviors that include: understanding the needs and concerns of the other person, managing constructive relationships with superiors, peers and subordinates, using active listening skills, asking probing questions to understand a countervailing power position, anticipating how individuals may respond to ideas or information, thinking about the most effective means to influence the individual and crafting appropriate tactics to the needs and concerns of the other person, and maintaining a broad network of individual contacts.
  • Timing tactics involve determining not only what to do but when to move out. These types of action include: initiating action first to catch your adversary unprepared, thereby establishing possible advantage in framing a context for action, using delay tactics to erode the confidence of proponents or opponents as it relates to setting priorities, allocating resources andestablishing deadlines, controlling the agenda and order of agenda items to affect how decisions are made. The sequencing of agenda items is very critical where decisions are interdependent.
  • Empowerment tactics create conditions where subordinates can feel powerful, especially those who have a high need for power. Leaders empower their followers and subordinates through a process that provides direction, intellectual stimulation, emotional energy, developmental opportunities and appropriate rewards. Typical behaviors of a leader using these tactics include: high involvement and participation in the decision making process, modifying and adapting one's ideas to include suggestions from others, involving others in the strategy formulation and implementation process, looking for creative and innovative solutions that will benefit the total organization, and instilling confidence in those who will implement the solutions.
  • Structural tactics can be employed to divide and dominate the opposition. They can be used to consolidate power by putting a leader or his or her subordinates and allies in a position to exercise more control over resources, information, and formal authority. Re-aligning organizational structure can also be used to co-op others to support a leader's ideas, initiatives and decisions. Effective employment of structural tactics is accomplished when leaders aggressively use their formal power to consolidate, expand and control the organizational landscape.
  • Logical persuasion tactics requires using logical reasons, facts, and data to influence others. Employment of a leader's expert power base can be used to support logical persuasion. Effective use of these tactics include the following behaviors: persuading others by emphasizing the strengths and advantages of their ideas, developing more than one reason to support one's position, using systems thinking to demonstrate the advantages of their approach, and preparing arguments to support their case.
  • Bargaining tactics involve leader behaviors that attempt to gain influence by offering to exchange favors or resources, by making concessions, or by negotiating a decision that mutually advances the interests of all participants. These influence tactics are typically effective in a political environment involving opposing or resisting forces; when a leader is in a position to do something for another individual or group; or when the collective interests of all can be served.
  • Organizational mapping tactics focus the leader's sight on possible power-dependent and interdependent relationships. The critical task is to identify and secure the support of important people who can influence others in the organization. Leaders using these tactics will employ behaviors that include: determining which actors are likely to influence a decision, getting things done by identifying existing coalitions and working through them, garnering support by bringing together individuals from different areas of the organization, isolating key individuals to build support for a decision, linking the reputations of important players to the decision context and working outside formal organization channels to get the support of key decision makers.
  • Impact leadership tactics include thinking carefully about the most profound, interesting or dramatic means to structure a decision situation to gain the support of others. Behaviors include:presenting ideas that create an emotional bond with others, using innovative and creative ways to present information or ideas, finding and presenting examples that are embedded in the political and cultural frames such as language, ceremonies and propitious events, and lastly, consistently demonstrating high energy and physical stamina in getting the job done.
  • Visioning tactics demonstrate how a leader's ideas and values support the organization's strategic goals, beliefs and values. Leader behaviors in executing these tactics include: articulating ideas that connect the organization's membership to an inspiring vision of what the organization can become, appealing to organization core values or principles, linking the work of the organization to the leader's vision and broader goals, creating and using cultural symbols to develop both individual pride and team identity.
  • Information and analysis tactics suggest that leaders in control of the facts and analysis can exercise substantial influence. Leaders will use unobtrusive behaviors to disguise their true intention, which is to effectively employ influence tactics that seemingly appear rational and analytical. Facts and data are manipulated and presented to appear rational and help to make the use of power and influence less obvious. Another ploy used by leaders is to mobilize power by bringing in credible outside experts who can be relied on to support a given strategy and provide the answers they are expected to give. Lastly, under conditions of VUCA which characterizes strategic decision making, leaders will selectively advocate decision criteria that support their own interests and organizations. In these cases, leaders typically do what works best and make decisions based on criteria that are most familiar to them.
  • Coercive tactics are the least effective in influencing strategic decisions. These tactics involve employing threats, punishment, or pressure to get others to do what a leader wants done. Typical leader behaviors include: using position power to demand obedient compliance or blind loyalty, making perfectly clear the costs and consequences of not "playing the game", publicly abusing and reprimanding people for not performing, and punishing individuals who do not implement the leader's requests, orders or instructions.

This chapter has addressed what strategies and tactics are required for leading with power at the highest organizational level. In a micro context, it is about managing power, which translates as being personally effective in knowing how to get things done and having the political will to do so. At a macro level, it means coping effectively with the strategic environment and dealing with innovation and organizational change.


In a general sense power is lost because organizations change and leaders don't. Organizational dynamics create complex conditions and different decision situations that require innovative and creative approaches, new skill sets and new dependent and interdependent relationships. Leaders who have learned to do things a specific way become committed to predictable choices and decision actions. They remain bonded and loyal to highly developed social networks and friendships, failing to recognize the need for change, let alone allocating the political will to accomplish it. Ultimately, power may be lost because of negative personal attributes that diminish a leader's capacity to lead with power effectively. The SLDI identifies a number of negative attributes that when linked to certain organizational dynamics will generate potential loss of power:

  • Technically Incompetent describes leaders who lack the conceptual skills needed to develop vision and be proactive in managing organizational change.
  • Self-Serving/Unethical leaders abuse power and use it for their own self aggrandizement, take special privileges, and exploit peers and subordinates by taking credit for contributions done by others. Self-serving leaders contaminate the ethical climate by modeling power-oriented behavior that influence others to replicate their behavior. Over the long run, these leaders engender divisiveness and are not trusted.
  • Micromangement of subordinates destroys individual and team motivation. Leaders who over-supervise their subordinates have strong control needs, are generally risk averse and lack conceptual understanding of power sharing and subordinate development.
  • Arrogant leaders are impressed with their own self-importance, and talk down to both peers and subordinates thereby alienating them. If empowering others is about releasing purposeful and creative energy, arrogance produces a negative leadership climate that supresses the power needs of others. Arrogant leaders makes it almost impossible for subordinates to acquire power as a means to improve their own performance as well as to seek new ways to learn and grow.
  • Explosive and Abusive leaders are likely to be "hot reactors" who use profanity excessively, have inadequate control of temper, and abuse subordinates. They may also lack the self-control required to probe for in-depth understanding of complex problems and so may consistently solve them at a superficial level. Explosive and abusive leaders may self-destruct repeatedly in coalition building and negotiating situations.
  • Inaccessible leaders are out of touch with their subordinates particularly when they need access for assistance. Peers typically "write the individual off." Leaders are generally inaccessible because they don't place great value on building interpersonal relationships, they may have weak interpersonal skills or they may be self-centered.


What are the key learning points in this chapter and what are the practical implications for strategic leaders and decision makers. Pfeffer has described learning about power most succinctly: "it is one thing to understand power--how to diagnose it, what are its sources, what are the strategies and tactics for its use, and how it is lost. It is quite another thing to use that knowledge in the world at large...In corporations, public agencies, universities, and government, the problem is how to get things done, how to move forward, how to solve the many problems facing organizations of all sizes and types. Developing and exercising power require having both will and skill. It is the will that often seems to be missing."

Leveraging Power and Politics in Strategic Decision Making:

Practical Implications














Source: National Defense University
Public Domain Mark This work is in the Public Domain.

Last modified: Tuesday, October 27, 2020, 8:35 PM