On Defining Power

Recently I read one of  my management books again. It was a book about HRM. Human resource management is the more humane side of business studies. I was reading a chapter about organisational control and power. In addressing the topic power the authored stated to be unable to define a socially complex phenomenon like power.

The past few years I have been reading and adapting to all kinds of jargon. New words, definitions, descriptions, models and sometimes outrageous claims passed my eyes. I grew up with religious people and “leaders” who “claimed to know the truth” and “gurus” in business, management and marketing tend to behave like them.

“Power” is an often abused term. In social context its meaning and use tends to vary. In life though power is experienced. A person has the power to decide and enforce that decision. Otherwise a person has to follow the instructions derived from the person in power and report back. People in power are able to delegate, instruct and control the decisions they are able to make. Power enables.

There are two ways in which someone can take away your power. Someone either decides for you or does not decide yet still expects you to listen. When a so-called expert or author for hundreds of pages creates jargon for all kinds of claims and for a vital topic omits information I become annoyed. When a definition is too much add context or simply quit and have a cup of tea.

In context of what power is and does in all kinds of situations I refer to Geert Hofstede. His work “Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind” identifies relevant cultural dimensions. Take his 1993 work with grain of salt though.

Power-distance (Hierarchy & equality)

Individualism-collectivism (I versus we.)

Uncertainty avoidance (/or acceptance)

Masculinity-femininity (Gender & behaviour.)

Long-term versus short-term orientation (Later versus now.)

Indulgence versus restraint (Enjoyment versus patience.)

I appreciate a critical question more than a person who claims to have all the answers. In the age of big data and information overload it is dangerous to accept information without question. I am a sceptic because not asking questions can lead to group-think.

Having power is not determined by what others say. It is what you do that counts.

Decide for yourself…