20 frequently asked questions about organisational power

Paul Aladenika
8 min readApr 21, 2024
Image courtesy of Microsoft Copilot

This is the third blog in a series focusing on organisational power. The first offering covered ‘seven uncommon characteristics of organisational power’, whilst the second delved into the ‘seven pitfalls of organisational power’. In this final blog, I focus on ‘20 frequently asked questions about organisational power’.

As a corollary of issues that are central to how power is exercised, the aim is to book-end the series with advice and learning points. Whilst by no means exhaustive, the list of questions and answers presented below is comprehensive. For ease of reference, I have summarised the content under the following headings:

  • Making the most of organisational power
  • Understanding the personalities of power
  • Attitudinal dispositions towards power
  • The downward spiral of power

Consistent with the previous two blogs in the series, content for this blog, draws on first hand accounts, observations and lived experience. Set out below are ‘20 frequently asked questions about organisational power’.

A. Making the most of organisational power

1. What is the best way to create a cohesive and productive organisational power structure? To be sustainable and to retain the confidence of those subject to it, power must be built on a foundation of fairness and reasonableness. Think about how you would you like to be treated by others and you will begin to get a sense of what it should look like. If you treat people as you want to be treated, you will create an excellent framework for the exercise of power.

2. What is the most effective way for me to exercise power in the workplace? Take a step back and ask yourself, what power is for. It is not for self-aggrandisement, personal vanity or the nourishment of fragile egos. In the organisational context, the purpose of power is to enable those who exercise it, to deliver on priorities, either by themselves or through others. It is essential that you clearly understand your impact on those around you. This will enable you to use power like a thermostat [dial it up, when needed and down when not].

3. Are the dynamics of power the same in every organisation? Broadly yes. However, they will differ in detail depending on the size, scope and scale of operation. A large complex organisation, with a sprawling hierarchy, multiple lines of accountability and a sizable workforce, will obviously have a power dynamic that is significantly different from a mama and papa corner shop outlet. However, where the power dynamics of all organisations are the same, is in the need to ensure that the purpose and parameters governing the use of power, are clearly defined.

4. In the context of power, should I focus more on authority or influence? I would argue that your level of influence is the true measure of your organisational authority. Influence is evidence of your social standing with colleagues. It speaks to the quality of your relationships, the confidence that they have in you as well as the levels of trust and goodwill that you can draw upon. For that reason, the proof that you have relationships that matter, is when you have influence that counts.

5. So often, the use of organisational power requires permission. But what happens if I do not have permission? The necessity for permission is a narrow understanding of how power can be deployed. Keep in mind that power is both relational [a means to facilitate harmonious interaction] as well as hierarchical [a means to get things done]. With respect to the former example, think about the power to de-escalate a conflict situation between peers. As a concerned colleague, you do not need permission to use your standing, influence and judgement [both of which are demonstrations of power] to bring resolution to that conflict.

B. Understanding the personalities of power

6. If I primarily exercise power through direction and instruction, does that make me an ineffective manager? If direction and instruction are your primary means of managing others, then you are one dimensional. You are the manager with a proverbial hammer who sees every challenge they face as a nail. Direction and instruction have their place, but if they are all you have to offer, then you are simply exposing your weaknesses not demonstrating your strengths.

7. If I am closely supervising or micro-managing an underperforming employee, am I abusing power? Not at all. Micro-management is a habitual way of working. Those who practice it, do so irrespective of the performance levels of those whom they supervise. If someone is under-performing it is reasonable to adjust your management style to reflect the necessity for greater accountability.

8. How can an employer tell if someone is unsuitable for roles that will give them access to greater power? Given the important role that power plays as an organisational function, I think those under consideration for leadership roles, particularly in larger organisations ought to subject to a psychological assessment. Whilst this may seem extreme, psychological assessments are used in the military to determine both fitness to serve and suitability for promotion. At the very least, it could highlight early warning signs in the character and personality of those under consideration for advancement to more senior positions.

9. Are there certain personality types that should not be given positions of power? From what I have observed, employees who exhibit irrational insecurities, particularly those with an inferiority or superiority complex, should not be in positions of power over others. Both personality types have a predilection towards over-compensation. In other words, because they lack self-awareness, they are prone to behave in ways that are excessive and self-indulgent.

10. How can I avoid the pitfalls of organisational power? How you exercise power is fundamentally an expression of your values and your values reflect your character. Therefore, it is important to clearly understand any fault-lines and trigger points in your personality that may lead you to act inappropriately or take power for granted. With power, the rule of thumb is always: breathe in and breathe out, but never allow yourself to become intoxicated.

C. Attitudinal disposition towards power

11. I don’t manage or lead anyone, why should I care how power is exercised in my workplace? Power is not just about those in management or leadership roles. In the workplace, everyone has power and can therefore affect and be affected by the power exercised by others. On the positive side, empathy, compassion, humour and hard work are demonstrations of power. But on the negative side, so too are passive aggression, laziness, gossiping and dissent. The scope and scale of organisational power has greater depth and breadth than many people realise.

12. Isn’t it sometimes better to test the limits of power to determine how effective it is? Depending on what your end goal is, testing the limitations of power may be completely legitimate. As a case in point, if you are seeking to improve access to opportunities for your team, testing the limits of powers vested in your role, could produce positive and productive outcomes. However, if the intent is to use power for the purpose of subversion and insubordination, that would be entirely counter-productive.

13. I have no confidence in my subordinates. Why should I delegate power to people that I do not trust? Operating with that mindset will ultimately make you a highly inefficient and ineffective manager. Instead of making disparaging generalities about the character of your colleagues, get to the bottom of issues that are causing you to distrust them. It may be that your leadership approach is the root cause of the problem.

14. When should I be concerned that my approach to power is turning me into a control freak? If you find yourself unable to give those you lead, manage or work alongside, the permission to try and the right to fail, then you have a problem. At a fundamental level, a control freak feels the need to be at the centre of every decision, even when they do not need to be. This is unhealthy both for the individual and those around them.

15. The organisation that I work for values and promotes those perceived to be aggressive and assertive. Should I just fall in line with their expectations? You should never engage in performative behaviours either to access power or retain it. In my experience, it is better to be respected for your integrity, than rewarded for your complicity. Compromising your values never ends well and reveals a disturbing weakness of character. If you allow yourself to become anyone’s creation, you will eventually become everybody’s fool.

D. The downward spiral of power

16. What should I do if someone I know is using their position and power to cause havoc in the workplace? The key thing is to remind yourself that you are never powerless even in the face of power. Remember, there are different kinds of power. Yes, there is the power of authority that resides in the hierarchy, but there is also the power of accountability that an organisation can wield through its policy. Whilst it can be distressing living through the disruption that these malevolent individuals can wreak; it is reassuring to know that they ultimately sow the seeds of their own demise. I have written a blog that specifically addresses this type of scenario.

17. How are leaders and managers who abuse power, able to get away with it for so long? Usually by creating a climate of fear. Abusers of power rely on the fact that those around them will be too timid to offer any opposition. Therefore, they are literally empowered to abuse with impunity. Yet, the irony is that abusers are cowards. The very moment you confront them, the façade of bravado and invincibility quickly falls away. They are full of it.

18. Shouldn’t an organisation’s policies and procedures protect employees from managerial megalomania? Yes, they should but do not underestimate the challenges associated with seeking redress through the organisational accountability framework. The sad truth is that these policies and procedures rely on people having the backbone to implement them. Notwithstanding, that is the only way to ensure accountability.

19. What advice would you give to someone with a propensity or impulse to use power in a negative way? I would encourage them to think very carefully about the likely consequences of their actions. Impulsivity is often gratifying in the moment, but in the longer term, it can cause irreparable reputational damage. A bad reputation is like a bad smell, it follows you everywhere.

20. Are there specific work environments where power is more likely to be abused? Power can be abused anywhere, by anyone and at any time. However, environments where leadership at the top is weak and passive or where the abusive behaviour of the leadership cadre is allowed to go unchallenged, are the most likely breeding grounds for the most egregious conduct.

To wrap up this series, it is important to be mindful of the psychology, dynamics and dimensions of organisational power. In the right hands and with the right motives, power can accelerate growth, drive improvement and stimulate cultural transformation. However, it can just as easily be deployed for malevolent purposes, to harm, damage and destroy. Think about it; the application of one function can produce two completely different outcomes. Why is that? It is because in the final analysis, power is not about power, it is about people. Use it wisely.



Paul Aladenika

Believer, TEDx speaker, host of The 11th Thing Podcast, blogger, mentor, student of leadership, social economist & thinker. Creator of www.believernomics.com .