39 Power

Brad C. Anderson

Learning Objectives

In this chapter, you will learn the following:

  • The dimensions of power
  • The faces and sites of power in organizations
  • How people and groups exercise power
  • How this textbook views power

If your teacher told you to pick up their dry cleaning, would you? Is it okay for a teacher to demand such a thing of you?

Most people agree that it is inappropriate for a teacher to ask you to perform personal favours. Yet, your teacher will require you to prepare reports and write exams. Conducting research and studying requires many hours per week of work.

When you compare the effort of picking up dry cleaning to studying for a final exam, the work needed to pass a test is greater than picking up someone’s clothes. Nonetheless, a student who willingly loses sleep to complete a report for the teacher would likely reject that teacher’s request to pick up their laundry.

How is it a teacher can ask you to give hours for a term project yet remain unable to have you take twenty minutes to swing by the laundromat?

You might argue that the teacher gives you marks for school work but not personal favours. The teacher’s authority, then, is bound by what they can legitimately assign grades for.

What allows the teacher to give you marks, however? Is there something preventing the teacher from having a graded assignment on picking up laundry? Is there a reason why that teacher marks your work rather than another teacher? Why does a teacher, rather than a classmate, grade your assignments? Why do we have marks at all?

The social of power answers these types of questions. Power is a creative force. By creating a web of power, humans organize themselves into collective entities ranging in size from small teams to entire civilizations. This ability to organize is humanity’s killer app.

People commonly view power negatively. They see power as something a stronger aggressor does to a weaker victim. They see power as the ability to get other people to do something, often against their will. Thus, we fear the power that others might have over us.[1]

It is undeniable that some people have more power than others. It is also undisputed that these power asymmetries have led to oppression. Despite these truths, this textbook takes a decidedly optimistic view of power. Though power can lead to abuse, it is equally valid that it is through power we right injustice. Power is a creative force, and we each have the agency to choose what we create.

Wisdom is action-oriented. Acting requires you to exercise your power within your social setting. For your actions to have the desired effect, you must understand how the web of power governing your social setting works.[2]

To that end, this chapter summarizes several frameworks of power. It starts by exploring the dimensions of power that scholars have identified. Following this, it discusses the faces and sites of power in organizations, which considers how people experience power and where power operates in social systems.

This chapter will then discuss how people exercise power in organizations, focusing on the connection between power and rationality and the different relations into which groups with power enter. This chapter then concludes with a perspective on power that readers will find helpful when seeking to develop wisdom in the organizations in which they operate.

This chapter serves to present a basic overview of power. Later sections of this textbook will then dive deeper into how power operates in organizations to give you a richer understanding of this topic.

As you read the following, please remember that countless theorists and philosophers have contemplated power for millennia across the world. The literature and teachings describing power are, consequently, vast and filled with conflicting views. The creators of the frameworks this textbook presents were Western European/North American scholars. Thus, they premise their work on a body of Western research and philosophy. Other cultures will have different traditions of power. 

By focusing on these frameworks, this textbook is not implying they are the only ways to understand power. Instead, this textbook presents these frameworks because the author believes they provide practical insights to individuals seeking to take action within their social setting. You may find other conceptualizations of power more relevant to your circumstances. 


  1. Hardy, C., & Clegg, S. R. (1996). Chapter 3.7: Some Dare Call It Power. In S. R. Clegg, C. Hardy, & W. R. Nord (Eds.), Handbook of Organization Studies (pp. 622–641). London, UK: Sage Publications.
  2. Hardy, C., & Clegg, S. R. (1996). Chapter 3.7: Some Dare Call It Power. In S. R. Clegg, C. Hardy, & W. R. Nord (Eds.), Handbook of Organization Studies (pp. 622–641). London, UK: Sage Publications.

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Power by Brad C. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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