Leadership, Power and Politics: Overview

Conflict,  Management and leadership
Conflict is a natural outcome originating due to individual and group interaction. It is a ‘friction’ produced due to emotions and behaviors of people working closely rubbing against each other. When people from various backgrounds and beliefs work together, consciously or unconsciously they try to pass their own principles in work aspects creates conflict.
However, conflict is not always destructive or regressive. When well managed and directed, it has great utility in substantially improving an organization’s functional and production aspects, along with helping individuals to evolve a joint  philosophy of work and cooperation. However, poorly managed conflict situation impairs the organizational outcome, creating stress, introducing  dissatisfaction and reducing efficiency.

Characteristics of Conflict
The round the clock work schedules, trans-national nature of jobs, and strain in today’s world have worked together to make conflict an unavoidable part in life of people. Work related stress, with pressures of deadline, critical levels of responsibility, problems of resource allocation and management, setting, defining and achieving challenging goals, and all the time trying to coordinate with different individuals give rise to perfect conditions for  conflict to emerge within organizations (Bergman and Volkema, 1989).
But before any attempt to resolve conflict it is important to understand the characteristics of conflict that an organization generally faces. According to Baron (1990), a study of various organizational parameters indicated towards five characteristics of conflict . These are
1. Conflict due to contrasting or opposing field of interests between or among individuals or groups.
2. Recognition of these opposing interests by the interested parties
3. Conflict centers on a perception by each side that its opposing party would injure its interests
4. Conflict is not a stage, rather a process and it results from the way individual and groups define their relations through the past interaction
5. Actions and efforts by each party with the intention of negating other’s goals.
Conflict management and leadership
Leadership has a great role to play in conflict resolution. A leader with qualities with excellent communication, understanding and negotiation can be instrumental in bringing the positive outcome through the issues involved in the conflict. As the business and corporate management has realized, leadership greatly helps to alleviate conflict situation due to its inspirational value. Leadership essentially about encouraging  people to pool themselves together towards achieving common goals and objectives (Rosenbach and Taylor, 1998, 1.
Leadership further empowers individuals, helps them to rise above their rank and position within the organization to associate themselves and their colleagues with specific works, duties and responsibilities and enables them to identify and set their own directions, work on commitment and take challenges.  (Day and Halpin, 2004, 3). Its not surprising then that companies are ready to invest hugely in leadership development program, as a guaranteed way to emerge ahead than their competitors.
Within every social, institutional or organizational structure, a leader is always looked upon the person with abilities to broach reconciliation and resolution in situation of conflict. Leadership entails elements of power and authority that are critical to acquire influence. There are five power bases for a leader, as identified by French and Raven (1959). They are
1. Legitimate power: the power that comes by virtue of the position and command to control behavior.
2. Coercive power: It is the leader’s control over persuasion and ability to take symbolic punitive actions in case of dissent
3. Reward power: It is the leader’s control over granting rewards
4. Expert power: These are the specialties that a leader attains due to knowledge and experience and that he is expected to possess and use in conflict resolution
5. Referent power: This is the power over over subordinate or group members to identify the leader
Leaders may opt for one, some or  a combination or all of these power bases to attain conflict management and resolution by influencing the psychological and social dimension of conflict, trust, and authority (Johnson and Short, 1994
:Leadership (Power and Politics)
Leadership is not a characteristic that exists in isolation. As it is defined, leadership implies establishing coordination, orientation, cooperation, and collaboration among the followers to accomplish designated objectives and goals. It is  possible when leaders can inspire their followers with respect, admiration, discipline, confidence in the abilities of the leader while being helped to envision themselves as empowered individuals (Brown and Lord, 2004, 2).
A good leader has the ability to take over even most complex, demanding and otherwise impossible condition by exhibiting personal integrity, ethical and moral traits and values that other can relate to and aspire to imbibe in their own conduct (Laurie, 2000, 53). Here it is important to distinguish personal charisma from leadership, as personal charisma, being an person specific phenomena, can awe people but hardly give them impetus to follow in the footsteps of the leader.
Leadership is also means natural acquisition of power and potential to change its equation affect over the leaders and their followers. There inherent dangers associated with power, and for most of the people, the timeless adage-‘power corrupts’ suits justly.
Power contains a temptation that is hard to resist and has potential to become the ultimate goal for a person rather the tool that was designated in helping to achieve the goals.  But a genuine leader understands this irony of power and therefore believes that power should be shared with others so that it can grow. The real power of leaders is their  ability to inspire others with a sense of power and confidence (Champy and Nohria, 1999, 165).
According to Reigel’s (1979) theory of development, the relevant categories to leadership practices and conflict management are:
1. Optimism-faith in goodness of humanity. It works on the principle of faith in inherent goodness of humanity with a sense that goals and objective are achievable.
2. Interconnectedness-responsibility for the whole. The principle is extension of sense of responsibility to greater issues affecting the world that connects individual with the entire humanity.
3. The contradictory nature of things. It teaches about recognizing and respecting that contradiction occurs in people, their experience and circumstances.
4. Life is characterized by crises. Recognition that crises and conflicts are inbuilt of component of life and progress is achieved by incorporating them in the philosophy towards life.
5. Kinship with others. It stresses on building associations and help in realizing that every one is important and deserves equal respect from others.
6. The opposition. It teaches about taking opposition as contradiction, instead of viewing it in negative perspective.
7. Acknowledging other’s contribution. It stresses on frank and appreciative acknowledgment of success and achievements of others
Baron, R. A. (1990). Conflict in organizations. In K. R. Murphy & F. E. Saal (Eds.), Psychology in organizations: Integrating science and practice (pp. 197–216). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum
Bergmann T. J., and  Volkema R. J. ( 1989). “Understanding and managing interpersonal conflict at work: Its issues, interactive processes, and consequences”. In M. A. Rahim (Ed.), Managing Conflict : An inter-disciplinary approach (pp. 7-19). New York: Praeger
Brown DJ and  Lord, RG,  2004, Leadership Processes and Follower Self-Identity,  Lawrence Erlbaum Mahwah, NJ.
Champy J, Nohria N, 1999, The Arc of Ambition: Defining the Leadership Journey, Perseus Books (Current Publisher: Perseus PublishingCambridge, MA.
Day DV and Halpin SM, 2004, Leader Development for Transforming Organizations: Growing Leaders for Tomorrow,  (edit) David V. Day, Stanley M. Halpin, Stephen J. Zaccaro, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates,  Mahwah, NJ.
French, Jr., J.R.P., & Raven, B. (1959). The bases social power. In Dorwin Cartwright (edit.), Studies in social power (pp. 150-157). Ann Arbor, MI: Researc Center for Group Dynamics, Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan
Johnson, P.E and Short, P.M (1994). Exploring the Links among Teacher Empowerment, Leader Power and Conflict. Education. Volume: 114. Issue: 4. Page Number: 581+.
Laurie DL, 2000, The Real Work of Leaders: A Report from the Front Lines of Management, Perseus Books (Current Publisher: Perseus Publishing, Cambridge, MA
Riegel KF. Foundations of Dialectical Psychology. New York: Academic Press, 1979.
Rosenbach WE and Taylor RL, 1998, Contemporary Issues in Leadership, (edit) William E. Rosenbach, Robert L. Taylor, Westview Press,Boulder, CO.

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