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Question 1: Leadership is influence (Grenny et al., 2013) and influence is power (Elias, 2008). Many outside the Department of Defense would assume that influence within its organizations follows the chain of command or legitimate power (Expert Program Management, n.d.). Senior executives and flag officers occupy the strategic level of the department that is structured with civilian government employees with many years of experience and uniformed military personnel who rotate through the offices every three years. Our organization lies one level below called the operational level which provides direction, planning, and command and control for the tactical missions that many are accustomed to from news reports. Expert power is one of the five basic forms of power (Expert Program Management, n.d.) that one would expect from strategic level employees. Elias (2008) provides a taxonomy that provides a better explanation of the power found in some government civilians and gives insight into the bureaucracy that displays both positive expert power and negative expert power.
The political lens of our organization aligns with legitimate power. Military commanders wield reward and coercive power based on their position, and the great leaders also exemplify expert and referent power. Therefore, it is imperative that commanders lead with integrity, or this power that can be considered an organizational strength may become its weakness. Our commander has legitimate, reward, coercive, and referent power, but openly states is not a politician (Bolman & Deal, 2021). The organization appears to be a unified coalition and is dependent upon inputs from the strategic level. It is the negative expert power some exert that is the majority of our frustrations as they know they can influence our leadership to discipline us through rumors or erroneous information. Civilian employees have occupational protections such as job security, set work hours, and collective bargaining representation not afforded to military personnel. Therefore, it is the military personnel, not the civilians, that absorb the consequences when failures arise.
Question 2: Last week as we investigated the cultural lens, we read that effective leaders need to understand their organization’s culture in order to create change. Understanding the culture is a factor to achieving compliance (Busby, 2017), while failing to account for the culture as one exerts his or her power may result in them encountering resistance (Busby, 2017). Due to the connection between culture and power, examining the political lens is useful to understand the source(s) of power one may need to draw on to achieve the intended result (Elias, 2008), the allies the leader has, and the partisans who wish to have influence in decisions (Bolman & Deal, 2021). A weakness to this lens is that when using it in isolation without any consideration for the other lenses, one may see all work as political and a power struggle (Liberty University, 2013). As much as culture and power should be studied together, if one neglects the cultural lens, there may be unintended outcomes, such as rejection of the leader, noncompliance, (Elias, 2008), or too many future quid pro quo instances (Liberty University, 2013).
In my K12 district, politics and power are prevalent throughout because decisions are made daily, with some individual or group having the power to execute decisions. It is evident that the board of education, superintendent, principals, and leaders who fall between those levels all have formal, legitimate power that comes with their position. Further, those individuals have the ability to exercise all five other forms of power theorized by French and Raven (1959, as cited in Elias, 2008). However, it is not enough to view power in my district as only applying in a downward direction. Bolman and Deal (2021) write that one of the political frame assumptions is “organizations are coalitions of different individuals and interest groups” (p. 191). Teachers are the most visible frontline workers in schools, yet they hold significant power. There is a saying that there is power in numbers. Teachers within my district take part in formal and informal groups. These can include unions, committees, friend groups, PLCs, and even Facebook groups. These groups, particularly the large ones, have lateral and upward power because of the groups’ abilities to influence peers and superiors through bargaining and negotiations (Bolman & Deal, 2021). I am fortunate to work in a district where leaders recognize and respect the interdependence that exists between educational leaders and teachers. Due to the mutual respect, teachers are able to, through their groups, exert influence on leaders and the decisions they make. This does not mean leaders always do what teachers want, but it means there are negotiations and considerations where teachers have a voice.