Friday, 7 March 2008

On Power and Influence

I have three books on my desk at the moment. One is a desk diary from last year that I am using as a notebook. The second is a Spanish English dictionary. The third is Understanding Organisations by Charles Handy. So, this is the second book tag that I am doing, after being asked by Blue. Page 123 is the start of Chapter 5. On Power and Influence And the first five sentences are: "Motivation theory, role theory, leadership theory are all ways of describing why people behave as they do and how it is that others can set them to behave as they do. It is time now to look at this problem in a more general way, at the overall problem of power and influence. "Power and influence make up the fine texture of organizations, and indeed of all interactions. Influence is the process whereby A seeks to modify the attitudes or behaviour of B. Power is that which enables him to do it." Although this is a classic management theory text book (or was when I did my MBA), it is just as applicable to life, and indeed Handy goes on to say something on those lines. And personally I would call it power and manipulation, but that's probably a cynical way to look at it. It wasn't intentional, however this post does follow on from the last one. So I'm going to cheat and include another quote from further down page 123: "Complete individual freedom is the perquisite of the hermit and the recluse; today perhaps only the solitary artist or poet, the tramp or the hippie can enjoy that luxury." No Charles. I have to say I don't think the guy who died in the rubbish bin enjoyed complete individual freedom at all. His choice to live on the streets? Maybe, maybe not. Could he choose what he wanted to eat? Or drink? Or get up in the morning and look at his vast array of clothes in the wardrobe before deciding what to wear? Or even, could he choose where to sit on the pavement before the police decided to ask him to move along? No, none of us have freedom, and individual freedom seems to be getting far less to me. I would also argue that the only way to achieve any sort of freedom is to have a shitload of money. But it certainly does not come from poverty or opting out of society. And another point. I took the quote from the fourth edition of his work, published in 1993. The first edition dates from 1976. In his intro to the fourth edition he says that things have changed considerably in the intervening period. He also says that he was appalled when he read his first edition and realised he had written it entirely for men. And he was pleased that the work of organisations had changed a lot - presumably to reflect the fact that women weren't always just seen and not heard. He added that in his third edition of the book he apologised for his sexist slant. But in this one he had done something about it. Really? I haven't compared the two editions - even though I have them both. But I do think the quote above: "Power is that which enables him to do it." refers to men, or a man. That doesn't seem non-sexist to me at all. It is still the automatic assumption that men have the power. Indeed they do. So although it is sexist, and uses a gender-specific pronoun, it is also an accurate statement. I wish it wasn't. I also think, however trivial it sounds, that continuing to use language that suggests the default (especially in positions of power) is male, just perpetuates old-fashioned, autocratic, patriarchal thinking. It is a long time since I stopped calling women chairman if they happened to chair an organisation (certainly before the fourth edition was published). I went through the dilemma of whether to call them a chairwoman (says they are women - is that relevant? no), a chairperson (just sounds clumsy), or chair (something to sit on). But words and their usage change, and I became quite happy using chair. Some of the women weren't - they wanted to be called a chairman, "Madam Chairman" in fact, because they were as good as the men, but slightly special. Oh dear. Perhaps Mr Handy will have changed his latest edition - I haven't seen any updates since the fourth. I should also say that I bought a couple of his later books - The Age of Unreason and The Empty Raincoat. At the time I was in full-blown career mode so thought the idea of having different portfolios at different stages of your life was a load of rubbish. The wisdom that comes with age. It seems spot-on now. But power and influence? Or maybe power and glory too? It's still with those nice white men with money - isn't it?

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