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Understanding Power Politics and Conflicts in Organizational Dynamics

  • 06 Pages
  • Published On: 02-12-2023


This report will address the concept, source and the role of power, politics and conflicts in context to an organisation. It will refer to relevant concepts and theory, particularly that of Niccolo Machiavelli and the five-fold concept of power formulated by J. French and B. H. Raven.

French and B. H. Raven categorised power as organisational power and personal power (Lunenburg, 2012). This report will address such categorisation in context to how an organisation uses and promotes the skills of its employees. This finds relevance in Machiavelli who states that cruel emperors face wars and seditions (Machiavelli,, 2009, p. 33). This serves as a lesson for employees with higher power to appropriately use the legitimate power and not to abuse their position and power (Simonet, et al., 2018).

This report will also address the concept of conflicts in terms of conflicts of interest amongst people working together. Conflicts of interest bring more politics in an organisation (Zaleznik, 1970). It may take the form of a private, power and personality conflicts depicting the characteristics of an organisation. This report will cite examples of obsessional leaders, leaders without neutrality and warmth, and leaders that take bias decisions (Zaleznik, 1970).

Power in leadership and business

Power comes from the control over resources, including finance, infrastructure and positions used to establish allies and supporters; from access to information including that of the organisation’s activities, preferences and judgment, current and future activities and the actors involved in such activities; and from formal authority (Pfeffer, 1993). Such control may come from the personal attributes and characteristics of the leadership of an organisation. It may come from employing the situation factors over which they have direct influence. The effectiveness of an organization is subject to evaluation the sources of the power (Pfeffer, 1993).


J. French and B. H. Raven in 1959 developed a social power taxonomy, where they identified five sources of power (Lunenburg, 2012). In the first group, categorised as organisational power, power is legitimate, in the form of a reward, and is coercive. In the second category, categorised as personal power, power is in the form of an expert and a referent. The latter category is more strongly concerned with employees’ job satisfaction, job performance and organizational commitment (Lunenburg, 2012). The second category is found in reference to business leaders, like Steve Jobs of Apple Computer, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Bill Gates of Microsoft, Phil Knight of Nike, Jeff Bezos of, and Sam Walton of Wal-Mart who were able to transform the visions they had with the power they acquired and used (Pfeffer, 2011).

persuasive reasoning, which they will accept and carry out (Raven, 2008). It should be in the form of a reward Power where a positive incentive, may be a raise, is offered for complying with targets. It may be coercive where a subordinate is notified of undesirable consequence to bring about a change (Raven, 2008). It could be legitimate where a subordinate must comply with the target obligation imposed by the boss due to the authority he holds. It could be referent where the subordinate identifies with the boss and desire to emulate her (Raven, 2008). What is demanded from a boss could be understood by the explanation given by Machiavelli in ‘Discourses on the Livy’ where he states those emperors who are not good go through reigns that are afflicted with wars and seditions. These emperors are cruel, both in war and in peace and many of them are killed by their own people (Machiavelli,, 2009, p. 33).

If the power is not used properly, leaders cannot attain the goals of the organisation. Machiavelli observes that kings are driven by self-interest, so as are all human beings. This is a part of human nature. He observes that kings could be tyrannical and despotic over the people. As such, people must be careful when they vest the power in a ruler (De Spinoza & Elwes, 2004). This shows that the manner power is used can impact the way the subjects or people in an organisation see the rulers. Machiavelli observes that a Prince must not attract hatred from the subjects by using his power to take away the women or property. He writes:

“Nevertheless, a Prince ought to inspire fear in such a way, that if he does not win love, he avoids hatred; because he can endure very well being feared whilst he is not hated, which will always be as long as he abstains from the property of his citizens and subjects and from their women. But when it is necessary for his to proceed against the life of someone, he must do it for proper justification and manifest cause (Machiavelli, 2016, p. 40).”

Machiavelli puts great emphasis on both justice and goodness. He asks the prince to choose from Nerva to Marcus, the prince he would like to be born as and the prince will see that the prince whose reign was just and good, was secure within his people, and had a kingdom in which there was peace and justice (Machiavelli,, 2009, p. 33). This is reflected in the manner a legitimate power is appropriately exercised by a manager or a boss in an organisation. Otherwise, it may lead to abuse of position and power. People occupying a position with power may indulged in abusive behaviours and bullying tactics (Simonet, et al., 2018). Consequently, employees who are submissive due to lack of social support from their peers are more prone to abuses from their leaders than those who are well-connected within the organization (Neves, 2014). To summarise the appropriate use of power, reference could be made to what Machiavelli said:

“In those governed by good, he will see a prince secure in the midst of his secure citizens, the world full of peace and justice; he will see the senate with its authority, the magistrates with their honours, the rich citizens enjoying their riches, nobility and virtue exalted, he will see all quiet and all good and, on the other side, all rancour, all licence, corruption and ambition eliminated. He will see golden times when each can hold and defend the opinion he wishes (Machiavelli,, 2009, p. 33).”


Machiavelli directly opposes the moralistic theory of politics. According to him, a political ruler is only concerned with acquiring and maintaining power (Nederman, 2012). His legitimate rights of rulership do not add anything to the actual possession of power. Hence, goodness and right cannot sufficiently win and maintain political office. Machiavelli, thus, states that power defines political activity. It is a characteristic of political activity. As such, he should know how to properly apply in order to make individuals obey power and maintain state in safety and security (Nederman, 2012).

Politics comprises activities that could influence either actions and policies of a government or getting and keeping power in the government (Ferris, et al., 2005). Similarly, in office politics comprise the influencing of policies and actions of the management. In a business environment, and also in government, attempts to wield such influence may result in negative behaviours. Alternatively, a positive political skill may produce positive behaviours when one know the tasks, the know-how and the timelines (Cairns, 2017). This could be seen in the case of Tim Cook, CEO of Apple and successor to the late Steve Jobs. The Fortune’s list of leadership for 2015 has Mr. Cook at the top. His achievement is considered admirable given that there were concern about the future of Apple after Steve Jobs (Cairns, 2017). His leadership was that of a responsible leader, unlike Steve Job whose leadership was considered self-serving as he exercised his power in that manner (Cairns, 2017).

The manner in which office politics is handled is subject to the manner in which the management or the leader uses their power. As such, power in politics becomes applicable when people try to misuse their power to attain their political goals. The manner of viewing leadership style of Steve’s and Cook’s could be reflected in the varied scholars’ views of Machiavelli's thought. View on Steve leadership could find relevance with Machiavelli’s thought that leaders must avoid the common values of temperance, justice, mercy, wisdom, and love of people and prefer fear, cruelty, violence and deception. His teaching is considered to have endorsed immoralism or amoralism and as such he is considered to be a ‘teacher of evil’ (Strauss, 1958, pp. 9-10). On the other hand, Machiavelli is considered a realist’ or ‘pragmatist’, who teaches commonplace ethics must be suspended in matters of politics as there is no place for moral values in political decisions (Croce, 1925). There is also a middle view where that the any vicious acts must be the ‘last best’ option. In The Prince, Machiavelli opined that a Prince must be prepared to commit evil. As such, Machiavelli is consider to prefer conformity to moral virtue ceteris paribus (Skinner, 1978).

In order to develop political skills, a person must have social astuteness of being aware of how others will respond to one’s behaviour. They must have ability to persuade others through rewards or punishments. They must know how to manage social networks by identifying and deploying the right people and resources. They must be open, honest and transparent (Cairns, 2017).


Conflict in the context of an organisation is a process when a party perceives that another party is about to negatively affect or has negatively affected something that it has come across (Buchanan & A, 2001, p. 770). It involves power relations where people in a conflicts often employ power and political measures in order justify their actions (McShane & Glinow, 2005).

According to Machiavelli, it is primarily power that necessitates the enforcement of conflicting views of what a person is supposed to do (Nederman, 2009). A person has the option to disobey if he possesses power to resist any demands of the state. When he has power, he can accept the consequences of a state's superiority of coercive force (Nederman, 2009). According to Machiavelli, there is no point in the claim to authority and the right to command if there is no superior political power. Without power, a ruler with rights will wither and die. Thus, in an environment of political conflict, only those with power have more likelihood to succeed (Nederman, 2009).

In organisations, there are conflicts of interest amongst people sharing a common fate and working together. Conflicts of interest occupy an overriding importance that makes business more political with lesser ideologies (Zaleznik, 1970). In context of private conflicts, obsessional leaders with power employ a mechanism of defense originated from such conflict in their public performances. They are hyper-rationale. Their thoughts are isolated from feeling. They have reactive behaviour turning anger into moral righteousness. They have passive control over others (Zaleznik, 1970). In the context of power conflicts, some leaders lack neutrality and warmth due to an ingrained fear that they would be become the object for other people and that their subordinates would become envious and would compete for power (Zaleznik, 1970). In the context of personality conflicts, they may affect decisions while allocating authority and responsibility. It may not a sensitivities paranoid if a person had been excluded or their ambition has been denied based on certain undercurrents in their relationships with others (Zaleznik, 1970). General Motors recognised that the coalitions of power in order to overcome feelings of rivalry and personal ambitions cannot be strong solutions. This was seen in the appointment of Edward Cole as a President of the company and the following resignation of Semon Knudsen. There was no independent rational processes, which were not separated from human emotions and human ties. As such, organisations are considered as political structures feeding on psychology of comparison (Zaleznik, 1970).


This report has found that an organisation cannot be discussed or operated without the interplay between power, politics and conflicts. The source and the use of each of these elements defines the culture and success of the business of the organisation. The organisational and personal power, as categorised by French and Raven, correspond to the deployment of political power to influence actions, policies and decision making or to attain and keep more power. Machiavelli may be interpreted to mean that a supervisor can be driven by self-interest, as was seen with Steve’s leadership, or could avoid hatred from the subordinates by not using power to take away right and opportunities.

Power, politics and conflicts play important roles in the functioning of businesses. They must be dealt with efficiently by senior level of employees. Organisation must efficiently use the informational, reward, legitimate, and referent powers to attain organisational goals. It must consider what Machiavelli teaching that the Prince must focus on justice and goodness and use possessed political power to positively influence actions and policies of the management. Such power and politics pay consideration to the role of conflicts of interest amongst employees and management inn order to avoid or reduce incidence of obsessional leaders, leaders without neutrality and warmth, affect bias decisions while allocating authority and responsibility.


I took a little while to understand the link between the concepts of power, politics and conflict. It overwhelmed me a bit when I attempted to think about the concept through in context of an organization vis the theories of the writers mentioned in the assignment. What little I understood about the three concepts is that it is the greed of power or the right or wrong application of power that defines politics and conflict. Power is needed to sustain a position, whether it is a thought, decision or the position itself. The use or misuse of power is politics, which shapes or define the success or failure of a goal or ambition, whether it be that of the Prince or the organisation. Conflict is the outcome of the interplay between power and politics.

While writing this report, I found myself struggling to identify the common patterns and association between the concepts. This is the skill that I realised I must hone for. Attempting to applying theories and identifying them in real organisation situation was practically educational. This involves critical thinking and analysis. Once you get yourself with such thinking and application a habitual practice, it makes the writing easier.

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On a personal note, I have learned how to view a topic or an issue with associated or relevant factors jointly and separately. For example, if I have a power gained from occupying a position, I should create other powers in myself and subordinates to enable us gain knowledge and personal development leading to the overall organisational development. A leader cannot be without warmth and care. I could take the positive interpretation of Machiavelli and apply the powers formulated by French and Raven with the sole aim of just and fairness by being good and also being strong. Every decision must be subject to rational judgment and one should not be carried over by emotion when one is with power and authority without forgetting compassion and the overall goodness of mankind or an organisation.

Understanding the concepts of power, politics and conflict has enabled me realised the common thread between them. One can use them for their own self-interest. One can use them for a larger goal or picture. The main aim and practice should be to choose between the right and wrong and use the means or tools identified here as categories of powers, politics and conflicts to achieve the right goal.


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