Power is a significant tool in decision making. It differs from authority in the sense that it is derived from ability while authority is derived from a right. The ability to influence people in decision making is a unique character trait of personalities in any organization. Decision making is central to the success of an organization. This is why the value of information systems classifies the levels of decision making; that is the strategic, the organizing, and the operational levels of decision making (Lukes, 1974). The main idea of this paper shall be confined to the role of power in decision making. Particularly, power is believed to be the test of ultimate dominance in an establishment hence defines all facets of decision making. It is a cold form of autocracy which binds all processes of decision making. To justify this, I shall present premises for this argument while providing counter propositions.
Power and authority are often interchanged and believed to be synonymous. However, they differ significantly. Power refers to the ability, either social or personal; to have things done by enforcing either a collective or personal will over a particular group (Lukes, 1974). Actual power on the other hand includes legitimacy which is a socially and psychologically constructed right to exercise power. In this regard, we can assert that for one to have actual power, he/she must be legitimate. Legitimacy may come either through formal authority or public acceptance. Authority on the other hand can be looked at in two ways, psychological authority and exercised authority. Psychological authority refers to the general acknowledgment of the right to exercise power (Stasavage, 2004). Psychological power goes hand in hand with exercised power where exercised power refers to the ability to implement one’s own will or collective will. In this regard, we can affirm that authority involves both power and legitimacy. Formal authority can also be related with actual power. When one has any formal authority to exercise any will, then he/she has the actual power to do so (Lukes, 1974).
Having made this observation, it is important to show how power influences decision making in any institution. For instance, it would be justified to say that one with formal authority to allocate performance bonuses to other members of staff would require no definite contingencies that would dictate the realization of actual power. Having formal authority would imply that you have been authorized by the higher management, board of directors or related body to perform such a will. In this case, you are exercising the will of the higher management. With formal authority, you posses legitimacy, social and personal acceptance, and have the power to implement such a will. Just as we observed above, actual power is as a result of power, on its own, and legitimacy. In addition, it may be viewed as one of the tasks given to you by the management. A task with which you would be deemed responsible for its realization hence considered as one of your professional responsibilities. There would be no binding contingencies for the realization of actual power if one has been accorded the formal authority to carry out a certain will. This implies that: 1) power represents authority (which is no subject to questioning), and 2) with power, your actions appear legitimate (Mulford, & Jeffery, 2002).
Power makes one’s decisions look authentic or legitimate. For example, if a man holds controlling shares in a particular company, any decision that he would make concerning the company would be seen as legitimate. This would be in a case where Tim (a hypothetical man with controlling shares), during a board meeting instructs Mark (the finance manager) to cut spending costs on personnel motivation claiming that there are no funds. This decision would be seen as authentic even though Tim does not have the jurisdiction to make such a decision, but since he has the power, in terms of controlling shares, his order is legitimate (Hilf, 2001). This suggests that power automatically legitimizes forms of decision making.
Nonetheless, in some cases, power does not dictate decision making and perhaps most notably, it does not automatically signify authenticity. Some companies have elaborate policies which draw the line between power and authority. While a man with power may have the will to summon and “propose” his ideas, it would take a person in authority to enforce those ideas. In such a case, we see authority being a more influential aspect of decision making as opposed to power. Power only provides a theoretical framework for implementation while authority provides for the actual enforcement of the decisions. For example, while the legislative arm of a government may have the power to formulate laws, the executive and judicial arms have the authority to enforce or implement those laws (Kapoor, 2004). A member of parliament cannot arrest a person who breaks a certain law hence his power, as a law-maker, does not guarantee its actual execution.
Moreover, when power becomes unquestionable, it raises the question of accountability. As we have seen, power represents authority which is prone to manipulation and autocracy. For instance, when one is given the power to allocate performance bonuses, his/her decision would be deemed final. This would be heightened when the one assigned this task is of higher administrative hierarchy. In this case, his/her decisions would not be questioned regardless of whether dialogue with other staff members preceded. Therefore, decision making cannot be subjected to such loopholes. Decision making is a process that is grounded towards finding pragmatic solutions to problems, and power, is a factor that jeopardizes such efforts. In this regard, the conventional set-up of decision making is more practical. The conventional structure involves collective decision making from two mutually exclusive alternatives. In such a case, ideas are not evaluated based on power or authority but rather from their viability (Schmidt, 2005). In such cases, we can assert that power does not necessarily affect the decision making process hence cannot be described as influential.
In conclusion, it still remains evident that power influences most decision making processes. Power provides the scaffold through which deliberations take place. Inasmuch as power and authority overlap, it is the latter which provides a strict sense of the decision making process. In a hierarchical decision making process, we realize that decisions are made from the one with the most power, down towards the people on the ground who have the authority to implement them. Moreover, we have also observed that with power, decisions are made legitimate and the notion of power defines authority. When one has power, he may also have authority but one with authority may not necessarily have power. Therefore, power is the ultimate director for decision making processes.
Hilf, M. (2001). “Power, Rules and Principles – Which Orientation for WTO/GATT Law?
Journal of International Economic Law 5:111‐30.
Kapoor, I. (2004). “Deliberative Democracy and the WTO,” Review of International Political
Lukes, S. (1974). Power: A Radical View. London: Macmillan.
Mulford, M. & Jeffery, B. (2002). “Behavioral Decision Theory and the Gains Debate in
International Politics,” Political Studies 50:209‐29.
Schmidt, B. (2005). “Competing Realist Conceptions of Power,” Millennium 33(3):523‐49.
Stasavage, D. (2004). “Open‐Door or Closer‐Door? Transparency in Domestic and International
Bargaining,” International Organization 58(4): 667‐704.