Power and Politics

The Ethical Use of Power

People are often uncomfortable discussing the topic of power, which implies that somehow they see the exercise of power as unseemly. On the contrary, the question is not whether power tactics are or are not ethical; rather, the question is which tactics are appropriate and which are not. The use of power in groups and companies is a fact of organizational life that all employees must accept. In doing so, however, all employees have a right to know that the exercise of power within the organization will be governed by ethical standards that prevent abuse or exploitation.

Several guidelines for the ethical use of power can be identified. These can be arranged according to our previous discussion of the five bases of power, as shown in (Figure). As will be noted, several techniques are available that accomplish their aims without compromising ethical standards. For example, a manager using reward power can verify subordinate compliance with work directives, ensure that all requests are both feasible and reasonable, make only ethical or

proper requests, offer rewards that are valued by employees, and ensure that all rewards for good performance are credible and reasonably attainable.


(Attribution: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license)


The Ethical Use of Power


Basis of Power


Guidelines for Use


Source: Adapted from Gary A. Yukl, Leadership in Organizations, 8th edition 2013 (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.; Pearson), pp. 44–58.





Referent power

Treat subordinates fairly Defend subordinates’ interests

Be sensitive to subordinates’ needs, feelings Select subordinates similar to oneself Engage in role modeling





Expert power

Promote image of expertise Maintain credibility

Act confident and decisive Keep informed

Recognize employee concerns

Avoid threatening subordinates’ self-esteem



Legitimate power

Be cordial and polite Be confident

Be clear and follow up to verify understanding

Make sure request is appropriate


(Attribution: Copyright Rice University, OpenStax, under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license)


The Ethical Use of Power


Basis of Power


Guidelines for Use

Explain reasons for request Follow proper channels Exercise power regularly Enforce compliance

Be sensitive to subordinates’ concerns




Reward power

Verify compliance

Make feasible, reasonable requests Make only ethical, proper requests Offer rewards desired by subordinates Offer only credible rewards






Coercive power

Inform subordinates of rules and penalties Warn before punishing

Administer punishment consistently and uniformly Understand the situation before acting

Maintain credibility

Fit punishment to the infraction Punish in private


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Organizational Behavior by Icfai Business School is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.