Leaders throughout the world exercise power; some were derived from authority and some were derived from personal capacity. Some exercise legitimate power and some exercise illegitimate power.
In some societies when illegitimate power is exercised it is challenged and in some societies it is not. Those who challenge and those who do not challenge do not know what the real origin of power is. They think that it is derived from the top. However studies suggest that it is not.
French and Raven
In the studies of leadership it has been argued and theorised that leadership and power are closely linked. In 1959 social psychologists John R. P. French and Bertram Raven have done a notable study of power and identified five bases of power as coercive, reward, legitimate, referent, and expert. Raven had done further studies and in 1965 identified another base of power called informational power.
Out of these power bases coercive power, reward power and legitimate power are derived from the formal authority whereas referent power and expert power are derived from personal authority. Information power is a mix of the two. Subsequently another base was identified connection power.
Power sources with the influences on other is tabulated in Table 1
Persons in organisation use this power in order to get things done. Some people command authority out of expert or referent power they have although they do not have a formal authority.
Geert Hofstede, a Dutch sociologist, had written a book in 1980, Culture’s Consequences, where he identified four different cross cultural dimensions namely Power Distance, Individualism vs. Collectivism, Masculinity vs. Femininity and Uncertainty Avoidance.
His findings were based on a detailed study carried on the employees of IBM in different countries in 1970. He argued that the behaviour of the employees in different countries varied based on the cultural dimensions of the country the employee was originated.
Hofstede defined Power Distance, one of the dimensions, as follows: “Power distance is the extent to which the less powerful members of organisations and institutions (like the family) accept and expect that power is distributed unequally.” Cultures that endorse low power distance expect and accept power relations that are more consultative or democratic.
Power distance is the gap of power between the upper stratum of a society and a lower stratum of a society. In Hofstede’s study, Power Distance index shows very high scores for Latin and Asian countries, African areas and the Arab world.
Although Hofstede had not studied Sri Lanka separate studies were carried out and identified that Sri Lankan Power Distance is high. In Guatemala it was 95 and in Philippines it was 94. In India it was 77. On the other hand Anglo and Germanic countries have a lower power distance. In Denmark, Israel and Austria it was 18, 13 and 11 respectively.
In United States the index was 40. In Europe, power distance tends to be lower in northern countries and higher in southern and eastern parts: for example, 68 in Poland, 57 for Spain and 50 for Italy whereas 31 for Sweden and 35 for the United Kingdom.
According to Hofstede, the extent of Power Distance is decided by the people those who do not have power. This means the power is granted by the people those who do not have power to the people those who have power. In countries with lower Power Distance in which employees are not seen as very afraid and bosses as not often autocratic or paternalistic, employees express a preference for a consultative style of decision making.
In the countries with high Power Distance, where employees are seen as frequently afraid of disagreeing with their bosses and bosses are autocratic or paternalistic, employees in similar jobs are less likely to prefer a consultative boss. Instead many among them express a preference for a boss who decides autocratically.
This is one main reason why an autocratic rule can be possible in Sri Lanka where the Power Distance is in existence between parents and children, teachers and students, managers and their assistants, officers and the laymen and leaders and followers.
Gene Sharp was the founder of the Albert Einstein Institution, a non-profit organisation dedicated to advancing the study of nonviolent action, and Professor Emeritus of political science at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, USA. He has been nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, 2012 and 2013.
He had written a landmark book called ‘From Dictatorship to Democracy, A Conceptual Framework for Liberation’ in 1993 where he discussed in detail the problem of how to destroy a dictatorship and to prevent the rise of a new one. The book has been published in many countries worldwide and translated into more than 30 languages. The book has been circulated worldwide and cited repeatedly as influencing movements such as the Arab Spring of 2010-2012.
In third chapter of the book he discussed the sources of power. In order to describe this concept he has quoted one of the fables of Liu Ji, who was a great military strategist, officer, statesman and poet lived in 14th century in China. The fable goes as follows.
In the feudal state of Chu an old man survived by keeping monkeys in his service. The people of Chu called him “ju gong” (monkey master).
Each morning, the old man would assemble the monkeys in his courtyard, and order the eldest one to lead the others to the mountains to gather fruits from bushes and trees. It was the rule that each monkey had to give one-tenth of his collection to the old man. Those who failed to do so would be ruthlessly flogged. All the monkeys suffered bitterly, but dared not complain.
One day, a small monkey asked the other monkeys: “Did the old man plant all the fruit trees and bushes?” The others said: “No, they grew naturally.” The small monkey further asked: “Can’t we take the fruits without the old man’s permission?” The others replied: “Yes, we all can.” The small monkey continued: “Then, why should we depend on the old man; why must we all serve him?”
Before the small monkey was able to finish his statement, all the monkeys suddenly became enlightened and awakened.
On the same night, watching that the old man had fallen asleep, the monkeys tore down all the barricades of the stockade in which they were confined, and destroyed the stockade entirely. They also took the fruits the old man had in storage, brought all with them to the woods, and never returned. The old man finally died of starvation.
Sharp argues that the power exercised by the autocratic rulers is somewhat similar to the power exercised by the monkey master.
Six sources of political power identified by Gene Sharp are given in Table 2.
Gene Sharp says that the full cooperation, obedience and support will increase the availability of the needed sources of power and consequently expand the power capacity of any autocratic government. On the other hand withdrawal of popular and institutional cooperation with aggressors and dictators diminishes, and may sever, the availability of the sources of power on which all rulers depend. Without availability of those sources, the rulers’ power weakens and finally dissolves.
Gene Sharp advocates non-violent struggle against aggressors all the time and he was greatly influenced by Gandhi. In fact what he had done in this book was to theorise the struggle of Gandhi which was the first mass scale non-violent struggle in the written history.
It was generally believed that the source of the power is within the person who exercise it based on the initial studies of French and Raven. However Geert Hofstede and Gene Sharp point out that the extent of the power exercised by the holder of power is decided by the persons who are subject to the power. This was pointed out by Liu Ji in 14th Century as well. This is what Gandhi did. He decided whether the cotton mills of Lancashire would be running or not.
Similarly, when Mandela was in prison, he decided the date he would be free, not De Klerk, the President. The people of Tunisia decided whether Ben Ali should go or not at a relatively short period compared to Shah of Iran. Let alone a democratic regime, in any tyrannical regime, ultimate power is with the people who are oppressed and unfortunately they do not know it – like the monkeys in the monkey master fable.
(In addition to the books mentioned, information was sourced from Wikipedia as well.)
(The writer is a Chartered Accountant by profession and holds a Master of Business Administration degree awarded by the Postgraduate Institute of Management of University of Sri Jayewardenepura.)