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Enhancing Organizational Performance


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Way back in 1959, John French and Bertram Raven, Social Psychologists, in some ground-breaking research, identified five bases of power used by leaders to exercise authority and control people. There was Legitimate power, which they identified as position power which a CEO, President, or other leader in a specific position would have. There is Reward power, the ability to reward another person for compliance. There is Expert power conferred by the knowledge and skills of the leader. Referent power, conferred by worthiness or attractiveness. Coercive power which comes about by punishing non-compliance. And after 6 years of additional study they added Informational power, the ability to control the flow of information needed to accomplish tasks.

Their work was from the viewpoint of where power originates, but there is a flip side to this work and that is consent, the acceptance of power, by those upon whom this power is exercised. The Declaration of Independence, penned by Thomas Jefferson (with some editing assistance from Benjamin Franklin and others) was a clear rejection of the power of the King of England and it stated that is was necessary to describe why they were rejecting that Legitimate power, that up to that point in time, the king exercised over them.

“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

The second paragraph of the Declaration, begins to explain to the king why they are rejecting his power over them, and going beyond the notion of equality for all and the notion of unalienable rights – that rights that can’t be taken away, hits on the notion of consent. That is, that those who are having power exercised over them must consent to that power being used to control them. The founders, with a few exceptions, were not particularly religious people, hence the separation of church and state safeguards, and yet they described rights as being conferred upon them by a creator. That was very deliberate, for rights conferred upon you by some kind of creator, a higher power, can’t be taken away by people, and that is what makes them unalienable. Further the second paragraph states that when “government becomes destructive of these ends” it is the right of the people to change the government.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.”

I argue from an Organizational Psychology standpoint, not a legal standpoint since I am not a legal scholar, but this is THE founding document of the United States of America and it served as a guideline for the Constitution, the amendments which were added and over the years various interpretations of how to operationalize those statements. Consent and the ability to withhold that consent was at the core of the separation from England, it is what allows us to form a government, gives our leaders legitimacy, and is part of the DNA of the American people.

Giving consent or withholding it always involves the behavior of one person or a group of people over one or more people.  Consensual sexual behavior between people, by definition, should only occur when consent is given. But there is a lot of behavior that falls short of sexual and yet should only occur when consent is given. A third-grade teacher asks her students “What does it mean to give consent?” And the students answer, saying “Yes” or “No”, “to give permission” and “to be allowed to do something”. She further explores, “When do we need consent?” And the answers come back, “giving hugs”, “borrowing things”, “kissing”, “telling secrets”, “sharing”. And she pushes the point to clarify, “What if you really want a hug and the other person doesn’t?” or “The person let you hug them yesterday but they don’t want a hug today?” She clarifies, “that is not consent”. Teaching what consent means and what it means to withhold consent begins, as it should, early.

CEO’s worth their salt and others in leadership realize that while they may have legitimate power, expert power or other power as defined by French and Raven, without clarity of vision and the consent of those within the organization to be led in a manner to fulfill that vision, they will not be successful. CEO’s who lose the consent of their people can’t succeed. CEO’s who lead by barking out orders and simply expecting execution of those orders, in the long run will fail and fail miserably. For consent when done right, buys more than agreement to be led, it buys effort and the willingness of those within the organization to work towards mutually agreed upon goals.

The United States government today is rocked by scandal, too many to count, with an administration put into (or Putin to) place or whose election was greatly assisted by a foreign government, making the legitimacy of the current president questionable and calling into question whether the American public actually gave this leader consent to govern. A majority of which certainly did not. You have a President, a Congressional majority and now a Supreme Court that represents ideologically a minority of the public and therefore lacks the consent of the majority to govern. Republicans ignoring the right of President Obama to install Merrick Garland to the Supreme court was only a hint of things to come. And now the installation of Brett Kavanaugh, by a group of Senators, without legitimate investigations of sexual behaviors that was forced upon another without consent, flies in the face of the concepts upon which this nation was founded. And of course, the clear lack of impartiality by this judge, will make all of his future decisions suspect.

When does a population have the right to withdraw their consent to be governed by those in power? According to the Declaration of Independence it is “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends…” In other words, when those being governed did not give their consent or choose to withdraw their consent. Vote in November.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

October 6, 2018 at 7:44 pm

Posted in Ethics

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