The Power Factor in Adaptive Leadership and Power

By Walter E. Natemeyer and Carl W. Hunt

This series on Adaptive Leadership and Power for Secure Cyberspace Operations began with a look at the requirement to adapt sound leadership principles for operations in cyberspace today. We proposed that we could integrate several traditional and non-traditional techniques that lend themselves well to leadership in the connected age.

We pointed to Dwight Eisenhower’s tried and true leadership perspectives, Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership model and a novel take on leadership that Nick Obolensky calls Complex Adaptive Leadership. We also demonstrated the power that John Boyd’s OODA Loop model offers to help leaders orient to the emergent environmental conditions that cyberspace and its massive connectivity poses to leaders in the connected age.

All of these approaches and models had one thing in common, whether addressing the environments of cyberspace or not: Leadership is the process of influencing others in efforts toward goal accomplishment. The fact is that leaders cannot automatically influence other people. Leaders have to have some sort of power to enable them to gain compliance or commitment from others.

We define Power as the potential for influence. Leaders who understand how to use power are clearly more effective than those who do not. This was true before the advent of cyberspace but in the face of a relentless, adaptive threat to our organizational networks today, the effective use of power to coordinate and influence our people in the exercise of secure cyberspace operations is more critical than ever.

Let’s look at some ways power has been classified in management literature. Amitai Etzioni broke power into two major categories. [1] One is called position power, and those are the powers that are bestowed upon a leader as a result of title, role or position within the organization. The other is called personal power. It is the power that leaders earn interacting with others based on their respect for knowledge, judgment, experience and the way that they treat other people. It is important for leaders to develop and utilize both their position power and their personal power.

Position Power and Personal Power consist of seven power bases. [2] There is an additional, perhaps transcendent, power base, truly prevalent in the age of cyberspace, which we loosely call “Network Power;” We will discuss this at the end of our description of the initial seven power bases. Figure 1 depicts all of these power bases in relation to each other and to the readiness level of the follower.

Expert Power is based on the perception that the leader has relevant education, experience and expertise to influence the follower’s behavior. It is based on respect for the expertise of the leader.

The second power base is called Information Power. It is based on the perception that this leader has access to, or perhaps control over, information that is useful to followers. People who excel at accessing and providing information are in a better position to influence followers than people who are not.

The third power base is called Referent Power. Referent Power is based on the degree to which the followers like, respect and admire their leader.

The fourth power base is Legitimate Power. This is based on the perception that this individual, because of his or her position, has the right to tell a follower what to do, and the follower has a responsibility to comply.

The fifth power base is called Reward Power. Reward Power is based on the perception that if the follower does what this leader wants, he/she is going to get some positive rewards for that compliance.

Sixth is Connection Power. Connection Power is based on the perception that this individual is connected to important or influential people within or even outside this organization. If the follower does what the leader wants because he/she hopes that it will gain the favor or perhaps avoid the disfavor of those “connections,” they are being influenced by the leader’s Connection Power. [3]

The seventh power base is Coercive Power. Coercive Power is built upon fear. It is based on the perception that if the follower doesn’t do what the leader wants, there will be negative consequences.

Finally, there is also what we are labeling Network Power that has become more noticeable since the advent of cyberspace and the massive connectivity that emerges from this relatively new environment. Over the last few years, several prominent thinkers have written about the general nature of Network Power from a variety of standpoints, including social networks, economies and governance. [4] We speak specifically of the influence of networks on leadership and management in this blog post series, however.

Joshua Cooper Ramo notes that the “future will almost certainly bring a study of the influence of network power upon history” and we take from his thoughts that leaders must also recognize the influence of network power in leadership. [5] “In connected systems, power is defined by both profound concentration and by massive distribution,” Ramo writes. “It can’t be understood in simple either-or terms. Power and influence will, in the near future, become even more centralized than in feudal times and more distributed than it was in the most vibrant democracies.” [6]

In the context of the Adaptive Leadership and Power for Secure Cyberspace Operations model, this means that Network Power propagates across cyberspace such that all the power bases might have some level of influence in any situation (e.g., not “either-or” as Ramo notes). “What is true for the machines all around us now is true for us too: We are what we are connected to.” [7] Network Power can and likely will enhance or dampen the “traditional” seven forms of power we described above, sometimes in alternating fashion.

“Network power, we might say, exists as a skin of billions of tied-together points linked to vital, centralized cores…Networks create concentration and distribution. As a result, they rip apart many existing structures.” [8] Thus, according to Ramo, Network Power as we describe it for ALP-SCO, is both an ingredient of the former power bases, and a “connector” for adaptive leadership functions. This is distinct from the Connection Power base previously mentioned, but a more general use of the term.

Ramo’s definitions of Network Power also means that all of the power bases that are infused through our take on Network Power change the character of the relationships between leaders, followers, and the organization, however subtly.

The impact of the four environments of cyberspace also come into play. “If connection changes the nature of an object, it also elevates those who control that connection to a level of rare power and influence.” [9] In ALP-SCO, leaders must bear this in mind. While there is much to learn about Network Power, this is an area worth hypothesizing about and studying. [10]

Figure 1 is an initial effort to integrate Walt Natemeyer’s previous work adapting power bases to follower readiness (and, by extension, leadership styles) to the realities that Network Power expresses in the connected age. Network Power must be recognized, facilitated and accommodated.


Leader Power Bases

Figure 1: Leadership Power Bases


In the absence of further study of Network Power in relationship to ALP-SCO, we note that when attempting to gain compliance from people with below average readiness (R1/R2), leaders should ideally possess and use their position powers, while tapping the networks they’ve built to focus these position powers. The leader’s ability to provide positive or negative consequences directly (reward and coercive power) or indirectly (connection power) can be instrumental in getting followers at R1 and R2 to accomplish organizational objectives they otherwise would not do.

With people of average readiness (R2/R3), a combination of both position and personal powers tends to be effective at influencing them. Providing positive consequences (reward power), asserting authority (legitimate power) and leveraging positive relationships with people (referent power) tends to work well at gaining their compliance.

And with people of above average readiness (R3/R4), utilizing personal powers (referent, information and expert power), particularly enhanced through social networks, is potentially most effective.

Network Power serves to enhance and/or dampen these powers just as networks do in all other fields (economics, governance, etc.). The leader that learns and exploits Network Power can excel at exercising the other seven powers.

Just as researchers found that there is no one best leadership style, they likewise concluded that there is no one best power base for a leader to use. This is particularly true in the connected age where not only the follower’s readiness is an important measure but so is the impact of the environmental conditions cyberspace imposes. There is no one best leadership technique and there is no one best power base to call upon to influence followers…cyberspace and the networks that emerge makes this certain.

The key to success in exercising power for secure cyberspace operations is to build all the power bases and use them according to the follower’s readiness level and the environmental factors that cyberspace presents. Understanding and leveraging Network Power is critical to that success.

Next time, we’ll provide a few vignettes that illustrate the convergence of follower readiness, cyberspace environmental conditions, leadership styles and how Network Power affects us all.

Originally posted 8/29/2016.

[1] Etzioni, A., A Comparative Analysis of Complex Organizations, The Free Press, NY, 1975, p. 159.

[2] For a detailed review of the Seven Power Bases in organizational behavior, see Natemeyer, W., and Hersey, P., “Situational Leadership and Power,” Classics of Organizational Behavior, Waveland Press, IL, 2011, p. 440.

[3] This “Connection” power base was identified long before the advent of cyberspace and network connectivity. In spite of the apparent overlap of meaning, we will continue to use the original definition of this term as it relates to the power base theory. We’ll try to be clear where confusion may arise.

[4] Important texts in this area of study include the following: Watts, D., Six Degrees: the Science of a Connected Age, Norton, 2003; Grewal, D. S., Network Power: The Social Dynamics of Globalization, Yale University Press, 2008; The books of Alvin and Heide Toffler (e.g., Future Shock, The Third Wave, etc.); and a very recent work, Ramo, J, The Seventh Sense: Power, Fortune, and Survival in the Age of Networks, Little, Brown and Company, NY, 2016.

[5] Ramo, op. cit., p. 85.

[6] Ibid., p. 116.

[7] Ibid., p. 35

[8] Ibid., pp, 116-118.

[9] Ibid., p. 177. Throughout the remainder of his book, Ramo describes what he calls “gateways” and “gatekeepers” as being the ultimate holders of power and influence in the connected age.

[10] In fact, one of the expected outcomes of this blog post series is the working proposal to study the role of leadership power in cyberspace and networks. One of the things we propose to look at in this research is the emergence and role of gatekeepers and gateways that exist in cyberspace, as noted by Ramo.

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