Dahl observes that a thing to which people attach many labels with subtly or grossly, different meanings in many different cultures and time is probably not a thing but many things.
Marck suggests that being used to explain almost everything, the concept of power can become almost a tautology used to explain that which cannot be explained by other ideas, and incapable of being disproved as an explanation of actions and outcomes.
Although the concepts in the field of organisational behaviour seldom have a universally agreed upon definitions than most. Almost every scholar who writes about power defines if differently. Max Weber defines Power as “the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his out will despite resistance”.
Thus in Weberian sense, “power is more inclusive notion and extends to all combinations of circumstances in which a person will impose his will in a given social situation”.
Walter Nord defined power as “the ability to influence flows of the available energy and resources towards certain goals as opposed to other goals. Power is assumed to be exercised only when these goals are at least partially in conflict with each other”.
Robbins has supplied one of the most detailed, and perhaps most understandable definition: “Power refers to a capacity that A has to influence the behaviour of B, so that B does some things he would not otherwise do”.
Most definitions on power include an element of capacity to influence the behaviour of others in the desired manner. For example, Robert Dahl defines “power as a relation among social actors in which one social actor. A can get another social actor-B, to do something that B would not otherwise have done”.
Quite similarly, a scholar defines power as a person’s ability to influence another person to carry out his order. Power is also defined as force or coercion sufficient to change the behaviour of others against resistance. Power may be ticklish to define, but it is not that difficult to recognise the ability of those who possess power to bring about the outcomes of the desire.
Thus the concept of power is intertwined with the concepts of authority and influence. Perhaps these three concepts use the word influence in describing power. For example, Chester Barnard defined power in terms of informal authority, and many modern organisational theorists define authority as legitimate power.
Influence is usually conceived as broader in scope than power and authority. It involves the ability to alter other’s behaviour in general ways, such as by changing their satisfaction and performance. Influence is more closely associated with leadership than power is, but both obviously are involved in the leadership process.
Thus authority is different from power because of its legitimacy and acceptance and influence is broader than power, but is so conceptually close that the two terms can be used inter changeably.
The above discussion points out that an operational definition of power is lacking, and this is the major reason why power is largely misunderstood in the study of organisational behaviour.
Hicks and Gullet point out the problems with the study of power when they state, “Because power is not well understood, is often extremely subtle or obscure, springs from multiple source, is highly dynamic, has multiple causes and effects, is multi-dimensional and is particularly difficult if not impossible to quantify, positivists have tended to ignore it”.
In order to understand power in clear terms one must be able to estimate: (a) what would happen in the absence of exercise of power; (b) the intentions of the actors exercising power; and (c) the effect of actions taken by the actor on the probability that what was desired would be likely to occur.
According to the foregoing definitions it is evident that the holder of power may influence the behaviour of others by one or more means. In other words power is exercised not directly by means of force, domination or manipulation.
Power, although latent always has a location. It does not float free and un-attracted. Power resides in people with interaction. People or groups have power if the consequences of their actions can be observed in the behaviour of other people. Again, acts of power always involving the exercise of force, domination or manipulation.
Force is a manifestation of power. Power is the ability to employ force, not its actual employment. Power, in other words, is the ability to apply sanctions that require or prohibit the commission on an act not the actual application of such sanctions.
The locus of power is in organisations and groups, and it expresses itself in inter organisational and inter-group relations. Power is a function of the organisation or group and the status of individuals. Power may be dispersed through influence, but influence does not require power. However, if influence is dispersed to manipulate, behaviour becomes a means to exercise power.
It is generally agreed that power characterizes the relationship among social actors. A given social actor or an individual sub-unit or organization has more power with respect to some social actor and less power with respect to others.
Thus power is context or relationship specific. A person is not powerful or powerless, in general but only with respect to other social actors in a specific social relationship. Although power is relationship or context specific, it is not necessarily specifically related to a limited set of decisions.
Most of the studies on power in organisations have focused on hierarchical power which means the power of superiors over subordinates, or bosses over employees. The vertical hierarchical dimension of power is important in understanding social life, but is not the only dimension of power.
As Ferrow observes: It is my impression that for all the discussion and research regarding power in organisation the pre-occupation with interpersonal power has led us to neglect one of the most obvious aspects of this subject.
Complex organizations are divided up between few major departments or sub-units, and all of these sub-units are not likely to be equally powerful. Implicit in this statement is the recognition that power is a structural phenomenon, created by the division of labour and departmentation that characterizes the specific organisation or set of organisations being investigated.