The Ethics of Power
For many, using power to secure personal goals is somehow ethically wrong. For them, power is the capacity to force others to do something they would rather not do. Power lets one person dominate or subjugate another. They say one employs power when other forms of influence fail. This negative face of power translates ethically into a view of power that sees it as constraining on the target of power and, somehow, demeaning to the user. Much of the negative image of organizational politics stems from these kinds of feelings.
An alternative construction sees power as a value-neutral tool in conducting human intercourse. This power tool is neither intrinsically good nor bad. It is only in the ethics of the user that power use contributes to or detracts from the accepted values, mores, and standards of the society.
In this chapter we lay out for review some of the ethical considerations of power use as a foundation for detailed discussion of discrete power-use tactics presented elsewhere in this book. The tactics described in previous chapters constitute a series of systems of behaviors one may adopt to impact the actions, thoughts, or beliefs of others--superiors, peers, and subordinates.
Understanding something of the intellectual basis of power ethics will help us make more informed power decisions. We can make better decisions about when to use power, specific tactics to employ, and the ethical implications of its use. Because, whether we like the idea or not, power use is a part of all life. We engage routinely in relationships that can be better understood from the perspective of power relations. It is central to understanding how we relate to others. It is critical to success in these relationships.
The capacity to influence others has always been a part of the history of people