Skip to main content
Rate us:
Posted on March 2, 2020
Updated on February 17, 2021

Power and Authority

When we consider the issue of power and authority we usually relate this to roles and hierarchy instead, let’s start with considering two types of power – internal and external.  

External power relates to our roles and status whilst internal power is more to do with our own internal sense. This can be energetically experienced by others, for example when someone wields their role power over others we tend to want to comply, withdraw or become resistant. When we are out of touch with our internal sense of power we will exercise power over, rather than with others.

Some people say that money is power. Others say that beauty is power as someone can be worth millions. Money, physical bearing and presence can influence how others perceive us. Fortunately, diversity issues are slowly changing behaviour and perceptions, however physical appearance probably still counts for more than is admitted.

Information is also power. When knowledge is shared to everyone’s benefit then all is well. When it is shared for the benefit of a few then others may suffer.

The attempt to combine, money, knowledge, beauty and power can all cause corruption unless we are in touch with our own internal sense of power. Otherwise, we can be tempted to buy into the dream we are being sold that having all these things will bring us happiness and contentment.

When people compete for power this often causes stress and ill-feeling and much energy in organisational life is expended in this way.  In order to deal with organisational politics it is therefore important to develop a sense of internal power.

When we are clear about what we are feeling and thinking and are open and honest with ourselves about this we can then go on to ask ourselves what we want to do about it. Paying attention and asking ourselves the right questions enables us to develop a sense of our own internal power. 

There is much external to ourselves that we are not in control of but what we can control is ourselves, and this is our power. When we can do this consistently and congruently we are autonomous and free. Having an internal sense of power includes the ability to take time to consider our thoughts and feelings before taking any action. This offers us control and safety and reinforces our inner power. 

Therefore, regardless of what is happening around us we are able to stand calmly and know who we are. This is connected to integrity as well as a sense of self. No one can take this sense away from us, regardless of what is happening around us. Here, we can consider Kipling’s “IF” poem (though some of us might not want to take so much notice of the line “You’ll be a Man, my son”!!). For those who are not familiar with it here are the first two verses and part of the last verse:

IF – Rudyard Kipling

Marris writes about the contrast between what most of us believe to be the way in which we should nurture a secure attachment in the family and the way organisations handle economic relationships – completely opposite. Marris goes on to note that organisations tend to make fewer and fewer commitments to its employees and to shrink the core to the fewest possible workers (rationalisation!). He believes this is due to a move from co-operative to competitive ways of managing uncertainty “which is socially destructive, underminding the conditions in which secure attachments can easily flourish, and even economically destructive in the long run” (1996).

Marris goes on to say that we use power to protect ourselves against uncertainty. If we can put as much of the burden of uncertainty onto others then they take the stress and undertake the commitment in order that we maintain the control and the freedom. This links with the symbiotic chain as those further and further down the hierarchy have less and less freedom of action. People can resist this or can become passive and indifferent as a way of surviving. Employing sub-contractors can also be seen as one way to pass on the burden of responsibility and change to someone else. If something goes wrong it is the easier to fire them.

Interestingly, Marris points out that those further down the hierarchy tend also to have suffered early loss of a primary attachment figure and to have insecure attachments. Therefore, when this issue is reinforced later on by those in authority the workers who are experiencing instability and insecurity and powerlessness an resort to drugs and drink as a way of forgetting their sense of lack of control.

Issues of power have been written about in many different ways within the TA literature. Batts discussed it in relation to racism and scripting, stating that racism relates to contaminated thinking developed from messages about how to think, feel and act in relation to certain other people. Batts talks about this in relation to “people of colour” but this could just as easily be in relation to a range of differences. However, her article’s specific focus is racism and, as a Black woman, and a Transactional Analyst she has much to share in this area. 

Batts outlines the early decisions white people are scripted to make:

  • I’ll stay away/keep them away
  • I won’t notice the difference in our skin colour
  • I’ll try my best to help them as they are not capable to help themselves 

In relation to Black and Asian people, she suggests that the injunction “Don’t trust whites” might well be a functional script decision, depending upon the situation. For example, an aspiring Black woman might well have a script injunction to not trust white people which may be a functional one where the white office staff are continually mistaking her for the cleaner. Therefore, the script decisions may well support her Be Strong and this may be helpful in some contexts.  What she would need to learn is when this would not be helpful, making it a Working Style, rather than a Driver.

Krausz explored the issue of structure and people in relation to power (1987).  An effective structure is necessary to ensure objectives are accomplished with the least effort. However, even if the structure is good it will be ineffective if relationships are poor. 

Relationships in the workplace are a mix of organisational and personal power. The balance will affect performance. Organisational power is derived from the structure and is assigned to roles, whereas personal power is not assigned and depends on individual characteristics and is not subject to restrictions.

Krausz described the administration of power as:

“The process of distributing organisational power among various positions in a given structure such that individuals can use it as an addition to personal power in order to attain organisational and personal goals with minimum use of energy and maximum utilisation of available resources” 

                                                           (Krausz, 1987 pp142-3)

Poor structures present serious obstacles to the achievement of goals as it encourages friction, power politics, time consuming delays, unclear communication and wasted effort. She then goes on to look at pyramid and flat structures.

Pyramid: those at the top isolate themselves and are a closed group.  They resist change or autocratically direct change. They monopolise power and are self-serving. The style of leadership tends to be coercive and controlling. Therefore, organisational games abound.  There is intense bureaucratic activity with mediocre outcomes.

Flat: Power is distributed in a balanced way with the emphasis on self-control. Responsibility is coupled with authority and accountability. People are seen as human beings not just as roles in a structure.  Communication is open and trust develops. Organisational power is a means to reach the goals, not as an end in itself.

Power and Leadership

  • Power
  • Leadership
  • Management

Few leaders are trained to know how to handle power and authority.  Few leadership programmes hold discussions about values, philosophy and power. Therefore, many leaders and managers are ill-equipped to deal with the external power they may then be given.

The ability to influence the actions of others, individuals or group (Krausz, R., 1986).

The capacity to create change against resistance, and by extension the capacity to resist unwanted change (Steiner, C., 1995).

More money meant more powerful wheels. My first real money was made as an auto mechanic... Horsepower was what everyone seemed to desire and Detroit delivered it... The early taste of power coming from using machines made a deep impression on me... Unfortunately, most of the world’s power is held by men who would like to think only in the rational and scientific mode (Steiner, C., 1995).

As mentioned earlier, if we are out of touch with a sense of our own internal source of power we may attempt to obtain this through power over rather than power with others.

If we believe we are powerless we are likely to use the status granted to us by the organisation, or give our power away.

“The way power is used in the process of influencing the actions of others”.  (Krausz R. 1986).

“A leader seeks to bring about learning and inspire willing effort from followers.  A leader looks for contributive effort and commitment in order to bring about the changes and visions they hope to reach” (Williams M. 1998).

“Leaders achieve results by working with and through people and exist at all levels of the organisation”. Their responsibility is to “align the organisation, to ensure that all its components are pointing in the same direction” - (Wickens 1995).

Cultural differences play a part. Research on leadership (Beverly Alimo-Metcalfe, 1995) showed that it is viewed differently in different cultures. The two top leadership characteristics in the USA are vision and charisma - qualities ranked much lower by UK managers. UK managers focus more on working in close collaboration with others.  There is an element of humility, and vulnerability, which is almost entirely absent in the USA.

In considering leadership we might also consider the concept of Projective Identification. Projective Identification is an internal perspective. Those involved feel complete but this is because they project their un-owned experience onto another person and perceive this as being carried or owned by them. This can lead to controlling leadership with passive followership, such as in autocratic systems.

Van Poelje (1995) discusses the idea that master, followers and lieutenants all have complimentary racket systems. In autocratic systems, individuals are unable to deal with their authentic feelings and therefore repress them. They, therefore, lack a solid sense of self and have a high need for outside structure and strokes. Organisational boundaries are impermeable and alternative realities are not permitted. 

With democratic leadership organisational boundaries are permeable and communication is open, allowing the development of both the individual and the organisation.

A manager seeks to establish and maintain order, structure and predictable certainty within a business or a team in order to achieve deadlines, budgets and performance objectives. 

This is a far more practical, tactile role than that of leader.

A manager can regulate “vision” with the practical needs of the team.  They can see problems that might arise. They direct efforts (Williams M. 1998).

Management is broadly about the formulation of policy, the organisation and coordination of work, the allocation of tasks, development of staff and determination of responsibility and ensuring the performance is in line with requirements.Doing things right rather than doing the right things. 

(Wickens P. 1995).

Management and Leadership

To be successful managers must both manage and lead. 

Leaders must be able to manage, or at least be surrounded by people who can. A manager who cannot lead is a waste of space and money!  (Wickens P. 1995).

Power Types

  • Coercion - based on fear to ensure compliance
  • Position - based on the status
  • Reward - capacity to assign material or psychological compensations
  • Support - based on the ability to stimulate the involvement of peers, superiors etc. in organisational endeavours
  • Knowledge - related to relevant expertise for the job.
  • Interpersonal Competence - based on communication skills, empathy, authenticity, caring, respect, trust and capacity for intimacy.  Primarily involves the informal web of relationships.

Leadership Style

  • Coercive - this style employs predominantly coercion and position power. If you win, I lose, so I must win. People are treated like pawns.  People who are treated like pawns tend to be passive and feel useless.
  • Controlling - The types of power predominantly used in this case are coercion, position, and reward. 
  • Coercion tends to be subtle, though emotional and material manipulation. Controlling leadership is similar to McGregor’s (1960) X Theory. The climate under this leadership reflects a diminished sense of accountability, competition, mistrust and defensiveness.
  • Coaching - This style uses predominantly position, reward, knowledge, and support power. It allows individual development and professional growth, although it may also stimulate dependency in relation to hierarchical superiors and more experienced people in the organisation. Organisational power tends to be underused. Climate is one of co-operation and openness.
  • Participative - With this kind of leadership reward, support, acknowledgement and interpersonal competence are the most frequently employed types of power. Creativity, problem solving, and decision making are enhanced. The climate reflects trust and respect regardless of the individual’s position in the hierarchy. There is an overall sense of well being and worth.

Leadership Style, Amount of Energy Used and Results Obtained

Leadership Style

Leadership & Imagoes

Newton (2003) has developed imagoes for different training styles.  I have taken some of these and considered the issue of leadership styles with each imago.

Liberal Leadership Imago:

 Liberal Leadership Imago

Imparting knowledge is the main object. Workers are seen as empty vessels needing to be filled.  Risk of I+U-. Invites passivity and there is an invitation to Be Perfect.

Dogmatic Leadership Imago

Dogmatic Leadership Imago

Authority is given to the past and traditional ways of doing things. In this type of organisation, those who adapt will be rewarded but those who resist will possibly be excluded.  

Newton also describes this as the “guru” model. In such organisations, there can be a high turnover of staff as personal experience is discounted or fragmentation in teams as people emotionally withdraw. This leadership can lead to symbiosis.

Progressive Leadership Imago

Progressive Leadership Imago

The aim is to enable workers to increase their skills in problem-solving and decision making and encourage personal responsibility. The leader becomes the guide. There is an emphasis on social as well as personal change. This links with the classical school of TA and the development of the contractual process. Newton outlines one of the weaknesses as the belief that all problems are solvable and sometimes the most appropriate response is just the “be there”.

Sharing Power

When people develop new organisations they are often enthusiastic, creative, risk takers. As these new structures develop those who started it all off need to remain open to new ideas as this is good for individuals as well as productivity. 

Unfortunately, the primal leaders sometimes make it difficult for others to come alongside them as they enjoy the elite status they have achieved. Managers and leaders in this position feel too threatened to encourage autonomy and rarely delegate decision making. Morale will decrease if you are a leader who resents the workforce acting as if they are equal and in these situations, politicking and game playing will ensue and productivity will go down.

If you are one of the founders or primal leaders you need to ensure that the organisation develops in a healthy way by recognising that there are stages to growth and allowing other people to come alongside you, sharing their thoughts and aspirations. When this happens you are more likely to be using the Mindful process in the Behavioural Modes model.

A good example of this is Frank Gehry, the famous Canadian architect who designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. His way of working is to create the design for the building in the way an artist would, by sketching and then making models of the structure. 

Eventually, Gehry was persuaded to use computer-generated designs and, whilst he had not been an advocate of computers, he followed this suggestion and other people found ways to convert his models into computer designs.

Gehry recognised the need to develop with the times and to use the resources that were available. He is not threatened by others who have the skills to do what he cannot. Instead, he employs people to do what he cannot do, or is not interested in doing. Gehry was also not too proud to go for help to enable him to release his creative talents when he realised that he was stuck.

As a leader, you will need to keep an eye open for your own egotism and be aware when you are enjoying the status more than the process of being a leader. This may be the time to find a good coach, and question values, beliefs and processes”.

(Mountain & Davidson, 2011)


Batts VA (1983), Knowing and Changing the Cultural Script Component of Racism, TAJ 13:4

Berne E (1963), The Structure and Dynamics of Organizations and Group, Evergreen

Freedman L (1993), Self-Managed Work Teams, TAJ 23:2

Krausz R (1986,) Power and Leadership in Organizations, TAJ 16:2

Krausz R (1987), Administration of Power in Organizations, TAJ 17:4

Marris P (1996), The Management of Uncertainty, (in The Politics of Attachment: Towards a Secure Society, eds. Kraemer S & Roberts J), Free Association Books.

Massey RF (1996), Transactional Analysis as a Social Psychology, TAJ 26:1

Mountain A & Davidson C (2011), Working Together: Organizational Transactional Analysis and Business Performance, Gower

Newton T (2003) Identifying Educational Philosophy and Practice through Imagoes in Transactional Analysis Training Groups, TAJ 33:4

Richmond L (1999), Work as a Spiritual Practice, how to bring depth and meaning to the work you do, Judy Piatkus (Publishing) Ltd

Van Poelje S (1995), Development of Autocratic Structures, TAJ 25:3

Wickens P (1995), The Ascendant Organisation, Macmillan Business

Williams M. (1998), Mastering Leadership, Thorogood