Categories
l. Power

Power

Leadership and power are two different aspects of social status, and there is a constant interplay between them. Leadership maintains group cohesion and purpose and enables us to adapt in a changing environment. Power, on the other hand, is the ability to direct the resources of sub-ordinates to some purpose.

Many people actively seek social status which, as well as holding leadership obligations, also conveys power. The reasons are diverse and vary from individual to individual. For example, it might be a consequence of lacking a feeling of safety, the influence of upbringing, or the influence of a role model. However, the principal motivators are thought to be:

  1. A desire to be in control of one’s own affairs and freedom from social demands. Power enables one to enjoy the benefits of a co-operative society without the associated effort of negotiating and compromising with large numbers of other people. Rather, it is easier to negotiate with just a few in a hierarchy. Those who seek power for this reason can often be identified by their retiring nature, e.g., living in homes surrounded by security fencing and avoiding the media.
  2. A desire for control over the affairs of others as a means of obtaining positive regard. Such seekers of power have a tendency towards narcissism and publicity seeking. They enjoy their status and having others look up to them.
  3. The pursuit of resources. When people believe that they have insufficient resources to satisfy, and sustain the satisfaction of their personal needs, they will attempt to control the resources of others: i.e., their time, physical effort, mental effort, and property. We seek to satisfy our needs as efficiently as possible. From a personal perspective it is more efficient to do so using the resources of others, rather than our own. Although communities rely on reciprocal trading for the equitable satisfaction of their members’ needs, some members will use strategies to tilt the balance of reciprocation in their favour. They will, therefore, benefit inequitably from the resources of the group.

The drive to acquire social status is a natural part of the human psyche and the consequence of millions of years of evolution. In the past, it has enabled us to survive and prosper. It is a part of human nature. Without it we would be less than human, and we certainly lack the skills to design a better psyche. However, one component of social status, the drive to acquire power, now poses a threat to the future of humanity. The answer, however, is not to attempt to remove it by technical or psychological means. Nor is the answer the replacement of one ideology by another. Nor is it the replacement of particular individuals or groups by others, e.g., men by women, or the elite by the working class. This is because we all seek power to a greater or lesser degree. Rather, the answer is to put in place social controls and attitudes which will ensure that power does not eclipse the other aspect of social status, leadership. In this way requisite hierarchy can be made to benefit all of humanity and life on earth.

Categories
j. Hierarchy Emergence - Introduction

Hierarchy Emergence – Introduction

A person’s social status in an organisation, from a club to a nation, is a measure of their attributes of leadership and power. Social status takes the form of a pyramidical hierarchy. Each level in the hierarchy is known as a stratum. Those in a higher stratum are normally fewer in number and have greater social status than those in a lower stratum. Such hierarchies are ubiquitous. Even organisations whose stated aims are socialist and progressive have hierarchies within them. The perception of relative status is important in determining how people interact with one another. Those of higher status will trade delegated status for the support of those of lower status, and vice versa. However, they will often compete with those of similar status.

An understanding of how status hierarchies arise can be gained by considering very small groups of individuals. In a group of just two people, the attributes of leadership and power in both are often similar. This leads to an equitable balance in social status. It is only where the attributes of one are greater than those of the other that differences emerge. For example, if person A clearly has more knowledge of how to tackle a situation than person B, then, in their mutual interest, B may defer to A. Similarly, if person B is more dominant through reasons of personality, physical strength, economic power, etc., then person A, in his own interest, may defer to B.

However, in a group of three, a hierarchy is almost inevitable. If person A clearly has greater attributes of leadership and power than B & C combined, then they will usually defer to him. However, if the attributes of A & C are roughly equal but greater than those of B, then there will be competition between A & C. Person B may acknowledge the higher status of both, but to avoid lowest status, may support whoever offers him greatest benefit in return, e.g., A. The attributes of an alliance of two are usually greater than those of one alone. The result is, therefore, that A gains highest status, followed by his supporter B, and C has lowest status. As a rule, the hierarchy ABC will offer greater benefit to every member than would be the case if each operated in isolation, and so, it may be accepted.

Another strategy for B is to remain neutral and encourage competition between A & C. B can then either wait for one of the others to negotiate with him, or alternatively, approach the person least confident of winning the competition.

Even at this very small scale, it is not necessarily the most competent leader who achieves highest status. Much depends on how highly the group members value competent leadership over personal interest. Unfortunately, it is also the case that power tends to trump leadership. A social hierarchy can, therefore, often be based on the former rather than the latter.

Although the interactions described above are between two or three individuals, they take place on a day-to-day basis between members of much larger organisations, the organisations themselves, and sub-organisations within them. Ultimately, a highest status individual, whose motives may or may not be the same as those of the organisation, either emerges from it or joins it.

However, hierarchies in very small groups can be dynamic, whilst those in larger groups are more entrenched. Small organisations tend to be informal and influenced by the character of particular individuals. Thus, when individuals or circumstances change, then so too does the nature of the hierarchy. However, as hierarchies become larger and more complex, they increasingly need a formal structure, with titles and reporting lines. These enable people to better understand their roles and co-operate. In formal hierarchies, roles and reporting lines are independent of individuals, who may change from time to time.