fbpx The Fundamentals of Power in Relationships, Organizations, and Society | Harvard Kennedy School
Julie Battilana Photo

Julie Battilana

Alan L. Gleitsman Professor of Social Innovation, HKS; Joseph C. Wilson Professor of Business Administration, HBS

This course aims to change the way you see and understand power. Power is one of the most misunderstood—and therefore vilified—concepts in our society. Many assume power is predetermined by personality or wealth, or that it’s gained by strong-arming others. Many write it off as “dirty” and want nothing to do with it. Our misconceptions about power, what it is and where it comes from have devasting consequences for all of us individually and collectively. Individually, these misconceptions are frustrating, because they prevent people from having the impact that they wish to have in their life, at work, in their community, and in society. Collectively, they make us less likely to identify, prevent, or stop power abuses that threaten our freedoms and well-being. 

This course is meant to debunk the fallacies that we have in mind about power and to explore the fundamentals of power in interpersonal relationships, in organizations, and in society. In doing so, it will lift the veil on power, revealing to you what it is, and how it works, and unleashing your potential to build and use power to effect change at home, at work, and in society.

Designed for individuals at any stage of their career, this course is about getting things done in the real world, where politics and personalities often seem to hinder rather than help you. It is meant for those of you who want to make things happen, despite the obstacles that might stand in your way. It will also prepare you to use power responsibly, resist its corruptive perils, and exercise it to make the world a better place. As such, it will equip you to leverage power and influence not for personal gain, but to challenge the status quo to address some of the most pressing social and environmental problems of our time, from fighting racism to reducing economic inequalities, saving the planet, and protecting democracy.

The course presents conceptual models, tactical approaches, and assessment tools to help you develop your own influence style and understand political dynamics as they unfold around you. Through a mix of traditional case studies, biographical case studies, exercises, videos, articles, frameworks, and self-assessments, you will evaluate your own bases of power and your own influence style. Exposure to the development and use of power in many different social sectors and in various points in history will allow you to undertake a comprehensive analysis of power in action.

By focusing on specific expressions of power and influence, this course will give you the opportunity to observe the effective—and ineffective—uses of power in different contexts and stages of a person’s career. The subject matter will challenge you to define for yourself what will constitute the ethical exercise of power and influence in your life. You will leave this class with the ability to map power within and across organizations, to shift power dynamics, and to better articulate and persuade others of your vision of change, thus becoming more effective leaders and change makers.