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Efficacy or Rigidity? Power, Influence, and Social Learning in the U.S. Senate, 1973–2005


Organizations have idiosyncratic norms and practices that govern the exercise of power. Newcomers learn these unwritten rules through organizational socialization. In organizations with dominant and subordinate groups, structural power can shift between groups as the resources they control ebb and flow. We examine how entering the organization in a dominant group affects (1) the ability to exert influence following subsequent structural shifts in power and (2) the rate at which people learn to wield influence. On one hand, entering in a dominant group may boost self-efficacy and cat-alyze social learning about effective influence tactics. On the other hand, entering in a dominant group may make people susceptible to the adverse psychological consequences of experiencing power, which inhibit social learning. We examine these dynamics in the context of the U.S. Senate from 1973 to 2005. We find partial support for both accounts: (1) senators who entered in the political majority were less effective than their counterparts who entered in the minority at converting subsequent structural shifts of power into influence; however, (2) majority entrants learned how to wield influence following such shifts at a faster rate than did minority entrants. We discuss implications for research on power, learning, and socialization.

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