What does it take to get ahead? Technical skill or political prowess?
In his book “Power: Why Some People Have It — And Others Don’t,” Stanford business professor Jeffrey Pfeffer argues the latter. He breaks down common misconceptions about power and success, and outlines strategies for achieving it.
Want to become more powerful? Here are the best takeaways from Pfeffer’s book:
1. Don’t believe the myth that some people are born to lead and others aren’t.
“One of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking good performance — job accomplishments — is sufficient to acquire power and avoid organizational difficulties,” he says. “Consequently, people leave too much to chance and fail to effectively manage their careers.”
2. Get over the idea that everyone needs to like you.
“Larry Summers, Treasury secretary under Bill Clinton, president of Harvard University, and former head of President Barack Obama’s National Economic Council, is often described as prickly, outspoken, and not very sensitive. … [But] not only has Summers’ reputation not hurt him; it has actually helped,” Pfeffer writes.
3. Recognise that performance isn’t everything.
Your relationship with your boss matters more. “In 1980, economists James Medoff and Katherine Abraham observed that salaries in companies were more strongly related to age and organizational tenure than they were to job performance,” he says.
4. Help powerful people feel good about themselves.
“Turnover in senior executive ranks was affected by CEO turnover, particularly when an outsider came in,” according to Pfeffer. “That’s because CEOs like to put loyalists in senior positions — regardless of what past incumbents have accomplished.”
5. Build an effective power network.
“Many studies show that networking is positively related to obtaining good performance evaluations, objective measures of career success such as salary and organizational level, and subjective attitudes assessing career satisfaction,” he writes.
6. Break the rules, especially early in your career.
“In every war in the last 200 years conducted between unequally matched opponents, the stronger party won about 72% of the time,” Pfeffer says. “However, when the underdogs understood their weakness and used a different strategy to minimise its effects, they won some 64% of the time, cutting the dominant party’s likelihood of victory in half.”
7. Get access to key resources.
“It would be nice to be Sergey Brin or Larry Page … or Bill Gates. As they move through venues like the World Economic Forum, they are surrounded not just by security staff but by people who want to meet them and get close to them and the organisations they lead,” he writes.
8. Do an honest self-assessment.
“Because we like to think well of ourselves, we overestimate our own abilities and performance,” says Pfeffer. “When people focus on what they need to get to the next stage of their careers, they are less defensive.”
9. Act the part before you’ve got the part.
“Over time, you will become more like you’re acting — self-assured, confident, and more strongly convinced of the truth of what you are saying,” he writes.
10. Be OK with conflict and showing anger.
“Research shows that people who express anger are seen as ‘dominant, strong, competent, and smart,'” Pfeffer notes. “The researchers found that in negative situations, participants believed that high-status people would feel more angry than sad or guilty and that low-status people would feel sad and guilty instead of angry.”
11. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice.
“In one study, participants were asked to estimate how many strangers they would need to approach in order to get five people to fill out a short questionnaire. The average estimate was 20 people,” he says. In fact, they only needed to approach about 10 people.
12. Carefully consider and construct your image.
Don’t underestimate the power of your personal brand. “The rise of Barack Obama in the tough world of Chicago and then Illinois politics illustrates how Obama, from the very beginning, worked to build a political identity that would be useful to him,” writes Pfeffer.
Just remember, there’s a high price to pay for power — and in the end, everyone loses it.
Don’t get too used to having power — it’s often fleeting and addictive. CEO turnover rates increased 59% between 1995 and 2006, according to a Booz Allen study cited in the book. Pfeffer says when you have a position of power and lose it, it’s “like a car going from 90 miles an hour to a dead stop.”
This is an updated version of an article originally written by Aimee Groth.
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