Jeffrey Pfeffer’s Power is a classy version of a self-help book. I know self-help book sounds a bit insulting but I don’t mean it to be. The idea of giving practical advice that is informed by good research is central to what academics should be doing. There are enough complete nonsense self-help books to show the need for advice. It is good to have better advice available. What then does Pfeffer have to say about gaining and using power?
Get Over Yourself
Although the book is only twelve years old it does read like something from another age. To be honest I don’t think this is totally a bad thing. Pfeffer clearly thinks gaining and using power is important if you want to achieve anything in the world and so you have better be prepared to make sacrifices.
Be prepared to give up a little of your dignity in flattering your boss. Flattery works. Sad, but true.
Get over the fact that the world isn’t just. Belief in a just world holds people back. We think our hard work/skills/decency will be rewarded — it won’t. (Also remember that very successful people aren’t necessarily great people. If you ever forget this just remember Elon Musk.)
One of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking that good performance — job accomplishments–is sufficient to acquire power and avoid organizational difficulties.Pfeffer, 2010, page 21.
In the words of Jarvis Cocker and Pulp.
Because the meek shall inherit absolutely nothing at all. If you stopped being so feeble you could have so much more.Pulp, The Day After the Revolution, 1998
Advice On Working In Organizations
Don’t believe what the great and the good tell you. Those in power lie. Even those on your side can lie. It is just possible Bill Clinton did inhale.
I thought the advice to find underexploited niches was excellent. This is a central theme of marketing that works for people’s careers. If everyone else is trying to go a conventional path try and find a way you can shine where the competition for power is less.
Once you gain status somewhere it is much easier to gain status elsewhere. I guess this means always throw your hat into any ring to advance. You can usually transfer sideways easier than going up when the “right” job comes along.
Network. And network some more.
The ‘nicest’ advice is to put away the cell phone during meetings. Show someone you are focused on them. They will notice and you will have a lot more influence
The Key To Gaining and Using Power
When we stop thinking of ourselves as powerless victims and cease eschewing doing the things that will bring influence our chances of success increase dramatically.Pfeffer, 2010, page 232
It does feel a little like advice your parents might give you. That doesn’t mean it is bad advice.
Read: Jeffrey Pfeffer (2010) Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t, Harper Collins