Power

This is an unusual reading choice. The little prince might say this is for grown-ups. Yet again, I do not recall how I stumbled on the book. It is definitely a great read, agreeing with or not agreeing with the author on everything. Generally speaking, I like books by academics, except on some occasions when the authors “lecture” me or cram in far too many disconnected informational dots without a thread telling a compelling story. This book is well structured, written with interesting real-world stories and last but not least important, is written in a very friendly tone.  


Power – Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t, is written by Jeffrey Pfeffer, Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford University.

I do not like the word “power”. I am not sure how my brain has ended up being wired to associate the word power as being “dirty”, implying tricks, manipulation, dishonesty, and other negative attributes of anyone seeking power in an outrageous fashion. I do not think I am unique about this at all. I wonder whether women are more likely to think this way than men are. I am glad that I was biased but open-minded enough to pick up this book, read it thoroughly and be influenced by it, or in other words, allowing myself to be rewired. Having strong opinions, but very willing to listen and change, is one of the traits that I am proud of. If you are like me, hope this overview give you a glimpse about this book and might even entice you to pick it up.

Power is important for career success—maybe more important than job performance. And power is related, albeit not perfectly, to wealth, the ability to get things done, and even to longevity. Therefore, people need to acquire power and learn how to do so. Power, based on the latest social science research and filled with numerous examples from people from the public and private sector, at various career stages, and from numerous countries and companies, shows you how to obtain influence.

The book covers a range of topics including: building efficient and effective social networks, creating a favorable reputation and why it is important to do so, how to act and speak with power, coping with opposition and setbacks, the individual qualities that help make people powerful, how to develop resources, where to start your career, and why being likeable may make you influential but having influence will almost certainly cause others to like you.

One major piece of advice from this book:

To be effective in figuring out your path to power and to actually use what you learn, you must first get past three major obstacles. The first two are the belief that the world is a just place and the hand-me-down formulas on leadership that largely reflect this misguided belief. The third obstacle is yourself.

Why is it wrong to view the world as a just place:

The belief in a just world has two big negative effects on the ability to acquire power. First, it hinders people’s ability to learn from all situations and all people, even those whom they don’t like or respect. I see this all the time in my teaching and work with leaders. One of the first reactions people have to situations or cases about power is whether or not the individual “likes” the person being studied or can identify with the object of study. Who cares? It is important to be able to learn from all sorts of situations and people, not just those you like and approve of, and certainly not just from people you see as similar to yourself. In fact, if you are in a position of modest power and want to attain a position of great power, you need to pay particular attention to those holding the positions you aspire to. Second, this belief that the world is a just place anesthetizes people to the need to be proactive in building a power base. Believing that the world is fair, people fail to note the various land mines in the environment that can undermine their careers.

That said, I think that each of us has an obligation to our society to do our own part to make the world a more just place than we have.

A few more words on the just-world hypothesis:

The just-world hypothesis holds that most people believe that “people get what they deserve; that is, that the good people are likely to be rewarded and the bad to be punished. Most important, the phenomenon works in reverse: if someone is seen to prosper, there is a social psychological tendency for observers to decide that the lucky person must have done something to deserve his good fortune. He or she becomes a better person…simply by virtue of the observed rewards.”

On self-handicapping:

One of the best ways for people to preserve their self-esteem is to either preemptively surrender or do other things that put obstacles in their own way…People desire to feel good about themselves and their abilities. Obviously, any experience of failure puts their self-esteem at risk. However, if people intentionally choose to do things that could plausibly diminish their performance, then any subsequent performance decrements can be explained away as not reflecting their innate abilities…if someone doesn’t actively seek a powerful position, the fact that he or she doesn’t obtain it will not signal some personal shortcoming or failure but instead a conscious choice…our desire to protect our self-image by placing external impediments in our way so we can attribute any setbacks to things outside our control actually contributes to doing less well.

Self-handicapping and preemptively giving up or not trying are more pervasive than you might think. Having taught material on power for decades, I have come to believe that the biggest single effect I can have is to get people to try to become powerful. That’s because people are afraid of setbacks and the implications for their self-image, so they often don’t do all they can to increase their power. So get over yourself and get beyond your concerns with self-image or, for that matter, the perception others have of you. Others aren’t worrying or thinking about you that much anyway. They are mostly concerned with themselves. The absence of practice or efforts to achieve influence may help you maintain a good view of yourself, but it won’t help you get to the top.

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