An article in the ET of Mumbai (24 April 2015) succinctly summarized a book by Stanford Business Professor, Jeffrey Pfeffer, “Power: Why Some People Have It – And Others Don’t.” The precept is that when considering ‘what does it take to get ahead’ the answer is not technical skills but ‘political prowess.’ Something which might be apt in large private organizations or the public sector, the author ‘breaks down common misconceptions about power and success and outlines strategies for achieving it.’
Here are the 10 ‘best takeaways’ from the book, along with further considerations (‘et alors’):
10 Ways to Climb the Power Ladder
Per the ET (abridged verbatim), the ‘best takeaways’ are 10 points, viz:
1. Don’t believe the myth that some people are born to lead and others aren’t
Good performance neither acquires you power nor enables you to overcome organizational difficulties. If you leave too much to chance, people fail to manage their careers.
2. Get over the idea that everyone needs to like you
Sometimes a reputation such as being ‘outspoken’ or ‘insensitive’ might not hurt you; it might actually help you!
3. Recognize that performance is not everything
Your relationship with your boss matters more. Further, instead of a meritocracy, many organizations are actually gerontocracies – age and tenure matter more.
4. Help powerful people feel good about themselves
‘CEOs like to put loyalists in senior positions.’ Enough said?
5. Build an effective power network
‘Many studies show that networking is positively related to obtaining good performance evaluations and objective measures of career success.’
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. However when the underdogs understood their weaknesses and used a different strategy to minimize its effects, they won some 64% of the time.’
7. Get access to key resources
There is a reason why powerful and influential people are surrounded by followers – you need to get access to power to build your own power.
8. Do an honest self-assessment
Contrary to ordinarily overestimating our own abilities, ‘when people focus on what they need to get to the next stage of their careers, they are less defensive.’
9. Be fine with showing conflict and anger
‘Research shows that people who express anger are seen as “dominant, strong, competent and smart”.’ Further, followers anticipate that ‘high status’ people would feel angrier in a negative situation than ‘low status’ people – in other words it is, to some extent, expected.
10. Carefully consider and construct your image
Don’t underestimate the power of your personal brand. Build an identity that will be useful for you: don’t expect to be asked to ‘step up’; instead position yourself as ‘next job’ ready.
If these are the ‘best’ takeaways, I would hate to think what might have been the ‘worst’ takeaways! These ‘tips’ appear to be venal, base and principally self-serving at the expense of the organization and fellow colleagues. If you work in an individualistic environment and you want to climb the greasy pole sparing no casualties and standing on other people’s heads, then I can recommend you adopt some of Pfeffer’s tips; if however you consider that team work is more important than yourself and want to be a leader who gets followers to positively follow you for the greater good of the company, then don’t!
A ‘toned down’ version of the above might get closer to ‘good’ leadership rather than grabbing power individually so that you can eventually ‘instruct’ others what to do. I agree with the point that leaders are not born – leadership can be developed, but this is not just about managing your career! Similarly, not everyone will like you all of the time, especially if you have to dispense your duties as a manager; however leadership is about engaging people. Certainly, performance is not everything – working well in your own corner of the world is not going to get you anywhere: visibility, exposure, networking all help; but to what end – your own good or that of the organization?
“Helping powerful people feel good about themselves” just sounds like completely deferring truth to power – something that if not balanced can lead to downfall (as any Greek drama will illustrate). “Building an effective power network” could be toned down to “building an effectivenetwork”– you need to build and maintain an ‘ecosytem;’ not just hitch your star to particular wagons… Break the rules – perhaps and within reason, but not everything is a war to be won or lost! Getting access to key resources is very useful, but again, to what end – yours or the organization?
So yes, do an honest self-assessment – everyone should and it is not easy, but a real self-assessment might go beyond a self-centered reflection of your own career ‘battle plan’! Showing conflict and anger is only going to lead to a toxic work environment unless you know how to carefully manage the rare times when it might actually be appropriate. Finally, “carefully considering and constructing your own image” might be somewhat reasonable advice, but to be sustainably successful it has to be authentic and that will go beyond just deliberating how to ‘climb the power ladder’! With apologies to the author, my criticism relates to the article in the ETwhich may not fully reflect the nuances of the book; however I leave it to others to read the book and make that judgement…