Power Why Some People Have It—And Others Don't: New Book

Greed, as Gordon Gekko said, is good, but folks, power is better. Having power means getting what you want. Having power means being in control of your career and your life.

Far too many high performers have lost their jobs or are stuck in middle management purgatory because they don’t know have any power – they either don’t know how to play or have lost power games. And in this “New Norm” of layoffs and fierce competition, today’s corporate politics are more cutthroat then ever. Those without power – are well, without a job.


‘Welcome to the real world, not the world we want, but the world that exists,” Jeffrey Pfeffer writes in his new book, "POWER Why Some People Have It – And Others Don’t".

Having power now takes on a whole new urgency according to Pfeffer who warns, “Seek power as if your life depends upon it. Because it does.”

Drawing on years of research Pfeffer - a Stanford professor - debunks many common misconceptions we have about power (that it’s in our genes, or our IQ, or our job performance or it has to do with well we’re liked) and offers up some unexpected tactics that have worked for many highly successful executives and global leaders.

In POWER readers learn what personal qualities to develop – that’s right develop, you gotta work at this – power just doesn’t fall from the C-suite. Pfeffer maintains most power skills are learned, not inborn. Becoming more powerful begins with the basics like being true to yourself and knowing what jobs to choose, then learning how to build a solid reputation, how to present yourself and how to be an effective suck-up, “

Pfeffer also wants readers to realize that your quest for power is not a solo act – you need a lot of people for your power grab- including help from your boss. He offers great advice on how to go from being an ineffective suck up to a power broker. Pfeffer says managing up is crucial and that you have to “worry about the relationship you have with your boss at least as much as you worry about your job performance.”


Continue reading if you'd like to read an excerpt from Power.

Likeability Is Overrated

People are sometimes afraid to ask for things and to pursue strategies that cause them to stand out because they are concerned they won’t come across as likable. Research generally shows that people are more likely to do things for others whom they like, and that likability is an important basis of interpersonal influence, but there are two important caveats. First, most of the studies examined situations of relatively equal power where compliance with a request for assistance was largely discretionary. Second, as Machiavelli pointedout 500 years ago in his treatise The Prince, although it is desirable to be both loved and feared, if you have to pick only one, pick fear if you want to get and keep power.


Machiavelli’s advice anticipated research in social psychology about how we perceive others. That research found that the two virtually universal dimensions used to assess people are warmth and competence. Here’s the rub: to appear competent, it is helpful to seem a little tough, or even mean. Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile studied how participants reacted to excerpts from actual reviews of books. Amabile found that negative reviewers were perceived as more intelligent, competent, and expert than positive reviewers, even when independent experts judged the negative reviews to be of no higher quality. The title of her paper, “Brilliant but Cruel,” says it all. Other research has confirmed her findings: nice people are perceived as warm, but niceness frequently comes across as weakness or even a lack of intelligence.

Condoleezza Rice served as national security adviser under President George W. Bush. Before joining the government, Rice was provost at Stanford under President Gerhard Casper; there she was known for being someone you did not want to cross. As Jacob Heilbrunn wrote, “Rice slashed the budget and challenged proponents of affirmative action . . . earning the enmity of many students and much of the faculty for her blunt style. Rice’s credo, as she told one protégé, was that ‘people may oppose you, but when they realize you can hurt them, they’ll join your side.’ ”

Likability Can Create Power, but Power Almost Certainly Creates Likability

Condoleezza Rice is right: people will join your side if you have power and are willing to use it, not just because they are afraid of your hurting them but also because they want to be close to your power and success. There is lots of evidence that people like to be associated with successful institutions and people— to bask in the reflected glory of the powerful.

Some years ago, social psychologist Robert Cialdini and some colleagues did a wonderful study of this effect. Cialdini taught at Arizona State University, which has a first-class but not dominating football team. In a typical season ASU will win some but not all of its football games. This created a great opportunity for the ASU researchers to ask: If the team won the game the previous Saturday, would more students wear clothes with school insignia the following Monday? Their study found that a higher proportion of people wore visible items of clothing with the school colors, letters, name, or other insignia following a victory than following a defeat. They also found that people were more likely to use the inclusive pronoun “we” to refer to a group following that group’s success rather than failure.

What this research implies is that people’s support for you will depend as much on whether or not you seem to be “winning” as on your charm or ability. When writer Gary Weiss profiled Timothy Geithner, who was then the up-and-coming president of the New York Federal Reserve, “some of the nation’s most prominent figures in government and finance—former Federal Reserve chairmen Paul Volcker and Alan Greenspan, as well as John Thain, then CEO of Merrill Lynch, and former New York Fed chief Gerald Corrigan— were only too happy to share fond anecdotes about this youthful public official.” But things changed in the fall of 2008, when Geithner became Obama’s secretary of the Treasury and ran into trouble as the financial meltdown unfolded: “When I approached them [these same prominent figures] again for this article, to get a word of defense of their beleaguered friend, the reaction was far different.”

Excerpted with permission from POWER: WHY SOME HAVE IT AND OTHERS DON'T by Jeffrey Pfeffer (Harper Business 2010). All rights reserved.

And for more information - Check out Pfeffer’s website at http://www.jeffreypfeffer.com/

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