Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Power by Jeffrey Pfeffer: Why Some People Have It and Others Don't

Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don't, by Jeffrey Pfeffer (Kindle Edition, Flipkart, my user review on Amazon)
4 stars
Do as the world does; not as you think it should.
This book is an urgent wake-up call to the nice, smart, but otherwise powerless people in the workplace. Secondly, it is a guide to understanding how mediocre people rise to and stay in power. Thirdly, well... aren't the first two enough? A riff though; the book almost drowns out its message in anecdotes. Stay focused through the innumerable accounts, and you will see the considerable merits in the book.

The premise of this book is simple. The world is not as nice a place as you think it should be. In fact, the world may actually be run mostly by psychopaths (The Psychopath Test). If bad people do bad things to good people, it is not because the good people deserve it. That's a fallacy. That's the "just-world hypothesis." If you buy into this hypothesis it hurts you in two ways. More on that in a bit. The acquisition of power in the business world does not necessarily flow to the good people. By good people I mean the people that good people would call good people. People who acquire power do so by understanding how the world works, and understand they need to work as the world does, and not force the world to work they way they want it to, notable exceptions notwithstanding.

By knowing these rules, and understanding how they work, and reading about them in the context of examples from the real world, the author hopes to level the playing field.
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.
Second, this belief that the world is a just place anesthetizes people to the need to be proactive in building a power base.
Books on leadership, and books on leadership by leaders are your worst enemy. Because they have been written to fool people into thinking that good, kind-hearted, do-gooders are what leaders are. Leaders writing about themselves seldom write about what it really took for them to get to the top. Churchill called Stalin trustworthy in 1945. You won't read about that in Churchill's writings. Jack Welch did not talk about the accounting jugglery that GE indulged in to make its earnings look more predictable than they were. Why leaders, even rank-and-file people lie about themselves. They lie about verifiable facts. They exaggerate achievements. And this has been documented in studies over and over again.
People distort reality. One study found that out of 1,000 resumés, there were substantial misstatements on more than 40 percent.18 If people make up educational qualifications and previous job experience—stuff that can actually be verified—do you think everyone is completely honest when they describe aspects of their behavior and character that are more difficult to discover?
If that were not good enough, know that performance does not matter. Good performance is not likely to get you promoted. Bad performance will not get you fired, if you are a leader. Being nice may make your neighborhood kids like you, but it won't make your coworkers respect you. Unless there are consequences to disagreeing with you, people will not fear you. Between love and fear, always choose fear. Because fear gets you results. Love gets you, well, a big wet kiss from a puppy. Maybe.

So enough with the cynicism. What does it take to get to the top? Well, like any good book, there is a list. There is a list of attributes.
The three three personal qualities embodied in will are ambition, energy, and focus. The four skills useful in acquiring power are self-knowledge and a reflective mind-set, confidence and the ability to project self-assurance, the ability to read others and empathize with their point of view, and a capacity to tolerate conflict.

The fact that status hierarchies are stable means not only that it is difficult to move up but also that it is difficult to move down. Once you have achieved power and status through the network of your relationships, you will be able to maintain your influence without expending as much time and effort.

This is a very engaging book that is well-organized and takes the reader through the topic of power. However, the anecdotes accounts of people tend to drown out the substantive stuff at times. The author, you realize, is making the point that the real world exists, despite our denials. The accounts reinforce the reality of power in the world. However, you wish they were a little less in-your-face and in-every-paragraph.

University of California–Berkeley professor Morten Hansen has studied what types of social networks are most useful given different types of product development efforts. When you need to access tacit knowledge, a smaller network of close ties is important because it takes close relationships to get people to spend the time to explain their tacit expertise. When the project requires locating explicit knowledge that can be readily transferred once you find it, a large network of weak ties provides greater benefit.
This is a list of the chapters in the book. This will help you understand the lay of the land, so to say, in the book.
  1. It Takes More Than Performance 
  2. The Personal Qualities That Bring Influence 
  3. Choosing Where to Start 
  4. Getting In: Standing Out and Breaking Some Rules 
  5. Making Something out of Nothing: Creating Resources 
  6. Building Efficient and Effective Social Networks 
  7. Acting and Speaking with 
  8. Building a Reputation: Perception Is Reality 
  9. Overcoming Opposition and 
  10. The Price of Power 
  11. How-and Why--People Lose Power 
  12. Dynamics: Good for Organizations, Good for You? 
  13. It's Easier Than You Think

Kindle Excerpt:

© 2011, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.