7 Rules of Power - Jeffrey Pfeffer

7 Rules of Power - Jeffrey Pfeffer

📚 Book

Seven rules of power, some of which you won't like.

Title: 7 Rules of Power
Author: Jeffrey Pfeffer
Year: 2022

In short:

  • The seven rules of power are based on social science research that goes against much of the current leadership literature emphasizing a power-free, collaborative leadership style.
  • Gaining power helps achieve objectives and is a good predictor of career fulfillment.
  • Gaining power begins with the inner game - get out of your own way: leave initial uneasiness aside and try out the tactics; see & describe yourself in positive, power-affirming ways.

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Jeffrey Pfeffer's teaching and the social science evidence it is based on goes against much of the new leadership language which emphasizes a power-free style.

Rule 1: Get out of your own way

Begin with the inner game: see & describe yourself in a positive, empowering way; acknowledge that others are often no better than you.

Acknowledge that the world may be unfair but that you decide how you deal with it, i.e. following the power rules while changing to make the world fairer.

Do not fall victim to the curse of authenticity:

 Nobody wants to see your true self ... without lies, marriages would crumble, workers would be fired, egos would be shattered, governments would collapse." (Quoted from Adam Grant)

Self-disclosure and showing vulnerability may increase liking and feelings of closeness, but for higher-power individuals in task-oriented interactions, it leads to lower influence, greater perceived conflict, and less liking.

"When people tell me they need to be true to themselves, I ask, which self? Their six-year-old self, their eighteen-year-old self, or another? We are changing all the time, and some - maybe a lot - of that change requires doing different things differently. After all, nobody was born walking, talking, or using the toilet. Fortunately, few of us remain authentic to our infant selves. Don't let the notion that doing something new or different - particularly if that new behavior is going to be helpful in your path to power - is inauthentic become an excuse for thinking in ways that hold you back. P37

Trying out a new behavior (even if it does not feel right at first) is the process of learning; plus, others either do not care or are not very good at detecting whether your behavior is 'authentic' to how you feel.

Rather than 'be true to yourself' which is self-referential, go with 'be true to what others want'; a leader needs to recruit allies and supporters, and to do so needs to understand what is in it for them: be a student of others' needs, wants, problems, insecurities.

Likeability and warmth can help be influential, but first, convey competence: then, showing warmth will be positively unexpected.

Do not let agreeableness get in the way of applying power principles; you cannot please everyone and some ideas or objectives are more important than being liked.

Rule 2: Break the rules

It's about being proactive, taking the initiative and doing something.

People associate power with rule-breaking and researcher Gerben van Kleef found that rule-breaking causes the rule-breakers to seem more powerful.

Breaking rules is also surprising and neurologically that makes the surprised person freeze first and then pay more attention and react more emotionally than usual.

It's easier and more effective to ask forgiveness than permission. If you first do something that produces real instead of hypothetical benefits (as when asking for permission) it makes it much more difficult to undo. Resistance and confronting is difficult for most and thus less what one may expect.

"Asymmetric warfare and unconventional strategies may bring success and power, but to break the rules, people need to be able to stand the resulting social disapproval." P56

Asking for a favor is difficult because it entails the possibility of rejection and because we have a belief that we should be self-sustaining. But on the other hand, we like to be cooperative and grant a favor, and it also flatters us when asked for something like an advice.

Rule 3: Appear powerful

Do not read from notes.

Make eye contact.

Keep it brief'.

'Thin-slices': snap judgments of people based on first impressions - they matter and are often a good predictor of behaviour.

Anger can be a move to signal power as it usually is outside the normal.

Apology is almost the opposite of anger when it comes to power. It's most people's default response to blame.

People want to be associated with success and as a leader conveying confidence is a sign that they are, whereas self-disclosure and showing vulnerability from a leader is a sign of weakness.

Non-verbal behaviors associated with power, status and dominance:

  • More gestures
  • More open body posture
  • Less distance to others
  • More controlled arm and hand gestures
  • Louder voice
  • More successful interruptions of others
  • More speaking time
  • Longer gazing time
  • Higher visual dominance ratio (look + talk > look + listen)
  • More disinhibited laughs

People are trusting and do not usually doubt the stories we tell.

Rule 4: Build a powerful brand

Learn to tell your narrative. Social media, podcast, writing a book, or creating events/conferences are all great ways to disseminate your story and build a brand.

Leverage prestigious associations.

Cultivate the media.

Be appropriately controversial.

Take credit for your work.

Be willing to tell your story. It's not self-promotion. It's making others aware of something important, highlighting valuable information or pointing out the great work of your team.

Rule 5: Network relentlessly

Networking is seen as immoral and thus avoided by many. It is also seen as a task to be done rather (and more helpfully) as a skill to get better at.

But research shows the importance of networking in affecting career outcomes.

Four principles of networking:

  • Pursue your weak ties
  • Become a broker
  • Be central
  • Create value for others

Leverage tech to efficiently stay in touch and to manage your network.

Balance network growth with the usefulness of your network.

Put more effort into cultivating new relationships than deepening those already in your circle.

Rule 6: Use your power

Using power increases power, it creates outcomes that win supporters and it demonstrates that you have it - which attracts people as well.

Because enemies hold a grudge longer than friends remember the benefits, power becomes difficult to maintain over time. Use power quickly as soon as you gain it.

"By demonstrating the power and the willingness to use it, by accomplishing things, and by establishing structures that institutionalize power, the use of power becomes self-reinforcing. As the examples in this chapter illustrate, not all use of power will be met with unalloyed approval, so leaders need to be willing to incur some level of social disapproval - recall that the first rule of power is not being overly concerned with being liked. Moreover, there is inevitably some risk in scheming to remove rivals and establish rules that help perpetuate power. However, because most people are usually averse to conflict, it is surprising how much one can accomplish by seizing the initiative. And because people tend to sidle up to power once it is established, foes can become friends, enemies neutralized, and power secured. p. 141

Rule 7: Success excuses (almost) everything

The Matthew Effect - research backs what the Gospel states:

"For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them"

Cumulative advantage exists because people will want to work with the successful, and invest in and with them. Confirmation bias also reinforces this.

Power will likely protect you from falling from power (even in the context of rule-breaking).

Motivated cognition: what we want to see, steers our thinking towards the desired conclusion aka. we see and believe what we want to.

We want to be consistent in our thinking. And that means we often associate powerful people with other characteristics such as being hard-working and competent.

The fair world hypothesis: we'd like to think that the world is fair. This gives us some sense of control. We see the powerful as having deserved it. The flip side as well: that those who are unlucky in life also deserve it.

Moral rationalization & decoupling lead people to remain associated with powerful people who act immorally.

  • Moral rationalization: redefining immoral behavior as either not that bad or not the person's fault
  • Moral decoupling: arguing that immoral behavior is irrelevant to performance for the topic at hand

Those in power get to (re)write history.

Here's Prof Pfeffer's website for my research & resources:

Jeffrey Pfeffer - Professor of Organizational Behavior, Stanford University
Jeffrey Pfeffer is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University.