Note: While reading a book whenever I come across something interesting, I highlight it on my Kindle. Later I turn those highlights into a blogpost. It is not a complete summary of the book. These are my notes which I intend to go back to later. Let’s start!

  • Most books by well-known executives and most lectures and courses about leadership should be stamped CAUTION: THIS MATERIAL CAN BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR ORGANIZATIONAL SURVIVAL. That’s because leaders touting their own careers as models to be emulated frequently gloss over the power plays they actually used to get to the top. Meanwhile, the teaching on leadership is filled with prescriptions about following an inner compass, being truthful, letting inner feelings show, being modest and self-effacing, not behaving in a bullying or abusive way—in short, prescriptions about how people wish the world and the powerful behaved. There is no doubt that the world would be a much better, more humane place if people were always authentic, modest, truthful, and consistently concerned for the welfare of others instead of pursuing their own aims. But that world doesn’t exist.   
  • One of the best ways to acquire and maintain power is to construct a positive image and reputation, in part by co-opting others to present you as successful and effective.   
  • Lots of research shows evidence of a particular manifestation of the just-world effect: if people know that someone or some organization has been successful, they will almost automatically attribute to that individual or company all kinds of positive qualities and behaviors. Although it is far from evident that doing the stuff in the leadership books will make you successful, once you become successful, odds are vastly increased that people will selectively remember and attend to the positive characteristics they believe make good leaders.

  • A big obstacle to acquiring power is, believe it or not, you. People are often their own worst enemy, and not just in the arena of building power. That’s in part because people like to feel good about themselves and maintain a positive self-image. And ironically, 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.  
  • 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.

  • Not only may outstanding job performance not guarantee you a promotion, it can even hurt. Consider the case of Phil. A talented young executive working in a large financial institution, Phil had the uncanny ability to bring complex information technology implementation projects in on or ahead of schedule and under budget. His boss, a very senior executive in the bank, profited mightily from Phil’s performance. He was willing to reward Phil financially. But when Phil asked his boss about broadening his experience by moving to other jobs in the bank, the answer was immediate: “I’m not going to let you go because you are too good in the job you are doing for me.” And while Phil’s boss was quite willing to expand Phil’s scope of responsibility for IT implementation in his division, he was completely unwilling to do anything that would bring Phil to the attention of others and thereby risk losing him. A slightly different variant of this same story comes from “Glenda.” A Scottish manufacturing executive with an extraordinary ability to bond with front-line employees, Glenda had worked for her employer for more than a decade, moving around the world to accomplish almost miraculous turnarounds in troubled plants. Her job evaluations were great and she received performance bonuses and regular raises for her work. But there were no promotions in Glenda’s recent past with her employer nor, she told me, in her future. Glenda figured out the problem: the senior executives in her company saw her as extremely effective in her current position. But they did not want to lose her abilities in that role, and they did not see her as senior executive material—as a great candidate for much more senior jobs in the company. Thus, great performance may leave you trapped because a boss does not want to lose your abilities and also because your competence in your current role does not ensure that others will see you as a candidate for much more senior jobs.  
  • Doing great doesn’t guarantee you a promotion or a raise, and it may not even be that important for keeping your job.  
  • A study of the top five executive positions in almost 450 companies found the sensitivity of turnover to company performance was even smaller for those jobs than it was for CEOs. Turnover in senior executive ranks was affected by CEO turnover, particularly when an outsider came in. That’s because CEOs like to put loyalists in senior positions—regardless of what past incumbents have accomplished.  
  • People in power are busy with their own agendas and jobs. Such people, including those higher up in your own organization, probably aren’t paying that much attention to you and what you are doing. You should not assume that your boss knows or notices what you are accomplishing and has perfect information about your activities. Therefore, your first responsibility is to ensure that those at higher levels in your company know what you are accomplishing. And the best way to ensure they know what you are achieving is to tell them.   
  • For you to attain a position of power, those in power have to choose you for a senior role. If you blend into the woodwork, no one will care about you, even if you are doing a great job.

  • In order for your great performance to be appreciated, it needs to be visible. But beyond visibility, the mere exposure research teaches us that familiarity produces preference. Simply put, in many cases, being memorable equals getting picked.  
  • There are limits to what you can do to affect the criteria used to judge your work. But you can highlight those dimensions of job performance that favor you —and work against your competition.

  • One of the reasons that performance matters less than people expect is that performance has many dimensions. Furthermore, what matters to your boss may not be the same things that you think are important. Jamie Dimon lost his job at Citigroup when he got into a tussle with Sandy Weill’s daughter, who also worked for the company. Weill cared about his family, not just about the financial results of Citigroup.

  • Many people believe that they know what their bosses care about. But unless they are mind readers, that’s probably a risky assumption. It is much more effective for you to ask those in power, on a regular basis, what aspects of the job they think are the most crucial and how they see what you ought to be doing. Asking for help and advice also creates a relationship with those in power that can be quite useful, and asking for assistance, in a way that still conveys your competence and command of the situation, is an effective way of flattering those with power over you. Having asked what matters to those with power over you, act on what they tell you.  
  • You can almost always tell at least one aspect of your job performance that will be crucial: do you, in how you conduct yourself, what you talk about, and what you accomplish, make those in power feel better about themselves? The surest way to keep your position and to build a power base is to help those with more power enhance their positive feelings about themselves.

  • Most people, not just those who are somewhat insecure, like to feel good about themselves. They are motivated to self-enhance—to seek out positive information and avoid negative feedback—even though, objectively, people may learn more from mistakes and learning what they have done wrong. People overestimate their abilities and accomplishments—a phenomenon called the above average effect—with way more than half of surveyed respondents reporting they are above average on positive attributes such as intelligence, sense of humor, driving ability, appearance, negotiating ability—pretty much anything and everything.16And because people like themselves, people prefer others who are similar, because what is more self-enhancing than to choose someone who reminds you of—you! A large literature documents the importance of similarity in predicting interpersonal attraction.17For instance, people are more likely to marry others whose first or last names resemble their own and, in experiments, are more attracted to people whose arbitrary experimental code numbers were similar to the participants’ actual birthdays. And because people like those who are similar to them, they also favor their own groups and disfavor competitive groups—an effect called ingroup bias and outgroup derogation18—and also prefer people from their own social categories, for instance, of similar race and socioeconomic background.   
  • One sure way to make your boss feel worse is to criticize that individual, and this criticism is going to be particularly sensitive if it concerns an issue that the boss feels is important and where there is some inherent insecurity.

  • The lesson: worry about the relationship you have with your boss at least as much as you worry about your job performance.

  • The lesson: worry about the relationship you have with your boss at least as much as you worry about your job performance. If your boss makes a mistake, see if someone else other than you will point it out. And if you do highlight some error or problem, do so in a way that does not in any way implicate the individual’s own self-concept or competence—for instance, by blaming the error on others or on the situation. The last thing you want to do is be known as someone who makes your boss insecure or have a difficult relationship with those in power.

  • One of the best ways to make those in power feel better about themselves is to flatter them.  
  • Flattery works because we naturally come to like people who flatter us and make us feel good about ourselves and our accomplishments and being likable helps build influence. Flattery also works because it engages the norm of reciprocity—if you compliment someone, that person owes you something in return just as surely as if you had bought the individual dinner or given a gift—because a compliment is a form of a gift. And flattery is effective because it is consistent with the self-enhancement motive that exists in most people.  
  • Your driving ambition and even your great performance are not going to be sufficient to assure success in a typical hierarchical organization. The people responsible for your success are those above you, with the power to either promote you or to block your rise up the organization chart.  
  • Your job is to ensure that those influential others have a strong desire to make you successful. That may entail doing a good job. But it may also entail ensuring that those in power notice the good work that you do, remember you, and think well of you because you make them feel good about themselves. It is performance, coupled with political skill, that will help you rise through the ranks. Performance by itself is seldom sufficient, and in some instances, may not even be necessary.  
  • Goldsmith, in his work with high-level executives, who mostly have huge egos, has tried to develop coaching techniques that mitigate the natural human tendency to first avoid and then reject any information about our deficiencies. For instance, instead of giving people feedback about what they have done right and wrong in the past, he focuses on “feedforward,” which emphasizes what people need to do to get ready for the subsequent positions and career challenges they will confront. The idea is this: when people focus on what they need to get to the next stage of their careers, they are less defensive. This is very clever: focusing on what you need to change to accomplish future personal goals can be much more uplifting than going back and reviewing past setbacks or considering areas of weakness.

  • The two fundamental dimensions that distinguish people who rise to great heights and accomplish amazing things are will, the drive to take on big challenges, and skill, the capabilities required to turn ambition into accomplishment. The three personal qualities embodied in the will are ambition, energy, and focus. The four skills useful in acquiring power are self-knowledge and a reflective mindset, 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.   
  • Success requires effort and hard work as well as persistence. To expend that effort, to make necessary sacrifices, requires some driving ambition.

  • Organizational life can be irritating and frustrating and can divert people’s effort and attention. Ambition—a focus on achieving influence—can help people overcome the temptation to give up or to give in to the irritations.   
  • Energy, like many emotional states such as anger or happiness, is contagious. Therefore, energy inspires more effort on the part of others.

  • Your hard work signals that the job is important; people pick up on that signal, or its opposite. And people are more willing to expend effort if you are, too.  
  • Energy and the long hours it permits provide an advantage in getting things accomplished.

  • Having the energy that permits you to put in long hours of hard work helps you to master the subject matter more quickly.  
  • People often promote those with energy because of the importance of being able to work hard and also because expending great energy signals a high degree of organizational commitment and, presumably, loyalty.

  • One advantage of staying in one place is that you get to know more people in a single organization, and this deeper knowledge permits you to better exercise power because of the stronger personal relationships you form and your more detailed knowledge of the people you are seeking to influence.

  • Concentrate on those activities within your particular job or position that are the most critical—that have the most impact on getting work done and on others’ perceptions of you and your effectiveness. Vernon, a rapidly rising executive at Barclays Bank, has impressed his peers with his laser-like focus on the things that matter most to the company, whether it is some presentation to a senior-level executive or an information technology project. Vernon argues that this focus on the 5 to 10 percent of all the possible job duties that actually have the most leverage allows him to manage his time more effectively and also permits him to allocate the resources of his team for the greatest effect.  
  • After every significant meeting or interaction, he would make notes in a small notebook. He would write down what had gone well and what hadn’t, what people had said and done, and the outcome of the meeting. That notebook captured his thoughts about what had transpired so that he could make future interactions more effective; and the discipline of writing fostered reflection and also imprinted the insights more forcefully into his consciousness.

  • Structured reflection takes time. It also requires the discipline to concentrate, make notes, and think about what you are doing. But it is very useful in building a path to power.

  • Formal job titles and positions can provide influence and power. But in many situations, you will be working with peers or with outsiders who may not know your formal status. And in any case, observers are going to try and figure out if they should take you seriously or not. Consequently, you need to seize control of the situation. In making decisions about how much power and deference to accord others, people are naturally going to look to the other’s behavior for cues. Because power is likely to cause people to behave in a more confident fashion, observers will associate confident behavior with actually having power. Coming across as confident and knowledgeable helps you build influence.  
  • If you aren’t confident about what you deserve and what you want, you will be reluctant to ask or to push, and therefore you will be less successful in obtaining money or influence compared to those who are bolder than you.

  • Training in a negotiation often includes advice to negotiate over “interests” rather than “positions.” Through a process of mutual concessions, both parties may end up better off, but in order to succeed at such an approach, you need to understand where the other is coming from. This ability to put yourself in another’s place is also useful for acquiring power. One of the sources of Lyndon Johnson’s success as Senate majority leader was his assiduous attention to the details of his 99 colleagues, knowing which ones wanted a private office, who were the drunks, who were the womanizers, who wanted to go on a particular trip—all the mundane details that permitted him to accurately predict how people would vote and figure out what to give each senator to gain his or her support.  
  • If you can handle difficult conflict-and stress-filled situations effectively, you have an advantage over most people.

  • We intuitively know that not all career platforms are equal in value as a path to power, and research supports that intuition. But people often err in choosing where to start building their power base. The most common mistake is to locate in the department dealing with the organization’s current core activity, skill, or product—the unit that is the most powerful at the moment. This turns out to not always be a good idea because the organization’s most central work is where you are going to encounter the most talented competition and also the most well-established career paths and processes.

  • The Whiz Kids and the finance function at Ford illustrate one source of departmental power—unit cohesion. At Ford’s finance function, there were socialization rituals —running the overhead projector at meetings, preparing briefing books, gathering articles and information—that served the same function as training in the military for the company’s young, up-and-coming executives: imparting some specific skills and knowledge but more importantly building common bonds of communication and trust that come through shared experiences. Speaking with one voice, being able to act together in a coordinated fashion, is an important source of departmental power and effectiveness.  
  • It is always useful to be able to diagnose the political landscape, whether for plotting your next career move or for understanding who you need to influence to get something done.

  • Skill at diagnosing power distributions is useful.

  • Being physically close to those in power both signals power and provides power through increased access.

  • When Keith Ferrazzi, now a best-selling author, marketing maven, and star of the lecture circuit, graduated from Harvard Business School in 1992, he had offers from two consulting companies, McKinsey and Deloitte. Pat Loconto, the former head of Deloitte Consulting, recalled that before accepting the offer, Ferrazzi insisted on seeing the “head guys,” as Ferrazzi called them. Loconto met Keith at an Italian restaurant in New York City, and “after we had a few drinks at this restaurant, Keith said he would accept the offer on one condition—he and I would have dinner once a year at the same restaurant…. So I promised to have dinner with him once a year, and that’s how we recruited him. That was one of his techniques. That way, he was guaranteed access to the top.”  
  • Launching or re-launching your career requires that you develop both the ability and the willingness to ask for things and that you learn to stand out. People often don’t ask for what they want and are afraid of standing out too much because they worry that others may resent or dislike their behavior, seeing them as self-promoting. You need to get over the idea that you need to be liked by everybody and that likability is important in creating a path to power, and you need to be willing to put yourself forward. If you don’t, who will?

  • If you make your request as flattering as possible, compliance is even more likely.   
  • Many people believe that they can stand out and be bold once they become successful and earn the right to do things differently. But once you are successful and powerful, you don’t need to stand out or worry about the competition. It’s early in your career when you are seeking initial positions that differentiating yourself from the competition is most important.   
  • Likability Can Create Power, but Power Almost Certainly Creates Likability.

  • 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.

  • If we interact with powerful people because we need them to do some task or to help us in our career, over time we will come to like them more or at least forgive their rough edges. And in choosing who we will associate with, usefulness to our career and job looms as important criteria.

  • Standing out helps you get the jobs and power you may seek. Asking for what you need and being less concerned about what others are thinking about you can help in launching your path to power. But acquiring and wielding power requires the resources to reward your friends and punish your enemies, the information and access that can foster your rise in the organization.

  • Resources are great because once you have them, maintaining power becomes a self-reinforcing process. CEOs of larger companies with more resources can afford to hire high-priced compensation consultants who, big surprise, recommend pay policies that favor the CEOs who hired them. People with money or with control over organizational money get appointed to various for-profit and nonprofit boards where they are in contact with others who have business and investment ideas and social and political influence. That access gives them even more money and resource control as they obtain information and opportunities to get involved with other organizations in powerful roles and meet additional important people. Or they get asked to serve on advisory committees or they become members of elite organizations like the Council on Foreign Relations or the World Economic Forum where they are privy to information and relationships that further build their power and reputation. Furthermore, the best, most talented people want to work with those with the most power and resources, so those with access to important resources have advantages in hiring precisely the sorts of smart, hard-working individuals who can further their success. It’s an old but accurate and important story: power and resources beget more power and resources. Your task is to figure out how to break into the circle.

  • There are two simple but important implications of resources as a source of power. The first is that in choosing among jobs, choose positions that have greater direct resource control of more budget or staff. The second straightforward implication is that your power comes in large measure from the position you hold and the resources and other things you control as a consequence of holding that position. It is easy for people, motivated by self-enhancement, to believe that the deference and flattery of others is due to their inherent intelligence, experience, and charm. This may be the case, but not often. When you retire or otherwise leave a position in which you once had control over substantial amounts of resources, people will pay you much less heed and give you less attention.

  • Most people like to talk about themselves—give them the opportunity to do so. Being a good listener and asking questions about others is a simple but effective way to use a resource everyone has—time and attention—to build power. And here’s some more advice: if you don’t have much power, you probably have time. Use that time to befriend others and go to events that are important to them.

  • People appreciate help with doing some aspect of their job, and they particularly appreciate assistance with tasks that they find boring or mundane—precisely the kinds of tasks great for beginning to build a power base.

  • Taking on small tasks can provide you with power because people are often lazy or uninterested in seemingly small, unimportant activities. Therefore, if you take the initiative to do a relatively minor task and do it extremely well, it’s unlikely that anyone is going to challenge you for the opportunity. Meanwhile, these apparently minor tasks can become important sources of power.

  • Michael was graduating from business school in a year and had already taken a job with a hedge fund. The arrangement was that he would work full-time over the summer, be in touch with the firm during the last year of his studies, and then go to work full-time upon graduation. Michael was one of six people who worked at the hedge fund that summer, and he had a big disadvantage compared to the other five: they had completed their degrees and would be staying on when the summer ended. Michael saw the managing partner’s attention naturally shift to the new full-time employees. Once back in school, he decided to nevertheless try and build a power base at the fund. First, he visited the office regularly, informally meeting people. This helped him overcome the “out of sight, out of mind” phenomenon and use the mere exposure effect to his advantage. Then he took charge of recruiting junior analysts. In professional service firms, recruiting analysts—junior people who will probably return to school in a couple of years to get another degree and who do much of the grunt work—is mostly viewed as a necessary evil. The hiring process takes time and thus diverts people from their “real” jobs—and the people hired are going to be just cycling through the firm anyway. When Michael got a “broadcast to everyone” e-mail from the head of the firm about organizing a day of interviews for finalists for the analyst positions, he immediately responded that since he was in school, he had more free time than the fulltime employees and would happily take responsibility for coordinating the day. He proceeded to organize the recruiting logistics, including coordinating travel schedules, developing interview schedules with the partners, and organizing a private dinner where he sat himself at the center of the table. This initiative got Michael at the hub of all the recruiting communications, caused him to be much more in touch with senior partners, including the head of the firm, and built his reputation as someone who was willing to help out even when he didn’t have to (because he was still a student). All of the analysts who were hired knew him as the point person for analyst recruiting, and associated him with their employment success. Thus, even before joining the firm full-time, Michael had burnished his reputation and recruited allies.

  • In 1971 Klaus Schwab was a 32-year-old Swiss university graduate with doctoral degrees in economics and engineering. He might have followed the conventional academic route of doing research and publishing as a career strategy. Instead, he saw an opportunity to organize a meeting, the European Business Forum, made up of European business leaders concerned with the growing American economic success. Out of that modest beginning came the World Economic Forum, an organization with a staff of more than 100 running meetings all over the world, with Schwab at the head. Its budget is over $100 million per year, his wife and son are on the board and involved in the foundation, and because of his leadership of the forum, Schwab has received six honorary doctoral degrees and a number of lucrative positions on corporate boards of directors.

  • Bringing people together entails your taking on a brokerage role and becoming central in social networks. Networking skills are important and the networks you create are an important resource for creating influence,  
  • It’s also the case that both organizations and people are known by the company they keep—so it behooves you to associate with high-status people. This simple fact has interesting consequences, for it means that you cannot readily move down the status food chain to take advantage of opportunities if you don’t want to risk losing your own status.

  • One way to acquire status is to start an organization that is so compelling in its mission that high-status people join the project and you build both status and a network of important relationships.

  • 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.   
  • Power and influence come not just from the extensiveness of your network and the status of its members, but also from your structural position within that network. Centrality matters. Research shows that centrality within both advice and friendship networks produces many benefits, including access to information, positive performance ratings, and higher pay.  
  • Network position matters a great deal for your influence and career trajectory.   
  • If virtually all information and communication flows through you, you will have more power. One source of your power will be your control over the flow of information, and another is that people attribute power to individuals who are central. You can assess your centrality by asking what proportion of others in your work, for instance, nominate you as someone they go to for advice or help with their own work. Another way of assessing centrality is to ask what proportion of all communication links flow through you.  
  • If you are sensitive to the importance of centrality, you can do things and make choices that increase your structural centrality. When Henry Kissinger became President Nixon’s national security adviser, he made sure that communication about foreign policy issues flowed only through him. He appointed a staff of young, talented, nonpartisan foreign policy analysts to work with him. This move gave Kissinger a good image with the press because it appeared that he was just interested in obtaining talent. But because the Nixon loyalists were uncomfortable interacting with people so different from themselves, and the staffers were estranged from the Nixon people, Kissinger was at the center of the flow of information between the NSC staff and the White House.

  • One way of building centrality is through physical location. A person I know took a job at a Silicon Valley venture capital firm as an analyst, a low-level position. When he started at the company, he had two options as to where to locate his desk: a large cubicle in the corner that was quiet but outside of the flow of traffic, or a small workstation outside the named partner’s office, which had no walls and no privacy. Almost by chance he chose the location outside the partner’s office. Because of his location, he knew what was going on in the firm and interacted with the numerous people coming by to see the partners. As he noted, “Within just a few months of starting, at the weekly Monday morning all-hands meeting, nearly every question began to be pointed in my direction. The net of it was that I was the first analyst in the firm’s history to be invited for a position after graduation.”

  • Social capital, measured by how many structural holes an individual bridges, positively affects promotions, salary, and organizational level attained.  
  • Both in the process of creating social ties and once you have created a network, your ability to create and leverage social ties depends in part on how others perceive you. And those perceptions depend in part on your ability to speak and act with power.

  • We choose how we will act and talk, and those decisions are consequential for acquiring and holding on to power.

  • Differences in the ability to convey power through how we talk, appear, and act matter in our everyday interactions, from seeking a job to attempting to win a vital contract to presenting a company’s growth prospects before investment analysts.

  • Peter Ueberroth, Time magazine’s man of the year for his success running the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and former commissioner of major-league baseball, has a favorite maxim: Authority is 20 percent given, 80 percent taken.

  • Andy Grove understood three important principles about acting with power. First, after a while, what started out being an act becomes less so. Over time, you will become more like you are acting—self-assured, confident, and more strongly convinced of the truth of what you are saying. Attitudes follow behavior, as much research attests. Second, the emotions you express, such as confidence or happiness, influence those around you—emotions are contagious. Walk down an airport corridor and smile, and watch people smile back; change your facial expression to a frown, and you will be met with frowns. A study of emotional contagion and its use in marketing found that when a person smiled, another individual exposed to the smile would be happier and also have a positive attitude toward a product—emotions not only jumped from person to person, but when someone was in a good mood because she had been exposed to someone who was happy, that mood spilled over to other things like items to be purchased. Third, emotions and behaviors become self-reinforcing: if you smile and then others smile, you are more likely to feel happy and smile. This reflexive quality in human interaction means that a mood or feeling, once generated, is likely to be quite stable. Grove may have had to act confident and knowledgeable at first, but as others “caught” that feeling, it would be reflected back, making Grove himself more confident. If acting is important as a leadership skill and for acquiring power, it is important to know how to perform. One principle is to act confident. There are others.

  • You are on stage more than you think, and not just as a senior leader. Morten Hansen, who used to teach at the French business school INSEAD before moving to UC Berkeley, told me that he was sitting in the classroom one day watching some group presentations for his class. He had just come back from a long trip. In addition to watching the groups present at the front of the room, many of the students had been watching him. They noticed that he seemed tired, which they interpreted as not being interested in what the students were doing—and the class let him know. After that experience, Hansen has been much more aware of being on display, even if he is not in front of an audience.

  • Sometimes you will work with peers and colleagues of about equal rank whom you want to influence. Sometimes your actual power will be ambiguous. In such situations, displaying anger is useful.   
  • The researchers found that in negative situations, participants believed that high-status people would feel more angry than sad or guilty and that low-status people would feel sad or guilty instead of angry.

  • A second experiment demonstrated that angry people were seen as high-status while sad and guilty people were viewed as low-status.

  • If you have to choose between being seen as likable and fitting in on the one hand or appearing competent albeit abrasive on the other, choose competence. Self-deprecating comments and humor work only if you have already established your competence.  
  • When people are nervous or uncomfortable, they often shrink in on themselves, caving in their chest, folding their arms around them, going into what are essentially defensive postures. Bad idea if you want to project power. Everyone can stand up straight rather than slouching, and can thrust their chest and pelvis forward rather than curling in on themselves. Moving forward and toward someone is a gesture that connotes power, as does standing closer to others, while turning your back or retreating signals the opposite.

  • One source of power in every interaction is interruption. Those with power interrupt, those with less power get interrupted. In conversation, interrupting others, although not polite, can indicate power and be an effective power move,  
  • In analyzing the Watergate hearings, sociologists Harvey Molotch and Deidre Boden note that there are three faces of power. The first is the ability to win in direct contests: Whose point of view prevails? The second is more subtle: Who sets the agenda, and in the process determines whether a specific issue will even be discussed or debated at all? And the third form of power is more subtle still: Who determines the rules for interpersonal interactions through which agendas and outcomes are determined?

  • Language that influences is able to create powerful images and emotions that overwhelm reason.

  • Such language is evocative, specific, and filled with strong language and visual imagery.  
  • In addition to using words that evoke emotions and signal common interests and shared identity, Max Atkinson describes a number of conventions that make speech more persuasive and engaging. Here are five such linguistic techniques. 1. Use us-versus-them references. “It is widely known that the need to resist an external threat, whether real or imagined, has always been an extremely effective rallying cry when it comes to strengthening group solidarity.” When United Airlines entered the California market in 1994, Herb Kelleher, then CEO of Southwest Airlines, sent his employees a video describing United as a “war machine” aimed to strike at Southwest and imploring his people to stick together to provide great customer service all over the system. Steve Jobs, cofounder and CEO of Apple Computer, focused first on IBM as the enemy—for instance, in Apple’s famous “1984” commercial—and later on Microsoft as he used a common threat to energize Apple’s employees. 2. Pause for emphasis and invite approval or even applause through a slight delay. “A pause just before getting to completion and a slightly extended final segment of talk are both common features in the design of most types of claptrap [a rhetorical device designed to produce applause and approval].” 3. Use a list of three items, or enumerations in general. “One of the main attractions of three-part lists is that they have an air of unity and completeness about them.” Lists make a speaker appear as if he or she has thought about the issue and the alternatives and considered all sides thoroughly. 4. Use contrastive pairs, comparing one thing to another and using passages that are similar in length and grammatical structure. The contrast is strategically chosen to make a point. During the heated debate over health-care reform in 2009, opponents of government involvement would pose the question: Do you want your health-care decisions being made by you and your doctor or by some government bureaucrat? Proponents would employ a different contrast: Do you want greedy insurance companies who drop people when they get sick and exclude preexisting conditions deciding on your care, or would you like to leave those decisions to you and your doctor? The use of contrast as a rhetorical device relies in part on the “us versus them” construct, but it also invites explicit comparison that is structured to be favorable to the ideas advocated by the speaker. 5. Avoid using a script or notes. If you speak without aids, the implication is that you have a mastery of the subject and are spontaneous. In addition, not using notes or a script permits the speaker to maintain eye contact with the audience. Jack Valenti of the MPAA testified often before Congress. He commented that many of those testifying used notes. He didn’t, as he wanted the language to be vibrant and spontaneous and to illustrate his mastery of the issues. As he put it, “If you can’t speak five minutes without a note in front of you, about a subject you know cold, you’re not working at your job.” The use of PowerPoint presentations is effective in executing this strategy, as the presumption is that the presentation is there for the audience rather than the speaker.

  • To Atkinson’s list of speaking tips I would add one important suggestion: use humor to the extent possible and appropriate. As the novelist, Salman Rushdie noted on a radio program, “If you make people laugh, you can tell them anything.”

  • Sentence structure is also important for making language persuasive. During the 2004 presidential election, the University of Illinois professor Stanley Fish had his students examine some of the speeches of the two candidates, George W. Bush and John Kerry. The students perceived Bush to be more effective, regardless of their own political views. Bush would be begin with a simple declarative sentence, “Our strategy is succeeding.” Bush would also use the repetition of sounds. As Fish noted, “There is of course no logical relationship between the repetition of a sound [as in alliteration] and the soundness of an argument, but if it is skillfully employed, repetition can enhance a logical point or even the illusion of one when none is present.”  
  • Reputations matter, not just in professional football, but in all domains, including business. In an experimental study of the performance appraisals people received, those who were able to create a favorable impression received higher ratings than did people who actually performed better but did not do as good a job in managing the impressions they made on others.

  • Instead of competing for a job and selling yourself to the board and senior executives, if you have a stellar reputation, companies will be fighting to hire you. If you have a reputation that can move the stock price up by the very announcement of your hiring, companies will pay outrageous sums of money in their quest to obtain a “corporate savior.”

  • The fundamental principles for building the sort of reputation that will get you a high-power position are straightforward: make a good impression early, carefully delineate the elements of the image you want to create, use the media to help build your visibility and burnish your image, have others sing your praises so you can surmount the self-promotion dilemma, and strategically put out enough negative but not fatally damaging information about yourself that the people who hire and support you fully understand any weaknesses and make the choice anyway. The key to your success is in executing each of these steps well.

  • People start forming impressions of you in the first few seconds or even milliseconds of contact. Impressions aren’t just based on extensive information about you, your behavior, and what you can do as manifested in job performance, but also on initial readings of your facial expression, posture, voice, and appearance. One study found that judgments of people made in the first 11 milliseconds correlated highly with judgments made when there were no time constraints, suggesting that extremely brief exposure was all that was required for people to form a reasonably stable impression.

  • These fast first impressions are remarkably accurate in predicting other more durable and important evaluations.   
  • Not only are reputations and first impressions formed quickly, but they are durable. Research has identified several processes that account for the persistence of initial reputations or, phrased differently, the importance of the order in which information is presented. All three processes are plausible.

  • One process, attention decrement, argues that because of fatigue or boredom, people don’t pay as close attention to later information as they do to information that comes early when they first form judgments. When you first meet people, you are going to be quite attentive to what they say and do as you seek to learn about them and sort and assign them to categories, including how helpful and powerful you think they are or could be. After a while, you will think you know them and stop paying as close attention to what they say and do. As you sit in a meeting, because you think you know what the other person is going to say, you stop paying attention to what they actually do say. A second process entails cognitive discounting—once people have formed an impression of another, they disregard any information that is inconsistent with their initial ideas. This process is particularly likely when the decisions and judgments are consequential. Who wants to admit that we are wrong about something important, with the negative consequences such an admission has for our self-image? It is much easier to discount inconsistent information and seek data that buttresses our original assessments. Third, people engage in behavior that helps make their initial impressions of others come true. One study of interviewers of job applicants examined the impressions interviewers formed on the basis of test scores and resumés. Then the actual job interviews were analyzed. When interviewers had formed an initially favorable impression of an applicant, they showed positive regard toward that person, engaged more in “selling” of the company, provided more information about the job and the company, and asked for less information from the candidate. Interviewers built more rapport with candidates they thought they would like.8Other research shows that when people believe they are interacting with a qualified, intelligent individual, they ask questions and provide opportunities for the other to demonstrate competence and intelligence. Behavioral dynamics tend to reinforce initial impressions and reputations, making those impressions become true even if they weren’t originally.

  • There are two important implications of the durability and rapid creation of first impressions. First, if you find yourself in a place where you have an image problem and people don’t think well of you, for whatever reason, it is often best to leave for greener pastures. This is tough advice to hear and heed—many people want to demonstrate how wonderful they are by working diligently to change others’ minds and repair their image. But such efforts are seldom successful, for all the reasons just enumerated, and moreover, they take a lot of effort. Better to demonstrate your many positive qualities in a new setting where you don’t have to overcome so much baggage. Second, because impressions are formed quickly and are based on many things, such as similarity and “chemistry” over which you have far from perfect control, you should try to put yourself in as many different situations as possible—to play the law of large numbers. If you are a talented individual, over time and in many contexts, that talent will appear to those evaluating you. But in any single instance, the evaluative judgment that forms the basis for your reputation will be much more random. This advice is consistent with that offered on network building, where again the best practice is to widely disperse your network building efforts and build many weak ties. Don’t get hung up on making a favorable impression in any single place, but instead find an environment in which you can build a great reputation and keep trying different environments until this effort succeeds.

  • Browne turned his shyness into a virtue. He carefully controlled his schedule. As a result, those who were lucky enough to get a meeting with him understood that each encounter was very important and high stakes. Browne turned even the ability to interact with him into a source of power—he controlled the scarce resource of his time. And as he displayed his intellectual prowess during those meetings, Browne built a reputation for the brilliance that served him well both inside and outside BP.

  • The specifics of a useful reputation will obviously vary depending on the context and your own personal strengths and weaknesses. What is important is that you think carefully about the dimensions of the reputation you want to build, and then do everything in your power, from how you spend your time to what organizations and people you associate with, to ensure that is the image that you project.

  • When Marcelo, a Brazilian, was 23 years old, he was named controller of one of the largest real estate companies in that country. At the time, he had four years’ experience as a financial analyst, and he was given the responsibility for running a department with 70 people doing finance, accounting, internal audit, and investor relations. Why he got the job is not nearly as interesting as what he did once he was in it. Marcelo knew that he was not particularly qualified for the position, that many on his team—whose help and hard work he needed—would wonder about him, and that peers in other organizations, who might also prove helpful, would also need to be won over. Marcelo built a three-pronged strategy. The first part entailed doing a lot of hard work and, to the best of his ability, delivering good results. The second was to build networks both inside and outside of the company—relationships that could help him be successful. But Marcelo also recognized the importance of creating a positive external image that would attract allies and support. He began to carefully cultivate the media as a way of becoming “better than he actually was” in the eyes of the world and, by so doing, actually be better because of the effect of positive expectations and image on how he would be seen. Marcelo understood that, particularly in today’s world with media budgets cut and organizations facing financial stress, journalists need and very much appreciate help doing their jobs. So Marcelo began writing articles about finance and management and sending them off to relevant Brazilian publications that wanted interesting content. At first, of course, not all the publications accepted his contributions, but over time, he got some of his writings placed. One of his angles was to play on his young age and offer a different generational perspective on management issues.

  • Once some of his articles had been published, he had more credibility, so it was easier to get still other articles published. Marcelo also volunteered to do interviews about his company with the media. Many of his colleagues felt that this was a waste of time and a distraction from their real jobs. Few wanted to be bothered with drafting press releases and handling media relations. Marcelo was soon doing these tasks not just for his department but for many others in the company, and as his skill and success at these tasks grew, others came to him for help. Through these activities, he was able to connect with many important people in the media in Brazil and also gain considerable stature inside his company. When at the age of 27, with no top management experience, he was given the job of the chief financial officer to guide a turnaround, leading a 100-person team, and be the co-general manager of one of the company’s business units, Marcelo had already learned the importance of the media. He continued writing articles, doing interviews, and building relationships. In 2007, Marcelo, not yet 30 years old, was featured in a leading Brazilian business magazine as one of ten young executives designated “CEOs of the Future,” and was on the cover of another leading Brazilian magazine with an article on how to trade in the stock market. Who knows what will eventually happen to Marcelo, but the odds of his being named a CEO are certainly enhanced by being designated as such by a leading business publication. The lessons from the Marcelo story are to be persistent and to spend time cultivating media people—not just press, radio, television, and the Internet, but also business writers and thinkers who can help you burnish your image. The best way to build relationships with media people is to be helpful and accessible.

  • Those who speak on your behalf also have their statements judged as more credible than when you make the same claims yourself. And the very fact that you were able to get, for instance, a reputable public relations firm or a great agent to work for you signals your capability and adds luster to your reputation.

  • Don’t be cheap—hire people to represent and tout you. It can work to your advantage in several ways.

  • Not only has Summers’s reputation not hurt him; it has actually helped. If you know you are hiring someone who is difficult, and you do so anyway, you will be more committed to the decision—because you will have made the selection in spite of whatever flaws the person has. Displaying some negative characteristics, as long as they aren’t so overwhelming as to preclude your selection, actually increases your power because those who support you notwithstanding your flaws will be even more committed to you and your success. The process is one of reputational inoculation—people can’t complain about traits they know about and will, as in the quote about Larry Summers, come to discount any negative traits as being “just who you are.”

  • You probably aren’t—and don’t want to appear in any case—perfect. As long as the quirks you display are irrelevant to the core of your reputation and why people select you—in the case of Summers, for his brilliance in the field of economics —the flaws and foibles can actually strengthen people’s commitment to you.

  • Seeking to dominate the conversation and the decision making and totally control the situation may work on some of your adversaries, but probably not too many. Most will seek to push back, very hard—they will react to your attempts to overpower them by doing things to maintain their power and autonomy. Therefore, one way to deal with opponents is to treat them well and leave them a graceful way to retreat. Sometimes, coopting others and making them a part of your team or organization carries the day by giving them a stake in the current system.

  • Helping opponents move to another organization where they won’t be in your way may not be the first thing you think about doing, but it ought to be high on the list.

  • “Face” is important for people’s self-esteem. Giving adversaries something to make them feel better works to your advantage, particularly if the move doesn’t cost you that much. That’s why boards and bosses often say nice things about people being shown the door, and even sometimes provide money—seldom from their own pockets—that makes the exit easier to swallow.

  • Zia Yusuf, the former senior executive in SAP, sometimes exasperated his subordinates because in a meeting when he saw that the decision was going against him and his group, he typically did not dig in his heels and fight. “It is important to live to fight another day,” he says. Because he did not push too hard against his bosses or his peers, Yusuf defused the emotional tone of meetings and by not creating unnecessary enmity, could often get the decisions he wanted, even if it took some time.

  • Not creating enemies or turmoil when it isn’t necessary requires something I have discussed before—focus. You need to have a clear understanding of where you are going and the critical steps on the way. When you confront opposition on this path, you need to react. But you just waste your time and possibly acquire gratuitous problems if you get involved with any issue or individual that has some connection, regardless of how irrelevant, to you and your agenda.

  • After you reach a certain level, there comes a point in your career where you simply have to make critical relationships work. Your feelings, or for that matter, others’ feelings about you, don’t matter. To be successful, you have to get over resentments, jealousies, anger, or anything else that might get in the way of building a relationship where you can get the resources necessary for you to get the job done.  
  • Zia Yusuf had a strategy for depersonalizing the difficult situations he confronted when he ran SAP’s internal consulting team and sometimes had to recommend restructuring or other decisions that caused some senior people to lose resources and power: focus on the data. He pushed himself and his team to get as much objective information as possible, and to be analytically and logically rigorous so that facts would dominate the discussion and make strategic issues less about personalities and feelings. The ability to not take opposition or slights personally, think about whose support you need, and go after it, regardless of their behavior toward you or your own feelings, and remain focused on the data and impartial analysis requires a high level of self-discipline and emotional maturity. It is a rare skill. But it is crucial in surmounting and disarming opponents.   
  • Persistence works because it wears down the opposition. Much like water eroding a rock, over timekeeping at something creates results. In addition, staying in the game maintains the possibility that the situation will shift to your advantage. Opponents retire or leave or make mistakes. The environment changes. When Esserman entered medicine, breast cancer was, believe it or not, a relatively unsexy medical backwater. Women’s advocacy and scientific progress that has enhanced diagnosis and treatment have given the disease and its treatment much more visibility. In a tenured academic position (Esserman) and a safe legislative seat (Brown in San Francisco), being patient and persistent is easier to implement than might be the case in other, less secure situations. Nevertheless, not giving up is a precursor to winning.

  • If you move quickly, you can often catch your opponents off guard and secure victory before they even know what is happening. In 2005, Jagmohan Dalmiya stood for reelection as president of the BCCI. Modi, coming out of nowhere as a leader of the Rajasthan Cricket Association, hired numerous lawyers to pursue allegations of corruption and mismanagement against Dalmiya and ran an overtly political campaign to oust him. “Dalmiya could not believe the effort being put in by his opponents. He was caught totally unaware.”7 After winning the election and installing himself as vice president and an ally as president of the association, Modi moved quickly to remove opponents and sell TV rights and merchandise sponsorships at high prices to bring in the resources and show people that siding with him was very much in their economic self-interest. This dynamic plays out all the time on the board of directors and CEO struggles. If the CEO can move first to rid the board of opponents, he can usually be successful and save his job. If the board organizes while the CEO is away on vacation or distracted, the members can often mobilize the support to unseat the CEO before he can mount a counterattack. The lesson: Don’t wait if you see a power struggle coming. While you are waiting, others are organizing support and orchestrating votes to win.  
  • Serving on a publicly-traded company’s board of directors provides prestige and money. At one medical device company, the chair of the compensation committee got into conflict with the CEO. The board member felt that the company was underperforming, not attaining the profit margins that had been projected as sales grew, and the stock price was stagnant. Meanwhile, the CEO retained outside counsel to help him in his negotiations for a larger compensation package. When the board acquiesced to his demands, the CEO had won. Soon, the compensation committee chair was off the board. Coincidence? Possibly. But a lesson to other board members, nonetheless: if you want to keep your position, go along.  
  • In companies, in government, even in nonprofits, people who have any resource control use it to reward those who are helpful and punish those who stand in their way. When the charming, gentle, and scrupulously honest John Gardner, founder of Common Cause and a man of distinction, was HEW secretary in the Johnson administration, a time when the programs in health, education, and social welfare were greatly expanded under the Great Society rubric, he told people that it was firmly within their right to oppose what he was doing, but he wanted them to know there would be “consequences.” If using power in this way seems tough, it may be. But get over your inhibitions, because many of the people you will meet on your path to power will have less hesitation about rewarding their friends and punishing those who oppose them.

  • Your path to power is going to be easier if you are aligned with a compelling, socially valuable objective. That doesn’t mean you are cynically using some social cause for your own gain—just that to the extent you can associate your efforts with a socially desirable, compelling value, you increase your likelihood of success.

  • Power struggles inside companies seldom seem to revolve around blatant self-interest. At the moment of crisis and decision, clever combatants customarily invoke “shareholders’ interests.” As in, “It would be in the shareholders’ interests to have a new CEO,” or a “new board member,” or for that matter, new executives in other senior roles. Gary Loveman’s rationale, as he removed people after he became COO? “They could not do the new jobs expected of them” under a strategy of data-based marketing necessary to enhance Harrah’s performance. For example, the marketing executive who won the chairman’s award for excellence the preceding year was a great advertiser and photographer of crab legs and properties: this man was great at what used to be the essence of his job, but he could not do the analytical work required to leverage a large customer database to build share of wallet. Loveman often frequently notes that no one owns a position, not even him—everyone works in the interests of the shareholders, who own the right to put whoever is most effective in the job. Loveman is sincere and he has certainly delivered for the shareholders—a stock price of about $16 when he arrived at Harrah’s in 1998 became $90 a share when he completed the last of the big leveraged buyouts before the crash in the fall of 2007. But this talk about shareholder sovereignty is also a framing that works to portray his power at the gaming company in a socially desirable and acceptable fashion. If you are going to do good—for educational systems, public works, breast cancer, or shareholders—you are going to need to be in power. Otherwise, you won’t be able to accomplish as much. The lesson: place your own objectives in a broader context that compels others to support you.

  • The best way to overcome the embarrassment is to talk about what happened to as many people as possible as quickly as possible. You will probably learn that you have more support than you think and that others, rather than blaming you, will want to come to your aid. Also, the more you tell the tale, the less the telling will stimulate strong emotions in you. You will become acclimated to the story and desensitized to its effects. Making what happened less emotionally fraught is absolutely essential for your being able to think strategically about your next moves.

  • People who reach senior-level positions in any field are good at what they do. Even if job performance is not the most important determinant of career success, it does matter and, moreover, once you reach a high-level position, unless you go to sleep, over time you will become more capable of doing the job through your accumulated experience. That means that when you face a setback, don’t take the advice of those who advocate finding another area of work. Your experience and contacts are all context-specific—you have human and social capital in a particular job domain. Moving to something else, whatever else the virtues of that new career path, will rob you of the resources and competence you have built doing what you do.

  • A very successful former CEO of a human capital software company took a job as a partner with a foreign venture capital firm. The firm’s investments weren’t very good, and, more importantly, Steve soon figured out that he could not work effectively with his overseas partners. They parted ways, and Steve’s next job was as CEO of a small software company in which he had invested while he was still at the venture capital fund. Even though he had left his previous position and was running a company that was both small and in a precarious financial position, in talking to him you would never know there had been any problem at all. He spoke enthusiastically about his current job and the company’s prospects and refused to acknowledge any setback from his venture capital experience. Now an executive vice president at a large international research and consulting firm, Steve’s success in landing a great position derives in no small measure from his never appearing as if there had been any career reversal. Situations are often ambiguous. Did you resign or were you fired? Was your previous job experience successful or not? One of the ways others are going to ascertain how things turned out is by how you present yourself. Are you upbeat? Do you project power and success or the reverse? This is why developing the ability to act in ways that you may not feel at the moment is such an important skill. You want to convey that everything is fine and under your control, even under dire circumstances. People want to associate with winners. At the very moment when you have suffered a reversal in fortune and most need help, the best way to attract that help is to act as if you are going to triumph in the end. This advice does not mean that you should not tell people what happened and enlist their aid. It does mean you need to show enough strength and resilience that your potential allies will not believe their efforts to help you will be wasted.

  • James March, a very distinguished organizational scholar and political scientist, once remarked that you could have power or autonomy, but not both. How right he was. When I asked a former colleague what changed when he became a business school dean, his reply was that he lost control over his schedule. Whereas once he could exercise, take time to think and reflect, and do things that interested him, now there were many people and constituencies wanting to see him. Like many senior leaders, his “office” scheduled his time, and unless he got to them and blocked time for himself before they scheduled every minute, there would be no free time or even time whose allocation he controlled so he could move his agenda forward.

  • Building and maintaining power requires time and effort, there are no two ways about it. Time spent on your quest for power and status is time that you cannot spend on other things, such as hobbies or personal relationships and families. The quest for power often exacts a high toll on people’s personal lives, and although everyone bears some costs, the price seems to be particularly severe for women.

  • Here’s a simple truth: the higher you rise and the more powerful the position you occupy, the greater the number of people who will want your job. Consequently, holding a position of great power creates a problem: who do you trust? Some people will be seeking to create an opportunity for themselves through your downfall, but they won’t be forthcoming about what they are doing. Some people will be trying to curry favor with you by telling you what they think you want to hear so you will like them and help them advance. And some people will be doing both.

  • For CEOs to survive in their jobs, they need to be able to discern who is undermining them and be tough enough to remove those people before they themselves lose the power struggle. What’s true for CEOs is also true for other senior-level executives with ambitious subordinates.

  • When you are in power, you should probably trust no single person in your organization too much, unless you are certain of their loyalty and that they are not after your job. The constant vigilance required by those in power—to ensure they are hearing the truth and to maintain their position vis-à-vis rivals—is yet another cost of occupying a job that many others want.

  • As Binkley described it, one day he was vice-chair of one of the largest banks in the world, and the next day he was not. The transition was, to put it mildly, difficult. He notes that occupying a senior-level corporate position in a large organization requires an enormous amount of energy to get through the day. To be a public figure and perform at a high level requires an intensity that produces, in his words, “a caffeinated high.” When you leave such a position and that level of activity ceases, it is almost, as Binkley put it, “like a car going from ninety miles an hour to a dead stop.” When the adrenaline rush ceases, there is a visceral, physiological reaction. In addition to the change in activity and intensity level, there is also the change from being the center of a universe of people fawning over you and heeding your every request to a more “normal” and less in-the-limelight existence. As a high-level executive in a large corporation, Binkley observed, you are surrounded by “players”—that is, by people of equally high status. And when you no longer have that job, you lose these associations because most of the people are only interested in your companionship when you hold status and power. This feeling of no longer being a player or a member of the elite is a loss felt intensely by many who have been successful at the power-and-money game.

  • Power is addictive, in both a psychological and physical sense. The rush and excitement from being involved in important discussions with senior figures and the ego boost from having people at your beck and call are tough to lose, even if you voluntarily choose to retire or leave, and even if you have more money than you could ever spend. In a power-and celebrity-obsessed culture, to be “out of power” is to be out of the limelight, away from the action, and almost invisible. It is a tough transition to make. And because it is, some executives seek to avoid switching to a less powerful role—Sandy Weill of Citigroup and Hank Greenberg of AIG worked long past normal retirement age and finally were forced out by boards of directors of these large public companies when they refused to anoint successors. Bill Paley of CBS asked his biographer Sally Bedell Smith why he had to die as he maintained control of the media company into his eighties. These examples and numerous others illustrate yet another price of power—the addictive quality that makes it tough to leave powerful positions. But everyone eventually has to step down, and the druglike nature of power makes leaving a powerful position a truly wrenching experience for some.

  • If you manage to get to a position of power, it would be nice to keep it for a while. Although each case of lost power has its own peculiarities, there are some common factors that you need to avoid. While it is inevitable that everyone will lose power eventually—we all get old and leave our positions—it is not inevitable that people will lose power as often or as quickly as they do.

  • Overconfidence and insensitivity lead to losing power, as people become so full of themselves that they fail to attend to the needs of those whose enmity can cause them problems. Conversely, not letting power go to your head and acting as if you were all-powerful can help you maintain your position.

  • As they focus on achieving their own or the organization’s objectives, those with power pay less attention to those who are less powerful. But this lack of attention can cost leaders their jobs.

  • Having a position of formal authority or even being right is not going to win you the support of those whose mistakes you have called out. It is tough for those in power to see the world from others’ perspectives—but if you are going to survive, you need to get over yourself and your formal position and retain your sensitivity to the political dynamics around you.

  • As Mitch explained to me, being in a powerful position in a large, visible institution is difficult. You have to attend functions for people you don’t necessarily like —weddings, bar mitzvahs, fund-raisers, funerals—sometimes when you would rather be doing something else. But you have to be at these events to fulfill social obligations and expectations and also to solidify your relationships with people who are important to your ability to do and keep your job. Moreover, in a visible position such as university president, everybody—students, faculty, alumni, citizens, staff—has an opinion about what you could be doing to do your job better, and many feel free to share their views with you and with the public. Many of these people don’t know what they are talking about and all of them take time away from the difficult task of, in this case, running a university of some 38,000 students with rapidly expanding research funding. After a while, it is easy to lose patience and lash out at the sorry fools who are making your job more difficult than it should be—except, as Maidique thoughtfully noted, some of these “sorry fools” can cost you your position. After decades in public education, Rudy Crew had lost patience with the patronage, the pettiness, and the fact that tens of thousands of children were getting left behind. He was simply unwilling to choose his words carefully. Maidique, in all the decades at the helm of FIU, somehow managed to keep his composure and outward demeanor of charm, regardless of what he actually felt. It’s easier to lose your patience when you are in power—power leads to disinhibition, to not watching what you say and do, to being more concerned about yourself than about the feelings of others. But losing patience causes people to lose control and offend others, and that can cost them their jobs.

  • It is hard work to keep your ego in check, to constantly be attentive to the actions of others, and obtaining and keeping power requires long hours and lots of energy. After a while, some people get tired; they become less vigilant and more willing to compromise and give in. We always tend to see what we want or expect to see, but as people get burned out, the tendency to project desires onto reality becomes stronger.

  • In talking to Tony Levitan about the lessons he learned as a cofounder being forced out of the company he had started, he emphasized that he was just getting too tired to remain on his game, be alert to the maneuverings, and continue to fight. If you feel yourself getting tired or burned out and you hold a position of substantial power, you might as well leave. There are going to be others who will be willing to wrest your position from you. With reduced energy and vigilance, you won’t be able to resist very well in any case.

  • Companies and leaders can fail to see the changes in the social environment that can make old ways less successful than they once were. The tendency of power to diminish the power holder’s attention and sensitivity to others with less power compounds this problem. The combination of diminished vigilance and changed circumstances often leads to the loss of power.

  • It is both possible and desirable to, as my wife nicely puts it, “leave before the party’s over” and to do so in a way that causes others to remember you fondly. You cannot always completely control how much power you maintain, but you can leave your position with dignity and thereby influence your legacy.

  • Research shows what common sense suggests is true: political struggles are more likely to occur and to be more fierce and power is used more often when resources are scarcer and therefore there is more struggle over their allocation. Studies of budget allocations in universities found that when money was tighter, the relationship between departmental power and the amount of the budget obtained was stronger.

  • If organizations aren’t worrying about you and you can lose your job in a political struggle or on a whim, why should you worry about them? Reciprocity works both ways. This is not a book about broken promises, but the list of companies that have shown little concern for their employees is enormous.   
  • There are only two ways to resolve the inevitable disagreements about what to do and how to do it—through the imposition of hierarchical authority in which the boss gets to make the decision, or through a more political system in which various interests vie for power, with those with the most power most affecting the final choices. Neither system is perfect, but before we eschew the operation of markets, including markets for power and influence, inside organizations of all types,

  • We have seen that there are a variety of answers to the question, “Are organizational politics good for you and good for the organization?” One answer is that you need to take care of yourself if you are going to survive and succeed in places where, if you don’t look out for yourself, no one else is going to. A second answer is that the question itself is off the mark: the evidence shows that hierarchy is ubiquitous and sought by people and, as a consequence, there are inevitable contests for obtaining the scarce higher-level positions in status hierarchies. In addition, power and influence skills are essential for getting things done in complex, interdependent systems and may be an effective way to make decisions, particularly compared to the more typical hierarchical arrangements. The message is that you need to master the knowledge and skills necessary to wield power effectively. In some circumstances, this may be good for the organization, but in virtually all circumstances, it is going to be good for you.

  • The problem with the heroic, almost superhuman leaders whom we see depicted in so many autobiographies and leadership classes and cases is not just that the stories are seldom fully told or completely accurate. And contrary to management author David Bradford’s view, nor are we in a “post-heroic” world. Bradford argues that organizations and, for that matter, their employees, would be better off with more collaboration, delegation, and teamwork.  
  • It’s important for you to find the right place given your aptitude and interests. Some jobs require more political skill than others. Project or product manager would be one such job—lots of responsibility without a lot of formal authority over the people whose cooperation you need to be successful. Assistant to a senior leader would be another such position, with a lot of visibility, the need to get things done, and not much direct power to reward or punish people for their cooperation or opposition. Although it is possible and desirable to develop your power skills, few people are comfortable changing their likes and dislikes. Yes, you can evolve and change, like the young woman who took over the committee, but only within limits. I suspect that she actually had an aptitude for and interest in power but just had never had a chance to explore how much. Therefore, the first step in building a path to power is to pick an environment that fits your aptitudes and interests—one where you can be successful in both the technical and political aspects, if any, of the work. This seems like blindingly obvious advice, but it is not often followed. Finding the right place for you requires several steps. First, you must be brutally honest about your strengths, weaknesses, and preferences—and because of the self-enhancement motive discussed previously, not many people are as objective about themselves as they need to be. Second, you can’t get trapped into following the crowd and doing something just because everyone else is. As decades-old research in social psychology illustrates, conformity pressures are strong. And so are the pressures of informational social influence: if everyone else is doing something, it must be because that is the right or smart thing to do. For you to do something else is to turn your back on their collective wisdom. So if everyone is going into finance, you go; if everyone is going overseas, you try to find an international position; if high tech is cool, you go there. But this conforming behavior can get in the way of doing what’s right for you. Third, to pick the right place for yourself, you must be objective not only about yourself but about the job and its risks and opportunities. We see what we want to see, and if the job looks attractive because of its compensation package or title, we can fool ourselves or intentionally overlook the fact that it may require more influence skills or be tougher than we like. Harvard Business School professor John Kotter told me that he thought for many people, the biggest obstacle to success was not talent or motivation but the fact that they were in the wrong place—that the power and influence requirements of their job did not fit their personal aptitudes and interests. Although I know of no formal study of this hypothesis, my own experiences and those of many others who have watched careers unfold suggest that it is right. Because we see what we want to see, we may not accurately assess the political risks of a job—and suffer the consequences. A few years ago a woman graduating from business school told me she was accepting a position as the assistant to the incoming university president at a large private university in the East. For almost 20 years the university had as its leader a tough, very visible, and controversial president, and the board of trustees felt it was time for a change. The outgoing president was going to remain on the board of trustees, and, since the new person would not take over until the academic year began in the fall, the soon to be former president still held formal authority. Was it a good idea, I inquired, to take a job with this degree of political risk? What if the new president, whose assistant she would be, was undermined by his predecessor? Things turned out worse than even I expected—the new president never assumed his position. The outgoing leader used his relationships with the board and senior administrative people to sabotage his successor before that person could even take office. For the putative president, not a big deal—he got a “package” and had a distinguished reputation that permitted him to quickly land another position. For his prospective assistant, things were not as rosy—no package and more effort required locating a new job. You need to be realistic about the political risks, not just to you but to those to whom you are tied if you want to build a path to power.

  • You need to be in a job that fits and doesn’t come with undue political risks, but you also need to do the right things in that job. Most important, you need to claim power and not do things that give yours away. It’s amazing to me that people, in ways little and big, voluntarily give up their power, preemptively surrendering in the competition for status and influence. The process often begins with how you feel about yourself. If you feel powerful, you will act and project power and others will respond accordingly. If you feel powerless, your behavior will be similarly self-confirming.

  • People give up their power in other ways, too. They don’t behave strategically toward people with power over them, such as their boss, and instead, let their true feelings show. As a very skilled news reporter told me, he expressed his resentment toward his distant bosses who mostly spent their time managing up and did not provide the support to the news-gathering field operations that he and his colleagues wanted. But as a result, he was just perceived negatively and had even less influence.

  • As he so nicely put it, “Either you deal with your boss, or you leave for a different company. In a small, tightly connected industry, sometimes even leaving isn’t a very good option. There is no other solution than to work with the cards you are dealt.” It may feel good to blow off steam, tell people off, and express your real inner feelings. But if the targets of your behavior are those with power, your good feelings will be quite temporary as the consequences of your actions unfold. People sometimes give away their power by defining situations as outside of their control, thereby playing the victim role. Being a victim may help you bond with fellow victims as you commiserate about the difficulties you face, and it may excuse you from doing anything about the situation, but it won’t get you much power or approval inside companies. Melinda described interviewing two people for a job and asking each, “Among your peers, you have some you work with better than others. What’s the difference?” One candidate answered that the people he works well with are easy to work with and the ones he was challenged by were moody and hard to work with. As Melinda explained, “That candidate gave away all his power by defining the problem externally and as something he couldn’t influence. When we tell ourselves that our problems are caused by others, we spend time on why we can’t be successful. When instead we focus on what we can do, we spend time on being successful.” With that level of insight, it is no wonder that Melinda is enjoying a very successful career herself. Her wisdom applies not just to job applications but to all organizational situations.

  • People give away their power by not trying. If you don’t try, you can’t fail —which protects your self-esteem. But not trying guarantees failure to win the competition for power and status. Sometimes people don’t want to “play the game,” or think they won’t be good at it, or can’t see themselves following the strategies of successful, more political individuals. I am convinced that we are frequently our own biggest barriers to having as much power as we would like simply because we don’t make sufficient effort to build ourselves up. When we stop thinking of ourselves as powerless victims and cease eschewing doing the things that will bring influence, our chances of success increase dramatically. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” It is much more difficult for others to take away your power if you aren’t complicit in the process.  
  • It’s not just that the world is not always fair so you should stop counting on the triumph of your merit. People align with who they think is going to win. If you don’t stand up for yourself and actively promote your own interests, few will be willing to be on your side. Since observers will see you as not trying to triumph and therefore losing, they will either not join your side or desert you, making your organizational demise more certain. Therefore, although self-promotion and fighting for your interests can seem unattractive, the alternative scenario is invariably much worse.

  • It’s often the little things that matter. Just as companies sometimes overemphasize grand strategy and overlook the mundane details of execution, individuals often neglect the small steps they can take that can provide them with control over vital resources, visibility, and the opportunity to build important relationships. The people who pay attention to these small things have an edge in creating power.  
  • When Matt joined a major consulting company, he was one of many talented individuals in the entering cohort. How to stand out and build a reputation? When new associates come into the firm, there are often many in the entering “class.” The partners need to know who the new people are who can be assigned to projects, and the entering associates need to know about the partners and the projects in the office. In the past, there had been some informal methods—like meals and seminars —that had brought various people together. Matt asked the managing partner whether he could formalize this process of ensuring that everyone knew about everyone else to make project assignments and also the new associates’ integration into the office easier. “Of course,” he was told. The task required Matt to interview the partners in the office to obtain their biographies and interests, and also to interview the new associates to ascertain their skills and specific consulting interests. By the time he had completed this activity, Matt knew a lot about lots of people; he had also developed deeper relationships with people throughout the office. Will these activities make Matt a partner someday? Unlikely just by themselves. But coupled with hard and effective work, they will provide Matt with the reputation and visibility that gives an advantage. And the personal relationships can be further deepened and maintained to provide even more influence in the system.

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