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7 Rules of Power: Surprising - but True - Advice on How to Get Things Done and Advance Your Career
by Jeffrey Pfeffer
In a busy world with talented people, our work and talents do not magically speak for us to land our dream job or provide access to resources that accelerate our careers. Power and influence are invisible strengths you will not find on a resume, but they separate high performers from others.
Stanford University professor Jeffrey Pfeffer provides a manual on how to use power skills to increase compensation, impact, job satisfaction, and happiness. Based on research and case studies, these skills can be learned and practiced to build the power muscle and change your life.
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“Political skill is one of the most powerful predictors of success in the workplace”
The seven rules are:
Get out of your own way.
Break the rules.
Show up in a powerful fashion.
Create a powerful brand.
Use your power.
Understand that once you have acquired power, what you did to get it will be forgiven, forgotten, or both.
You may have mixed emotions about power - it’s manipulative, inauthentic, and goes against my values or personality. We often see examples where power was abused for personal gain, but it’s also a tool that can be used to create value and change organizations, the lives of others, and the world. I take the view to embrace power as a resource to help fuel my purpose of coaching people to experience their true potential.
My hardcopy book is full of yellow highlights and pages that are tabbed. Here are three idea favorites from each rule.
1. Get out of your own way
“How people think of themselves invariably influences what they project to others and what behaviors they will enact. The lesson: use self-descriptive adjectives that convey power and eschew attitudes that, even if accurate, fairly or unfairly, diminish your status.
“There is evidence that not to make positive assertions about oneself or one’s work can be taken as a negative signal. So, if you do not project power and confidence, and your self-description is limited in its ambitions and claims, your social status and career will suffer.”
“To the extent people opt out of doing things their colleagues are willing to do - tactics that build power - they put themselves at a disadvantage. The fundamental point: everyone has choices, not only about how they think of themselves, but about what they are willing or unwilling to do in the contest for power.”
2. Break the rules
“it is easier and often more successful and productive to just do what you want and to ask forgiveness for something that you have done instead of asking for permission.”
“Another advantage to breaking with the rules is that, not surprisingly, rules and norms tend to favor those with the power to make them - who tend to be the entities in power. Why play by the rules others have made that may disadvantage you?”
“If people blend in too perfectly, they become unnoticeable, undifferentiated from those around them competing for promotions. People also want to excel, and to excel is to be, almost by definition, different.”
3. Show up in a powerful fashion
“the third rule of power is to appear powerful, because others will treat you and make decisions about you depending on how you show up, and those decisions often act in ways to make the initial impressions become true.”
“Appearance matters and predicts career outcomes and attributions of power.”
“One of a leader’s most important tasks is to project confidence. When someone projects confidence, others are more likely to follow and support them - and for that matter, to hire and promote them.”
4. Create a powerful brand
“A brand brings together aspects of someone’s personal and professional life in a way that makes it clear why they are uniquely qualified for some position or to found a company in a particular industry.”
“Your task: think of a short (two- or three-sentences) way of describing yourself and your accomplishments that brings together your expertise, your experience (what you have done), and a way of integrating that with some aspect of your personal story.”
“Part of brand building and creating a positive reputation is ensuring that you get credit for your work. That entails being willing to tell your story and eschewing any false sense of modesty or the belief that your work will speak for itself.”
5. Network relentlessly
“Who you know, and how many people you know, matters for your influence and for your career.”
“Centrality affects visibility. More people will know and know about people who are more central, and that visibility will often work to those people’s advantage for becoming the focal point for information and opportunities. When people evaluate jobs and roles, one dimension they should account for is the centrality that will accrue to them from occupying that job or position. Other things being equal, chose more central jobs.”
“If you want to get value from your connection to another, don’t make that other do the thinking for you. In other words, to the extent that you have a specific request for some specific help for a specific and sensible reason, others can quickly ascertain whether and how they will connect you to resources that might be helpful.”
6. Use your power
“the principal theme of this chapter, is the idea that power is not some scarce, limited resource that becomes depleted by being used. Instead, the more someone uses power to get things done - including structuring the world around them and changing who works with and for them in ways that support themselves and their objectives - the more power they will have.”
“Successfully using power to make changes increases the incumbent’s power, while waiting to use power or not using it at all leaves the status quo in place, thereby reducing power.”
“It is much safer to be feared than loved because … love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage, but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.”
7. Understand that once you have acquired power, what you did to get it will be forgiven, forgotten, or both
“I ask people to become more comfortable with pushing the rules, and to lose the scripts and self-descriptions that hold them back.”
“The more powerful and successful someone is, the more likely it will be that talented people will want to work with them - and the ability to attract more and better talent increases the chances of subsequent success.”
“Success - money and power - takes care of many presumed sins, causing others to ignore, forget, or otherwise overlook or rationalize wrongdoing.”
Jeffrey Pfeffer Resources
Listening to real case studies provides an efficient method for learning Pfeffer’s power rules (Pfeffer on Power podcast).
Dr. Pfeffer shares the Stanford course outline with readings, and assignments focused on learning and applying the rules of power. Writing creative responses to the assignment prompts can accelerate your understanding of power concepts and apply them in your career.
Call to Action
Commit to one action this week to practice building and demonstrating power for your career. Examples include:
Reach out to someone in your network with a specific, tangible request that can unblock your job search or accelerate getting something done.
Draft your 2-3 paragraph brand statement described above in rule 4.
Meditate on your self-description to identify how you may limit your ambitions and how others see you. Change one small thing on how you will show up differently within the next week.
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