Transcript Excerpt – Power: How to Get It, Use It, & Keep It

Check out an excerpt from the transcript for The Social Capitalist interview featuring Dr. Jefferey Pfeffer. Read Tahl’s Raz’s blog post on the interview here. Click here for the full transcript: Social Capitalist Transcript – Jeffrey Pfeffer. Access the audio recording here. Enjoy!

Tahl Raz:     I’m the co-founder of the Academy, co-author of Never Eat Alone and this is the Social Capitalist, bringing you analysis and advice from the top leaders of this new era of social business.  Now, you won’t find the nitty-gritty realities of career advancements in most business self-help or leadership books and you won’t find the great CEOs talking in public or writing in their books about how they really operate.  At least, not according to our guest, Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer. A truth teller always willing to question the orthodoxy, Professor Pfeffer is one of our very top thinkers in management theory.  In his book on power, why some people have it and others don’t, his position is clear.  The world is not just.  Your workplace is not fair, and how smart you are, how well you do your job, or how many people think you’re swell has far less to do with your success than almost anyone is willing to tell you.  Professor Pfeffer, welcome.

Jeffrey Pfeffer:    Thank you, it’s a pleasure to be with you.

Tahl Raz:     So, let’s get right into it.  What is power?  Why is it so important, and why do so few of your colleagues tell the truth about it?

Jeffrey Pfeffer:     Well, power’s simply the ability to get things done in many aspects of life.  There’s disagreement about what to do and how to do it, and so power is simply the ability to get your way.  That would be one way of – that would be an alternative title for the book, which is kind of getting one’s way in inside of organizations.  It’s important I think for three reasons, or it’s important actually for lots of reasons.  But one reason is that if you run an accomplished profound, organizational change, you need to actually have influence to be able to get other people to do what you need them to do.  Power’s a part of leadership.  Secondly, power can be monetized.  When Bill and Hillary Clinton left the White House, they had debts and six years later, they had earned $107 million.  Power doesn’t have to be monetized.  I mean, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King didn’t, but it can be.  And thirdly, according to a research by epidemiologist, Michael Marmot, he’s a British physician and epidemiologist, power to the extent it’s manifested and control over your work and your work setting and your work environment actually produces longer life.  And anyone who’s ever had stress from not being able to control the conditions of their work would understand that, I think, pretty easily.  And why my colleagues don’t tell the truth is I, you know, there’s no incentive to do it.  People, you know, there’s a famous line if you were to do the Google search under the phrase, “you can’t handle the truth”, of course what the first thing that comes up is the famous scene between Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, in which Jack Nicholson says to Tom Cruise, if he doesn’t think people wants the truth, they can’t handle the truth.  And I think that’s right.  I actually believe that people need to know the truth if you’re going to be successful in organizations and in your organizational life.  You actually need to understand how the world works not how people would like it to work, that’s important also, of course.  But you need to understand how the world actually works, what rules of the game are, what we know about social psychology and the social psychology of influenced processes.  And then you can decide how you’re going to use that knowledge.  But I think it’s important for people to tell people the truth.

Click through for more of the excerpt.

Tahl Raz:     So speaking of the truth and the rules of the game, many of the book strategies revolve around an idea, not your term I believe it’s a psychological term called self enhancement.  People like to feel good about themselves and do things to ensure that result.  So is this just a fancy way of telling us we should all be ass-kissers or is there a craft and a set of techniques to this and what are they?

Jeffrey Pfeffer:     Well, flattery, I think is highly under-utilized, to tell you the truth.  And I think many people – I think, you know, I have a colleague Deb Groomfeld who says, and I think she’s right, that even though we live in a hierarchical world, many of us are uncomfortable with hierarchy.  And I think many of us in particular are uncomfortable with having other people, particularly other people who we may have feel are qualified or who have gotten their positions in a fair manner or, you know, who knows how they’ve gotten their jobs and they have power over us and we don’t like it.  And we say, you know, why does this person?  Why do they have the right to tell me what to do?  And so therefore, we act and behave in a counter-dependent fashion, and that doesn’t, you know, get us very far at all.  So I think everybody has a boss and to the extent that your boss likes you, thinks well of you and wants to make you successful, you’re probably going to do way better than to the extent your boss doesn’t like you and would rather never see you again, in which case you’re likely going to be fired.  When your colleague and co-author Keith Ferrazzi came to my class some years ago, he’s made a statement which I think is completely correct.  He said, “You are not responsible for your career.  You’re blinding ambition is not going to necessarily make you successful.  It is other people who are responsible for your career.”  The people higher up in the organization whose fate – your fate, they control.  And so your job is to make sure that they want to make you successful and have an interest in your kind of success and well-being and the best way to do that is to make those people feel better about themselves.  And so flattery, yes, is one technique, not disagreeing with them openly or in a confrontational way is another you need to do; but it’s basically asking about any behavior that you’re going to exhibit.  At the end of exhibiting this behavior, will the other people feel better or worse about themselves and about my effect on their self-esteem.  And so, a lot of this is about being energetic, being enthusiastic, being positive, all of those things are also part of having people feel better about themselves.

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