Power by Jeffrey Pfeffer - Key Takeaways

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"Power" by Jeffrey Pfeffer is easily the most important/helpful career book I've ever read. I took 14 pages(!) of notes and thought I'd share the most important tips/strategies in this simple Word document.

Text of Power by Jeffrey Pfeffer - Key Takeaways

Power by Jeffrey Pfeffer Key Takeaways

General Tips

Like it or not, self-promoters get rewarded

The best way to acquire power is to construct a positive image and reputation, in part by co-opting others to present you as successful and effective.

Learn from all situations and all people, even those I dont like or respect.

Pay particular attention to the people holding positions I aspire to.

If someone is seen to prosper, there is a social psychological tendency for observers to decide that the lucky person must have done something to deserve his good fortune. He or she becomes a better person simply by virtue of the observed rewards.

Conversely, if something bad happens to someone, the belief in a just world causes the conclusion that the victim must have been a bad person.

Success, however achieved, will promote efforts to find the many positive virtues in those who are successful thereby justifying their success.

Paying attention to what departments are represented in powerful positions provides an important clue as to where the power lies.


Belief that the world is a just place.

People want the world to be controllable and predictable, thus they want to believe the world is just, and thus if you behave by the rules you will be all right, or if you fail to follow the rules bad things will happen.

Hand-me-down management formulas that reinforce this false belief.


Dont self-handicap. People are afraid of setbacks and implications for their self-image; so they often dont do all they can to increase their power.

Get over yourself and beyond your concerns with self-image, or, for that matter, the perception others have of you. Others arent worrying or thinking about you that much anyway! They are mostly concerned with themselves.

Politics vs. Performance

People who had more political skill received higher performance evaluations and were rated as more effective leaders.

As long as you keep your boss or bosses happy, performance really does not matter that much and, by contrast, if you upset them, performance wont save you.

One of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking that good performance job accomplishments is sufficient to acquire power and avoid organizational difficulties. Consequently, people leave too much to chance and fail to effectively manage their careers.

If you are going to create a path to power, you need to lose the idea that performance by itself is enough.

Research shows that job performance matters less for your evaluation than your supervisors commitment to and relationship with you.

Loyalty: CEOs tend to put loyalists in senior positions regardless of what past incumbents have accomplished.

You need to be noticed, influence the dimensions used to measure your accomplishments, and mostly make sure you are effective at managing those in power which requires the ability to enhance the ego of those above you.

Leadership: Myth vs. Reality

Most books on leadership written by former CEOs and the like gloss over the power plays they had to make and further the fallacy in the just world theories.

Leaders overemphasize their positive attributes and leave out the negative qualities and behaviors. But those in power get to write history.

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.

Leaders are great at self-presentation. The ability to effectively self-present is why successful individuals reached high levels in the first place.

Getting Noticed

Make sure 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.

The importance of standing out contradicts much conventional wisdom.

Emphasize those aspects of the job that you do well.

Define job performance criteria in ways that are beneficial to you. (PR Reports example).

The Exposure Effect: All things being equal, people prefer and choose things that are familiar to them what they have seen and experienced before.

Repeated exposure increases positive affect and reduces negative feelings, that people prefer the familiar because this preference reduces uncertainty.

In order for your great performance to be appreciated, it has to be visible.

In many cases, being memorable means getting picked.

Remember What Matters to Your Boss

What matters to your boss may not be the same things that you think are important.

Worry about your relationship with your boss at least as much (if not more) than you worry about your job performance.

Dont guess! Make sure you 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.

Make Others Feel Better About Themselves

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 better power base is to help those with more power enhance their positive feelings about themselves.

Never directly criticize your boss or his/her performance. Ever. Bosses can be insecure and react badly to criticism that they feel reflects directly on them or their performance.

If your boss makes a mistake, see if someone else 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 individuals 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 become known as someone who makes your boss insecure or to 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. Research shows how effective flattery is as a strategy to gain influence.

Flattery works because we naturally come to like people who flatter us and make us feel good about ourselves and our accomplishments, and being likeable helps us build influence.

Flattery is also effective because it is consistent with the self-enhancement motive that exists in most people.

Dont underestimate or underutilize the strategy of flattery.

Looking at Yourself

You need to see yourself and your strengths and weaknesses as objectively as possible. Do a self-assessment exercise and grade yourself.

Get advice from others who are more skilled than you and will tell you the truth about yourself.

Those who admit ignorance are more likely to improve in all domains including power versus those that either dont know their deficiencies or are afraid to admit them to others.

Qualities That Build Power

The two fundamental dimensions that distinguish people who rise to great heights and accomplish great 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 will are ambition, energy and focus.

I know of almost no powerful people that dont have boundless energy. Energy is contagious, and inspires more effort on the part of others.

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.

With Focus, make sure you 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.

Particularly talented people often have many interests and many opportunities and cant choose among them.

You are more likely to acquire power by narrowing your focus and applying your energies, like the suns rays, to a limited range of activities in a small number of domains.

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.

With Self-knowledge, read books and take notes of every significant meeting or interaction. Keep a notebook and learn from these exchanges.

There is no learning and personal development without reflection.

Empathy: What sometimes gets in the way of putting ourselves in the shoes of others is too much focus on the end goal and our own objectives and not enough concern for recruiting others to our side or at least curtailing the likelihood of their opposition.

Putting yourself in the others place is one of the best ways of driving your own agenda.

Seize control of the situation. 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 built influence.

Also note, intelligence is highly overrated.