I have read and reviewed all of the previous books that Jeffrey Pfeffer wrote or co-authored and consider this one his most valuable because his focus is much less on dysfunctional organizations and how to resuscitate them; indeed, he focuses almost entirely on what any ambitious person needs to understand about what power is...and isn't. Unlike his approach in any other of the previous books, Pfeffer establishes a direct rapport with his reader and seems to be saying, in effect, "Over the years, I've learned a great deal about power will now share with you what I hope you will find most interesting and, more to the point, most useful." In the Introduction, for example, he suggests that having power is related to living a longer and healthier life, that power and the visibility and stature that accompany can produce wealth, and that power is part of leadership and necessary to get things done, whatever the nature and extent of the given objectives may be. "Power is desirable to many, albeit not all, people, for what it can provide and also a goal in and of itself."
Although Pfeffer does not invoke the core metaphor from Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" in The Republic, I think it is especially relevant to the various misconceptions about power that Pfeffer refutes. The situation in Plato's allegory is that people are located in a darkened cave watching shadows dance on a wall. (The source of light is outside the cave.) They think they are watching ultimate realities. Rather, what they observe are images, yes, but also distortions. The same is true of the "just world hypothesis" that the world is predictable, comprehensible, and therefore potentially controllable. Worse yet, it implies that "people get what they deserve; that is, that the good people are likely to be rewarded and the bad to be punished. Most important," Pfeffer adds, "the phenomenon works in reverse: 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."
Pfeffer insists that the world is neither just nor unjust: it is. He also challenges "leadership literature" (including his contributions to it) because celebrity CEOs who tout their own careers as models tend to "gloss over power plays they actually used to get to the top" whereas authors such as Pfeffer offer "prescriptions about how people [begin italics] wish [end italics] the world and the powerful behaved." Pfeffer also suggests that those aspiring to power "are often their own worst enemy, and not just in the arena of building power" because of self-handicapping, a reluctance (perhaps even a refusal) to take initiatives that may fail and thereby diminish one's self-image. "I have come to believe that the biggest single effect I can have is to get people to [begin italics] try to become powerful." Pfeffer wrote this book as an operations manual for the acquisition and retention of power. Of even greater importance, in my opinion, he reveals the ultimate realities of what power is...and isn't...and thereby eliminates the shadows of illusion and self-deception that most people now observe in the "caves" of their current circumstances.
Here are a few of Pfeffer's key points that caught my eye, (albeit out of context):
In the workplace, "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 won't save you." (Page 21)
"Asking for help is something people often avoid. First of all, it's inconsistent with the American emphasis on self-reliance. Second, people are afraid of rejection because of what getting g turned down might do to their self-esteem. Third, requests for help are based on their likelihood of being granted." (Page78)
"Power and influence [within social networks] 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." (Page 119)
"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. We don't need to know which is operating to worry about making a good first impression." (Pages 150-151)
Note: The three processes are attention decrement, cognitive discounting, and a version of the self-fulfilling prophecy, joined by a fourth (biased assimilation), all of which Pfeffer explains on Pages 151-153.
"Michael Marmot's study of 18,000 British civil servants - all people working in office jobs - in the same society - uncovered that people at the bottom of the hierarchy had [begin italics] four times [end italics] the risk of death as those at the top. [Check out Marmot's The Status Syndrome: How Social Standing Affects Our Health, published by Times Books.] Controlling for risk factors such as smoking or obesity did not make the social gradient in health disappear, nor did statistically controlling for longevity of one's parents. As Marmot concludes, `Social circumstances in life predict health.' So seek power as if your life depends on it. Because it does." (Page 236)
Much of great value has been written about how to establish and then sustain a "healthy" organization. The fact remains, that cannot be achieved without enough people who possess sufficient power. In my opinion, Jeffrey Pfeffer is determined (obsessed?) to increase the number of such people, one reader at a time. Hopefully those who read this book will help others to acquire the power they need to be successful, influential, and most important of all healthy.