The Favorites Game: Power Building 101

By: Kristin Clarke

Author Jeffrey Pfeffer shares his favorite ways to influence others, manage your reputation, and more.

Some of the most common assumptions about building a professional power base are either false or overrated, concludes Stanford University professor Jeffrey Pfeffer in his book Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don't.

Pfeffer, who defines power as "the ability to get your own way in contested situations," cites research showing that likeability, intelligence, and even job performance have little to do with successful power building. Instead, professionals should be refining their acting skills, learning to flatter, working far more hours, and even interrupting colleagues, advises Pfeffer.

Not all of his advice is so controversial. Indeed, most of the qualities he identifies as genuine power builders can be learned through training and personal coaching. These include sharpening your focus and energy, as well as toughening up your tolerance for conflict, among other actions.

However, many people—especially women—simply refuse to make the sacrifices or behavioral changes needed to strengthen their power, believing "naively" that just doing their jobs well is enough to earn them widespread influence, he says. That belief reflects Pfeffer's favorite misconception about power: "That the world is a fair place." Here are other favorites:

Favorite life lesson: Take care of yourself; no one else will.

Favorite way to spin your own reputation: By being provocative.

Favorite way to influence people: Flatter them.

Favorite tip to mid-level professionals looking to climb: Know the rules of the game and use them.

Favorite vacation book: I don't read much that's light and fun. My favorite book is anything by Michael Lewis.

Favorite aspect of Stanford University: The weather!

Favorite power snack: Chocolate.

Favorite element of book writing: Being done.

Contributed by Kristin Clarke, a business journalist and writer and researcher for ASAE. Email: [email protected]

Kristin Clarke

Kristin Clarke is books editor for Associations Now and a business journalist and sustainability director for ASAE.