Jeffrey Pfeffer teaches organizational behavior at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and is the author of the fantastic book “Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t.”
I interviewed him about how power works, how you can increase your influence in the office, and the mistakes most people make when trying to get ahead.
My conversation with Jeffrey was over 45 minutes, so for brevity’s sake I’m only going to post edited highlights here.
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How hard you work is not the most important thing
In order for your good performance to have any effect on your career, somebody needs to notice your good performance. And that requires probably more self-promotion than many people are comfortable with or having at least other people sing their praises.
So while job performance is significantly, in a statistical sense, related to your career success and your salary, the effect sizes tend to be relatively small. And you need to do things besides doing a good job if you want to be successful.
How do you become the kind of person who gets promoted?
First of all you need to figure out what your boss actually wants. Many people assume they know what, how they’re going to be evaluated and the criteria that other people in their organization are going to use, but unless you’re a mind reader you probably would be well served to actually check that out. That’s number one.
Number two, you should make sure that your performance is visible to your boss and your accomplishments are visible. Your superiors in the organization have their own jobs, are managing their own careers, are busy human beings. And you should not assume that they’re spending all their time thinking about you and worrying about you and your career.
And the third thing you need to do, which is, I think, even less obvious, is you need to build relationships with people in the organization. Basically, people are the name of the game. Life is really about relationships and your success in getting promoted and getting raises and getting hired, depends on the quality of the network and relationships you were able to build with a large number of other people inside your company and for that matter, outside your company.
What’s the single most important tip you would give someone on getting ahead?
Keep your boss happy. If your boss is happy with you, everybody will be happy. If your boss isn’t happy with you, I don’t care what else you’re doing, you’re going to have trouble.
Other than “Power”, what book should someone interested in this subject read?
Robert Cialdini’s “Influence.”
What mistake do most people make that stops them from gaining power?
They opt out of the game. So many people, when I talk about this or people read the book or read some of the other stuff I’ve written, the response is often (and you can see this actually on some of the reviews on Amazon): “Well this is how the world is. Yes, I agree with this. I see this, I’ve seen this in my job and in my career. But, I don’t like it. I think it’s immoral. I think it’s ineffective. I think it’s whatever, but I don’t like it and therefore I will refuse, I’m going to either ignore this and pretend it isn’t this way, or I’m going to refuse to use this information to direct my own behavior.”
There are rules of power, you need to understand them. You don’t need to like them. When you’ve become powerful, you can if you want, try to change them. But that turns out to be harder than you think, because many of these things are based upon fundamental human psychology.
The number one thing I think people do that limits their effectiveness, they opt out. They opt out by saying, this is unacceptable. They opt out by saying, I won’t do it. They opt out in a variety of ways and therefore and thereby really limit their own careers and their own potential.