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.



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.






I would say that the fundamentally best way to build a relationship with someone is to ask them for their advice.  And/or what you can often do, as part of the same conversation, ask them to describe their own career and their own career success.  Because nothing makes people happier than talking about their favorite subject, which is, of course, themselves.




Leadership is all acting. The point is, is that people are going to react not to how you are, but to how you show up and to whether you exude confidence and to whether you look like you’re someone who they would want to follow. 

There is a management book which has a provocative title; “Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?”  But I think the question is something that people need to be asking on a daily basis.  Why should anyone be led by you?  And if you look like you don’t have energy and if you look like don’t know what you’re doing, and you look like you’re not in control of the situation, then many people who, of course, want to be associated with winners, aren’t going to want to be led by you.  

So, yes, you have to develop your acting skills.  You have to be able to put on a show. In the sense of, showing up in a way that you may not feel at that particular moment. And the way you do that is by accessing a time when you did feel the emotion that you want to project and bring that memory into the present moment.  So you can then display that emotion.

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