The following post is part 2 of an excerpt from a recent Leadership Leverage radio show. The interview has been edited for clarity and length. Start with part 1 here.
Dr. Denker: I wanted to explore the topic of power – why some people have it and others don’t.
In our discussion today (read part 1 here) we’ll learn what power is, how to get it, and how to use it to bring about change to get things done, and how it can help you be a more effective leader.
To help us navigate this journey, we’ll be speaking with Dr. Jeffrey Pfeffer, a distinguished and popular educator, author, and international consultant.
Dr. Pfeffer is the Thomas D. Dee Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, and he’s the author, or co-author of 13 books.
Dr. Pfeffer’s latest book entitled “Power: Why some people have it and others don’t” is the focus of our dialogue today, and is a fascinating read as to the central message that intelligence, performance, and likeability alone are not the keys to career success.
Instead, self-promotion, building relationships, cultivating a reputation for control and authority, along with projecting a power demeanor, are vital drivers for promotion and success.
==> Start with part 1 here
Using Power To Command Presence, Live Longer and How To Gain More Of It Within Your Organization
Speaking With Power
Dr. Denker: What about speaking with power? Can you talk about that?
Dr. Pfeffer: Sure. I think that another very important thing for folks is to both, not only to speak, but to convey power through their posture.
There’s been some interesting research done that suggests that if you adopt a powerful pose, and you look like you’re more powerful, people have actually measured blood chemistry, and it turns out that once you get into a more powerful pose, cortisol, which is a stress hormone, goes down and testosterone actually goes up.
You feel more confident.
This idea of fake it until you make it actually has truth behind it that if you put yourself in a powerful pose, and feel, and act as if you have power, over time you will actually feel more powerful and more confident.
A lot of this is around how we manage ourselves.
It’s so interesting to see people kind of cave their chest in, and shrink in on themselves, and shrink down, and look down, and not engage in eye contact with the people that they’re talking with, and do a variety of things that in many instances peremptorily give up their power.
Even in how they’re looking and in their physical posture as opposed to standing up straight, and pushing their chest out a little, and leaning forward, and engaging in direct eye contact.
These are all things that will not only provide you with power in subtle ways, but will actually make you feel better about yourself and more confident. If you act as if you have power, you will over time come to have it.
Dr. Denker: Fascinating. Are there other small things like that that do a lot?
Speak With More Authority and Gain More Power
Dr. Pfeffer: I think that it then goes to the issue of the question that you asked about speaking.
Many people don’t speak in simple declarative sentences.
They put in lots of subordinate clauses and qualifications, which take away their power.
They don’t use vivid, motion producing language.
They don’t, perhaps, interrupt, and they permit themselves to be interrupted, and these patterns of speech also help to convey power for individuals.
Dr. Denker: Is there anything else to share on that?
Dr. Pfeffer: This is an issue, which gets us into a whole other subject of gender differences in power, many women, and some men, but it’s more common for women to finish their sentences with their voice a little bit raised so it seems like a question even though it’s not a question.
It feels like a question, or it feels more tentative to raise your voice at the end of a sentence.
You should not do that.
Gaining More Power Within Your Organization
Dr. Denker: You know, I’m thinking about leaders who are currently working in organizations, and about them choosing a place to start in terms of improving their ability to ask for help, and understand social networks that relate to them, and their ability to speak with power.
In your book you talk about how they should diagnose the power position of their department or function. Can you talk more about that?
Dr. Pfeffer: Well first of all, people in piloting their career have a trade off to make, even once you figure out what’s the most powerful unit.
There’s a very interesting dilemma I think that individuals face, which is if you go to the most powerful unit you’ll probably do better, but there’s also going to be more competition there because most people want to be in the center of the action rather than on the periphery.
There’s a trade off you need to make, but you can diagnose the power of a unit in part through its physical location, how close is it to the head of the organization, where is it located in the headquarters’ building.
In San Francisco we have the famous Trans America Pyramid, which really is the physical manifestation of the corporate hierarchy.
In most organizations the powerful units are closer to the center, and closer to the CEO than they are on the periphery.
In some cases you can look at the salaries paid by the chief of the various functions.
There were some studies done some years ago that looked at the Chief Financial Officer, the Head of Engineering, the Head of Human Resources, the Head of Finance, in a variety of different companies and in a variety of different cultures, it kind of confirmed the various stereotypes.
In Japan, the highest paid functions were human resources and operations.
In Germany it was engineering, R&D.
In the U.S., it was finance.
That tells you something about the relative power about those functions in those countries, how much people are getting paid for running them, or for that matter the starting salary for entering them.
Practical Examples Of Gaining More Power
Dr. Denker: I wanted to talk about a very interesting concept about how one can actually become healthier and live longer about embracing power, but before we go there, if someone who’s listening says, “Alright, I’m really hooked on this idea. I’m hearing some things that resonate with me,” where can they start today?
What are some practical steps that they can begin after this show is over?
Dr. Pfeffer: That’s a great question, and I think many people believe that in order to become powerful they have to suddenly become different people, and do something dramatic like take over the world or run a race to the North Pole or something.
That isn’t the case at all.
I think often times you can begin building power by doing relatively small things, and by doing those things insert yourself more into the center of the organization.
Many of these things other people don’t want to do, so I’ll give you two examples.
The hedge fund:
One example is of a friend of mine who works at a hedge fund.
Hedge funds recruit analysts.
These are the kind of grunt level workers who come in, stay for two, or three, or four years, and then they leave and go back to get another degree, often times a business degree.
It’s not like you’re hiring people who are going to be there a long time.
You’re hiring people to come in to be there a relatively short time, and then they’re going to go.
This is kind of a task that nobody really wants to do.
He said, “Look, I have some extra free time. Let me take over, and run and coordinate the analyst recruiting,” and everybody said, “That’s fine. That’s great because we want to do our major work”, which is of course running the hedge fund, and making investment decisions, and doing the more important stuff. “You go run the analyst recruiting, which is fine.”
But if you think about it, in order to run analyst recruiting you have to talk to everybody in the firm to get their schedules arranged, which of course he did and that brought him into contact with all kinds of folks and built his network and his relationships with these people.
The analysts who he recruited were of course very grateful to him, and at the end of all of this he had a dinner with the analyst recruits and with the firm, and he put himself right in the center.
Why not because he was arranging the dinner?
At the end of this, in a variety of different ways, including through his meeting with people, and including his building relationships with the analysts, and including his doing a task that nobody else wanted to do, he emerged with a higher and stronger reputation with more visibility in the firm.
The temporary boss:
I have another person who I know who’s boss was taken out of her area to go be boss of some other place temporarily because somebody had gone on leave.
This is an individual who now no longer had a boss, and she said, “Well, you know if I don’t have a boss, and my work group doesn’t have a boss, I will fill in and gauge in a preemptory move to kind of act like the boss.”
“By the way, I’ll use the opportunity of the absence of my boss to engage in more direct contact with higher level people inside the company,” and again built her visibility, her reputation, took on a leadership role that other people weren’t taking on.
It’s really around the issue of taking initiative, and just stepping up and doing sometimes relatively small tasks that need to get done.
I often times tell people that if you are making notes during a meeting, that gives you more power than you may think. Lots of people say, “You go ahead and make the notes.”
It’s not something that everybody’s going to fight over. You take control of the flip chart and write down people’s comments.
In just that mere act of standing up and writing down what other people are saying, you become more visible and more central, and people pay more attention to you.
It’s these relatively small things that often times can make an enormous difference.
Having More Power Helps You Live Longer
Dr. Denker: What a wonderful example too about standing up in front of that flip chart because people then have to look at you, and you’re looking at them as opposed to just maintaining perhaps a place holder at a table; very powerful insights that you’re providing our listeners today.
Let’s go back to this key question that I want to hear more about, and that is how having power can help us live longer and a healthier life?
Dr. Pfeffer: Power gets to people in lots of ways.
I think number one it can be monetized.
If you think about the Clintons, when they left the White House they didn’t have much money, and over the next several years earned over a hundred million dollars just speaking and writing.
Dr. Denker: That’s right.
Dr. Pfeffer: Power actually, as you just suggested, is actually related to people’s cardiovascular health. Some years ago a guy named Michael Marmot, who’s a UK epidemiologist, noticed an interesting thing when he did a study of British civil servants, which is that the higher their rank, the lower their risk of dying or having a heart attack from cardiovascular disease.
Well, that’s interesting.
Maybe that’s because higher-level people exercise more, or had better genetics, or one thing or the other.
They’ve actually now done prospective studies, which find that it makes perfect sense if you think about it, that people with more control over their work, more control over what they do, and the time at which they do it, and the circumstances under which they do it have better cardiovascular health.
If you think about it, the absence of control is extremely stressful.
If you don’t have control over what you do, when you do it, and how you do it, you’re going to experience that as highly stressful as opposed to doing a lot of work but nonetheless having some discretion over when and how you do it.
Control, and of course power, leads to control over your work and your work environment, actually is related to physical health.
Dr. Denker: Fascinating. It’s really don’t place yourself in a victim role, but take charge.
Dr. Pfeffer: Absolutely.
Sometimes It’s Good To Be An A**hole – Really!
Dr. Denker: Interesting.
You know we had a colleague of yours on, and a good friend of yours too, Dr. Robert Sutton, and he talked to us about good bosses and bad bosses, and of course touched on some of his ideas from a book that he wrote about the “a**hole rule.”
I have to say that in reading your book and hearing some of these concepts of that, it sounds like that in order to get ahead, one has to have a little bit of an a**hole in them.
Dr. Pfeffer: He and I have had some fascinating and wonderful conversations about exactly that point.
I think what I have sometimes said to him is that if you actually behaved like he advises you to do in being a good boss, you would probably not rise to that position, but that I think raises, Rob, a very, very interesting point that you shouldn’t necessarily be the same way all the time.
That the qualities and behaviors that you might want to use to get into a position of power, to become CEO, is not necessarily what you want to do once you’re in that position.
How you manage your subordinates, which is what his focus is, this is the title, “Good Boss, Bad Boss,” is talking about managing down.
How you manage up may be very different than how you want to manage down, and by what you do with your peers who are also your competitors may be different yet again.
I think this idea that we ought to do the same thing up and down is probably not correct, and how you want to manage and conduct yourself at various stages of your career is also I think not often times quite correct because you need to have more behavioral flexibility.
You need to understand that different roles and different situations require different behaviors.
What’s The First Step To Acquiring Power?
Dr. Denker: I think that’s an excellent point about looking at not only how one manages down, but how one manages up and across, particularly in today’s organizations.
You know Jeffrey, we’ve got about two minutes left in the show, and it’s a question that I ask all of the guests that are on, and I’d like to ask you.
The question is, what is your best advice for those individuals who are just emerging as leaders in their organization, in terms of the first steps that they can get more skill at acquiring power and being successful?
Dr. Pfeffer: I actually believe that people need to be students all their lives in the sense of always learning new things.
I believe the social science literature has lots to contribute for people’s understanding of human behavior, and their own behavior.
I would tell people you ought to read things, and you ought to continually try to improve yourself, and you ought to get yourself some coaching, either from friends or colleagues or professional coaches and do that on an ongoing basis as well.
Avail yourselves of the wisdom of people that you know.
Dr. Denker: Excellent. Jeffrey, thank you so much for being part of Leadership Leverage today. It was really an honor.
Dr. Pfeffer: Thank you so much for having me on the program.
==> Read part 1 of this interview here
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