Saturday, August 27, 2011

Pfeffer Power

I just finished reading the book “Power” by Jeffrey Pfeffer. He is a Stanford professor who has made power and organizational politics a centerpiece of his academic career.
One of the things I needed to learn the hard way in my career is that we cannot avoid politics. My final realization of this occurred in the cut throat setting of a “merger of equals”. It is not pretty, it is not easy, and it does not always work out the way we want. And it is also true that there is no such thing as “equals”, no matter how hard they try to sell it that way.
Since that wake-up call I have been an avid reader and researcher of politics.
Anyone leading a finance organization in any size company will need to employ political strategies and exercise some form of organizational power. It cannot be avoided.
The book was plainly written. It contains advice that is then illustrated with various stories of people the author knows or has researched.
The thing I liked best about it was that he did not try to sugarcoat anything (at one point in the book he even agrees with Machiavell).
We often hear from CEO’s in the leadership literature really nice things, like sticking with the vision, listening to your people, etc. Pfeffer states that “most books by well-known executives…should be stamped CAUTION: THS MATERIAL CAN BE HAZADOUS TO YOUR ORGANIZARIONAL SURVIVAL”.
The reasons for this are: 1) leaders are good at self-presenting, which is a selective endeavor, 2) those in power get to write history, so it always sounds a bit better than it actually was, and 3) successful leaders benefit from the “just-world effect” (meaning others perceive that they must have done something good to reap this position, because the world is fair and just). The “just-world effect” seems to me to be another phrase for the “Halo Effect”, discussed in prior posts.
All in all, maybe not a whole lot new here, though the reasons why things are as they are have been explained a little bit more. If you are well-versed in the topic I am not sure if you will find this book of great use. On the other hand, this book follows in large part an MBA level course he taught called “Paths to Power”. If you are at that level, in fact or in mind (like I was), this might be a good read.
I would love to hear your thoughts about Power or your stories on this topic if you have them.
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