Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, December 21, 2020
In concept, it seems like a good thing to have. But, before I get too far down the rabbit hole, let me say that power also waxes and wanes, so be careful what you wish for because you may get it.
I have been on the top of the mountain, and I have also been a sherpa, schlepping for someone else. When you are the leader, expectations increase. To complicate things, sometimes you are perceived to have more power than you really do, and people ask you to or expect you to do more than you really can. If you want to be lead dog, you are supposed to know where you are dragging the sled.
So, if we agree that we might actually want power, the next question is how to get it, and for some thoughts on that I turned to Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. He says that one of the major sources of power is your personal qualities. And numero uno on that personal list is ambition. Without ambition, he says you will not be willing to expend the effort required to be successful. However, blind, naked, full frontal ambition will probably get you fired by someone higher up who got there first and sees you coming.
Next trait is confidence coupled with body language. Pfeffer says, “acting like a leader is a very important skill for exercising power.” And it doesn’t hurt to be tall and handsome, man or woman. The average height of the current crop of billionaires is 5 feet, 11.5 inches. (I can now justify to my shrink that it is all my parent’s fault, as neither one was over 5 foot, 8 inches. I never had a chance).
Pfeffer calls out for persistence. Good trait. Match it with resilience. He says “this type of person just wears down the opposition simply by keeping at it.” OK, but I would caution that sometimes it is good to know that the light at the end of the tunnel is a train, so exit tracks left sooner than not.
Next up is energy. “If you have high energy, people will be attracted to you.” To an extent this is genetics. But if you are manic, hyper, out of control, people will run the other way. The ability to govern large horsepower keeps the car from careening off the road. A corollary to energy is stamina. (Sherpa, redux).
Pfeffer argues for demonstrating empathy. We all want to be liked by others, but “most of the people you will encounter are primarily interested in their favorite topic — themselves.” Find out what buttons turn them on, then push them. Be genuine in your care and feeding of the other dogs, but “leaders are hired to accomplish things.” Mush.
This is one of his best: “Honesty doesn’t get you far.” Now that is a truly honest statement. Pfeffer says, “instead of being true to yourself, you need to be true to what other people around you need from you.” In other words, when the boat is listing and the sails are ripped, don’t tell the crew that you don’t know what to do, better to lie to them and tell them we are all going to make it, that you have some thread in the navigation station below and let’s start sewing. “You need to convince people to stay with you.”
Pfeffer finishes with: “Accept the world to change the world.” The power of acknowledgement gives you the tool to begin to bend the adverse reality to your own optimistic vision. My book of entrepreneurial rules has one that says, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” And trust me, at heart we are all small children who like to have a bedtime story before we close our eyes and face the demons.
Dear reader, this is the end of the ballgame for 2020. I will be back with a vengeance the first week of January, so until then, wear the mask, love your children and partner, and I leave you with the most famous Latin phrase that I learned in high school — Illegitimi non carborundum.