Power, many believe is best suited in the hands of a few. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t try to gain power and work your way up the ladder of success. The mind-set that power is only for a selected few is completely wrong. Moreover, it can be changed and success and power can be yours. How?

Power (2010) by Jeffery Pfeffer shows the way. The book focuses on how any individual can make it to the top. With tips on how to beat the competition and stand out in the crowd, it dispels the myth that power is only meant for the few.

1. Power Is Only For A Selected Few

Let us debunk the first and most important myth – power isn’t for everyone.  We often find that people keep on trudging at the workplace, wait for a promotion that is seemingly right-around-the-corner, only to be passed over in the end, finally believing that they did not deserve it.

However, studies show that there is no relation whatsoever between performance and promotion. A study conducted on the Dutch aircraft manufacturer Fokker showed that post receiving a rating of ‘very good’, only 12 percent of white-collar executives were likely to be promoted when compared to those receiving a ‘good’ rating. 

Moreover, the ones who do not get promoted fall under the trap of the ‘just-world-hypothesis’, a term coined by psychologist Melvin Lerner, where people tend to believe that the ones who do get promoted are the ones following all the rules and that they themselves have fallen short somewhere.

The ‘just-world-hypothesis’ makes us think that a person using nefarious means to get to the top will one day ‘get it back’. We let our perceptions of their bad behavior cloud our ability to see and understand how such people succeed, often ignoring some of the techniques and tips that can be useful to us.

Power: Why Some People Have It—and Others Don't by Jeffrey Pfeffer

2. Be Honest About That SWOT Analysis

We often look at a leader and attribute their leadership qualities as ‘inborn or natural’, ignoring the fact that anyone can be a leader. Leadership qualities can be studied, practiced, and learned.

Learning to be a leader first begins with an understanding of what the qualities of a good leader are. Moreover, it is about understanding the qualities that one embodies. Whether it is confidence, empathy, awareness, energetic behavior, resilience, or self-awareness, etc., that one has or has to imbibe; reflecting on which are the qualities that can be categorized as one’s strengths and weaknesses is essential. 

Additionally, it is more important for an aspiring leader to be able to be honest about their strengths and weaknesses, as the strengths will need to be honed to perfection, to able to constantly be in the limelight to get noticed; and the weaknesses will have to be rigorously worked upon to ensure that they convert to strengths.

3. Landing the Right Department

Just as there are great differences between two companies, there is a wide difference between the different departments within the same company too. 

A study conducted on the career paths of about 388 managers in public utility companies found that the managers who started their careers in the powerful departments of the organization had higher salary growth rates as well as higher chances of finding jobs in the powerful departments of other companies.

Unfortunately, there is no way to pre-determine which department in an organization enjoys higher power over the other, however, fortunately, a 3-factor evaluation method can help one gauge which are the powerful departments – 

  • Relative Pay – The no brainer indicator. The more powerful departments tend to offer higher salaries.
  • Physical proximity to leadership – The departments that are physically located closer to where the leadership sits.
  • Composition of Important committees – The third is the departments that have representation in the boardroom.

4. Breaking The Rules To Get Noticed

There is an old Japanese proverb that says ‘The nail that sticks out, gets hammered down.’ 

When it comes to seeking power and getting noticed by the leadership, this works quite in the opposite way than the proverb implies.  Simply put, the employee that stands out from the crowd gets noticed for promotions. How does one stand out then?

There are two ways – by asking the powerful people in the organization for help and by making yourself memorable.

People often shy away from seeking advice and asking for help – especially from the leaders – thinking that they will face rejection or that they are too little and inconsequential to be spent time on. However, the confidence in asking a leader help to the top is what often gets a person noticed.

In addition to asking for help and seeking advice, one has to make themselves memorable to the leaders. One has to break or bend the rules a little to get noticed. In a pool of employees that follow the rules laid down by the organization, the one that gets noticed is the one that changes the way they work from the others. While breaking rules is essential, one has to be careful that they don’t steer onto the wrong side of rule-breaking.

5. Helping Others

The corporate world is all about working within teams. Therefore one cannot expect to receive help from teammates to make it to the top without helping them in their time of need. 

Whether it is social support, career advice, or monetary help, sharing any kind of resources with colleagues demands reciprocity. It becomes a social obligation to return a favor. This reciprocity works better when the help given seemingly does not involve personal gain. For example, helping your boss plan a team outing. While it might not be much of a cost in terms of work, but will keep you in the memory of your boss for the help.

Another resource to leverage is being fair and polite. Politeness is a rarely used virtue, however, one that makes a person stand out. Politeness never goes unnoticed, and in fact, it can help a person keep you in memory. The case is similar when you treat people fairly.

6. Looking, Feeling, And Exuding Power

It is simple. To be powerful, you have to look powerful. If you notice politicians, it is the way they speak and behave that influences people and they know that to be able to influence people, they have to attune the way they speak and behave.

Emotions are contagious and have the ability to influence others. For example, when you enter a room smiling versus when you enter a room with a frown on the face, you will notice that the others in the room will reciprocate the same emotions. Therefore one has to exude a feeling of power.

One way to exude power is to speak slowly and deliberately, which makes one seem to be confident and also helps in avoiding contradicting oneself. Another way is to study the display of dominant behavior. A study has shown that simply expressing anger while disagreeing with something makes others perceive you as strong and competent.

7. Having A Good Reputation

Reputation is indeed a fickle friend, albeit an important one. People make judgements and find ways to consistently back their judgements. Simply put, people will pay more attention to the things that will testify to their judgements, ignoring everything else. This is known as cognitive discounting. Additionally, people also modify or change their behaviour and reactions towards you depending on their judgement and assumptions they have previously made.

It is therefore extremely important to have a good reputation. It is even more important to maintain it. A good reputation is made and maintained by firstly, making a good impression in the first place, because it is extremely difficult to change an established view.

8. Conflict and Failure Are Inevitable

Making it to the top is impossible without a few rounds of conflict and failure.  However, as essential as they are, these experiences can be used in one’s favor to make it to the top.

Humans tend to be conflict-averse. However, a leader uses conflict to his advantage by preparing to face people with conflicting ideas head-on. To do this, however, one has to choose their conflicts wisely.

For example, a fight for a good parking space might not be worth it as compared to defending your work that is being criticized by another person. Additionally, powerful people give the opponent in a conflict a chance to retreat gracefully. It is important to end a conflict on respectful terms; else one risk making lifelong enemies that can even destroy careers.

Another important aspect is to know when you have lost the battle. And it is even more important to know how to move forward after that.

Power, leadership, and success aren’t as elusive as they seem. Neither are they meant only for a select few. Leadership skills can be honed and power can be acquired by keeping the aforementioned tips in mind and by practicing the techniques enlisted.