First, a comment about “politics.” I really do try to keep politics out of my blog posts, for a lot of reasons. The main reason is that so many are so strongly aligned with one side or the other that to even broach a political example runs the risk of turning off/offending/angering half of the readership of this blog. But, there are times when the arena of politics provides just the right fodder for lessons regarding business success or failure. So, at the risk of offending some, here goes…
Recently, two critics of President Obama took to the op-ed pages of the Washington Post to recommend that President Obama announce, now, that he will not seek a second term. This morning Stanford Professor and author Jeffery Pfeffer wrote quite an interesting column about why that would be a very bad idea: Why President Obama should run again in 2012 – a management perspective. Here are key excerpts:
It was a cautionary tale: A longtime partner at a Silicon Valley venture capital firm decided she would step down from her leadership role, and in an attempt to make life easier for her colleagues, she gave plenty of advance notice of her departure.
Bad idea. As soon as her end date at the company was well known, she later told me, her role at the firm changed. People stopped consulting her on hiring or investment decisions. She wasn’t invited to key meetings. Essentially, most people started freezing her out, treating her as if she’d already left.
And in a sense, she had. Her co-workers correctly anticipated that she soon would have no power to help or hurt them, so she became effectively irrelevant to their working lives.
Getting things done, whether in the private sector or in government, requires power, and having power means retaining the capacity to affect what happens to others, ensuring that those whose support you remain dependent on you. As former secretary of state and Stanford University provost Condoleezza Rice told one protege, “People may oppose you, but when they realize you can hurt them, they’ll join your side.
…you have power to the extent that others are going to depend on you in the future
Leaders need power, as well as a reputation for being powerful. Announcing that you will be out of the arena soon seems like a particularly ineffective strategy to get things done.
A while back, Bob Morris, my blogging colleague posted his review of Pfeffer’s book on our blog: Jeffrey Pfeffer’s Power: Why Some People Have It – and Others Don’t – A Book Review by Bob MorrisHere’s a key paragraph from his review:
Pfeffer insists that the world is neither just nor unjust: it is. He also challenges “leadership literature” (including his contributions to it) because celebrity CEOs who tout their own careers as models tend to “gloss over power plays they actually used to get to the top” whereas authors such as Pfeffer offer “prescriptions about how people wish the world and the powerful behaved.” Pfeffer also suggests that those aspiring to power “are often their own worst enemy, and not just in the arena of building power” because of self-handicapping, a reluctance (perhaps even a refusal) to take initiatives that may fail and thereby diminish one’s self-image. “I have come to believe that the biggest single effect I can have is to get people to try to become powerful.” Pfeffer wrote this book as an operations manual for the acquisition and retention of power. Of even greater importance, in my opinion, he reveals the ultimate realities of what power is…and isn’t…and thereby eliminates the shadows of illusion and self-deception that most people now observe in the “caves” of their own current circumstances.
I think Pfeffer’s premise is correct. It may not be the way the world should work, but it certainly is true about the way the world does work. If you are perceived as powerless, than people do not treat you as though you had power. If you are perceived as someone with power, then your input, your influence, is great indeed. The more power you have, the more you can get things done.