5 rules on cultivating power

February 18, 2011, 9:06 PM UTC

Here are some commonsense rules to let you get out of your own way and thrive in today’s business world.

By Jeffrey Pfeffer, contributor

(ManagementInnovationeXchange) — Here are some commonsense, yet often violated, rules about power that can help make you more successful—and, even better, equip you to cope with today’s organizational realities.

1. You need to take care of yourself. Companies have been telling employees this for decades. The implication: don’t worry about the company, because it isn’t worrying about you. You are responsible for attracting the support that will make you successful and building your personal brand.

2. Companies (and many people) worry more about what you can do for them in the future than what you have done for them in the past. VC partners who have made their colleagues billions are thrown out unceremoniously. The same goes for law partners, management consulting partners, and public accounting firm leaders.

Don’t expect thanks for all you have done for your company or your colleagues in the past. Your job is to ensure that you are useful — through your role, the resources you control, your contacts and network, your reputation — to those around you as they contemplate their future. The minute you aren’t, your influence will be either gone or substantially diminished.

3. Perception is reality — so get a public relations strategy and get help where you need it. I have seen junior people build their reputations and visibility by writing articles, reaching out to journalists, cultivating media, and generally becoming known. It is never too early to start building your image.

4. Don’t worry about what comes “naturally.” I have people tell me they aren’t natural networkers, they find self-promotion distasteful, and they have difficulty asking for help. My answer: Skiing isn’t natural; neither is speaking a foreign language or playing a musical instrument. Studies of genius show that individual talent matters but that practice and getting good coaching matters even more. Don’t find excuses for not doing what you know you should because it doesn’t feel “natural.” Once you practice and get good at something like networking, it will become natural!

5. Stop worrying about what others think about you — worry about building your power base, and you will have more friends that you will ever need. Yes, likeability can build power, but once you have power, lots of people will like you. The late George Steinbrenner of the New York Yankees was clearly not a “good boss,” but his success brought fame, praise, and no shortage of people willing to work for him and curry his favor.

The biggest barrier to having power is our inhibitions about what we are willing to do — and how hard we are willing to work — to become successful. Get out of your own way, and watch what happens.

Jeffrey Pfeffer is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University where he has taught since 1979. He is the author or co-author of 13 books and a contributor to The MIX.

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