Tag: Power

How feeling powerless directs the narratives of our mind

In his new book Mastery, Robert Greene writes discusses how feeling powerless directs the narratives of our mind.

We live in a world that seems increasingly beyond our control. Our livelihoods are at the whim of globalized forces. The problems that we face—economic, environmental, and so on—cannot be solved by our individual actions. Our politicians are distant and unresponsive to our desires. A natural response when people feel overwhelmed is to retreat into various forms of passivity. If we don’t try too much in life, if we limit our circle of action, we can give ourselves the illusion of control. The less we attempt, the less chances of failure. If we can make it look like we are not really responsible for our fate, for what happens to us in life, then our apparent powerlessness is more palatable. For this reason we become attracted to certain narratives: it is genetics that determines much of what we do; we are just products of our times; the individual is just a myth; human behavior can be reduced to statistical trends.

Many take this change in value a step further, giving their passivity a positive veneer. They romanticize the self-destructive artist who loses control of him- or herself. Anything that smacks of discipline or effort seems fussy and passé: what matters is the feeling behind the artwork, and any hint of craftsmanship or work violates this principle. They come to accept things that are made cheaply and quickly. The idea that they might have to expend much effort to get what they want has been eroded by the proliferation of devices that do so much of the work for them, fostering the idea that they deserve all of this—that it is their inherent right to have and to consume what they want. “Why bother working for years to attain mastery when we can have so much power with very little effort? Technology will solve everything.” This passivity has even assumed a moral stance: “mastery and power are evil; they are the domain of patriarchal elites who oppress us; power is inherently bad; better to opt out of the system altogether,” or at least make it look that way.

The Worst Mistake of All: Outshining the Master

“Being defeated is hateful, and besting one’s boss is either foolish or fatal.
Most people do not mind being surpassed in good fortune, character,
or temperament,
but no one, especially not a sovereign,
likes to be surpassed in intelligence.”

— Baltasar Gracián 


In The 48 Laws of Power, Robert Greene echoes the sentiments of Gracián’s quote above in the first law: Never Outshine the Master.

Greene writes:

Always make those above you feel comfortably superior. In your desire to please or impress them, do not go too far in displaying your talents or you might accomplish the opposite – inspire fear and insecurity. Make your masters appear more brilliant than they are and you will attain the heights of power.

Outshining the master is the worst mistake of all …

Everyone has insecurities. When you show yourself in the world and display your talents, you naturally stir up all kinds of resentment, envy, and other manifestations of insecurity. This is to be expected. You cannot spend your life worrying about the petty feelings of others. With those above you, however, you must take a different approach: When it comes to power, outshining the master is perhaps the worst mistake of all.

Almost everyone, including you, wants to seem more brilliant than we rightly deserve. And we don’t like people to remind us of our fallibility.

Those who attain high standing in life are like kings and queens: They want to feel secure in their positions, and superior to those around them in intelligence, wit, and charm. It is a deadly but common misperception to believe that by displaying and vaunting your gifts and talents, you are winning the master’s affection. He may feign appreciation, but at his first opportunity he will replace you with someone less intelligent, less attractive, less threatening …

There are two important points to consider.

  1. You can outshine the master without trying;
  2. Just because you’re loved, doesn’t mean you can do what you want.

Let’s explore these quickly, shall we?

Even if you are not trying, you can outshine the master just by being you. This happens easily. If your boss is particularly insecure, natural wit and charm will be enough to draw unwanted attention. If they are incompetent than obvious competence will do the trick. Either find a way to mute the side of you most likely to draw ire, or avoid people where being you is likely to naturally outshine them.

Second, never imagine that being valued or loved affords you the freedom to do what you want. Your status is only secure to the point your master is secure that they are better than you. Always leave them with this feeling. No matter what.


6 Must-Read Books To Help Navigate the Workplace

The challenges of climbing the corporate ladder are both fascinating and fluid.

Whether you’re looking to improve your ability to influence or avoid some common pitfalls these books are a great place to start:

1. Corporate Confidential: 50 Secrets Your Company Doesn’t Want You to Know—and What to Do About Them

“Your number one job is to keep your job,” Shapiro, a former human resources executive, writes in this informed and disillusioned take on the corporate life, so don’t ever “publicly complain, disagree or express a negative view,” take more than one week of vacation at a time, “volunteer,” or “tell anyone what you’re doing.” When asked to do anything, acceptable responses are “sure” and “of course,” always accompanied by a smile. Your dress style “should match as closely as possible the style of those at the top.” Don’t make friends at work-it’s “deadly” to want to be liked. The book reads like a guerilla survival manual for the employment jungle written by a hardened survivor.

2. Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t

Pfeffer claims that intelligence, performance, and likeability alone are not the key to moving up in an organization; instead, he asserts, self promotion, building relationships, cultivating a reputation for control and authority, and perfecting a powerful demeanor are vital drivers of advancement and success.

3. Rework

Seth Godin sums it up best: “This book is short, fast, sharp and ready to make a difference. It takes no prisoners, spares no quarter, and gives you no place to hide, all at the same time….I can’t imagine what possible excuse you can dream up for not buying this book for every single person you work with, right now.”

4. Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions

This book will help you improve your influence. After all, the best ideas sometimes need a little psychological help.

5. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful

Goldsmith, pinpoints 20 bad habits that stifle already successful careers as well as personal goals like succeeding in marriage or as a parent. Most are common behavioral problems, such as speaking when angry, which even the author is prone to do when dealing with a teenage daughter’s belly ring. Though Goldsmith deals with touchy-feely material more typical of a self-help book—such as learning to listen or letting go of the past—his approach to curing self-destructive behavior is much harder-edged. For instance, he does not suggest sensitivity training for those prone to voicing morale-deflating sarcasm. His advice is to stop doing it. To stimulate behavior change, he suggests imposing fines (e.g., $10 for each infraction), asserting that monetary penalties can yield results by lunchtime. While Goldsmith’s advice applies to everyone, the highly successful audience he targets may be the least likely to seek out his book without a direct order from someone higher up. As he points out, they are apt to attribute their success to their bad behavior. Still, that may allow the less successful to gain ground by improving their people skills first.

6. Managing With Power: Politics and Influence in Organizations

The big problem facing managers and their organizations today is one of implementation – how to get things done in a timely and effective way. Problems of implementation are really issues of how to influence behavior, change the course of events, overcome resistance, and get people to do things they would not otherwise do. In a word, power. “Managing with Power” provides an in-depth look at the role of power and influence in organizations. Pfeffer shows convincingly that its effective use is an essential component of strong leadership. With vivid examples, he makes a compelling case for the necessity of power in mobilizing the political support and resources to get things done in any organization. He provides an intriguing look at the personal attributes – such as flexibility, stamina, and a high tolerance for conflict – and the structural factors – such as control of resources, access to information, and formal authority – that can help managers advance organizational goals and achieve individual success.*

Jeffrey Pfeffer: Why Performance Won’t Get You Promoted

If you’re going to play the game you should at least educate yourself on the unwritten rules. If you don’t, you’ll always be at a disadvantage.

In an NPR interview (audio below), Stanford business professor Jeffrey Pfeffer highlights why performance won’t get you promoted and why power corrupts.

Here are my notes on the audio interview:

1. Performance is elusive and thus can be shaped and managed;

2. You can do your job too well;

3. The world doesn’t work the way you want it to – the way to change it is to go out and make something happen;

4. Power corrupts — when you attain power you don’t think you have to follow the rules anymore;

5. When you’re in a position of power everyone is trying to curry your favor and you end up surrounded by sycophants;

6. Power can be converted into money;

7. Power gives you control over your work (time and pace);

8. You need power to get things done;

9. The more powerful you are the less people will be willing to forgive you;

10. Influence is power in action; and

11. You can have power or autonomy but not both.

Some of you might be skeptical of Pfeffer’s tactics; but he points out, that if the ends don’t justify the means then what does?

My favorite part of the interview was the quote from a newsman saying: if you don’t like today’s news, go out and make some of your own.

According to Pfeffer’s book Power: Why Some People Have It And Others Don’t, there are seven personal qualities that help to build power: ambition, energy, focus, self-knowledge, confidence, empathy with others, and capacity to tolerate conflict. Intelligence and high performance didn’t make the cut.

The book recommends a few simple steps you can take to increase your power:

1. Be visible;

2. Emphasize the aspects you’re good at;

3. Make those in power feel good about themselves;

4. If you must point out a mistake by someone in power, blame the situation or others; and

5. Shower those above with flattery.

If you’re really into learning more about power, check out  The Prince.