I had hopes that this book would be more about socioeconomic and political struggles from an anthropological bent, but instead, it could be titled “how to get ahead in the workplace”. He touches briefly on governmental-type politics, but for the most part, this book deals with inter-office politics.
Much of this book is intuitive. People with power are healthier and live longer than the powerless. People suffer from withdrawal when they lose their power. People with more power earn more money. You should therefore strive to gain and hold power.
Some of the book is intuitive only to people without an ounce of cynicism. For example, your success in the workplace and how high you rise is not correlated strongly with your competence, diligence, or intelligence. Being loyal to the company, or even being the founder of the company, is no guarantee that you will gain or retain power.
It’s hard to give specific advice on what a person should do to gain power when the game is so subtle, and the terrain so varied, but Pfeffer does a pretty good job offering some concrete strategies. For example, proximity matters. If you are visible, if you talk to people in power, if those in power know who you are, you are more likely to be promoted. Showing anger is more powerful than showing sadness or remorse, unless you’re a woman, in which case showing anger won’t help you. He gives advice that seems counter-intuitive; if people know about your flaws (eg. you’re abrasive) and they accept you anyway, they will find it much harder to get rid of you because of those flaws. This one I wish/hope isn’t true. I hate working with people for whom “He’s an asshole, but that’s just part of who he is” is the case.
He also gives reasons why people can’t or won’t aspire to power (although he negates these with his closing remarks.) For example, if you want to be powerful, it really helps to have a wife at home. Obviously, a lot of us (straight women, gay men) can’t do that. It also helps if you don’t have a social life, or any life outside of work that might interfere with your career. Many of us find this cost equally intolerable.
I can’t say I learned a lot from this book, but it’s nice to know that some of the things I’m doing (making myself visible, being a good listener, keeping a tidy appearance) are on the right track. Someday that corner office will be mine…