Biz School Professor, Jeffery Pfeffer, Discusses Power

Jeffery Pfeffer, author of Power: Why Some People Have It--and Others Don't

Jeffrey Pfeffer is a 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 thirteen books. His latest book, is titled Power: Why Some People Have It–and Others Don’t.

Jeffery’s goal in writing the book is to never have readers leave a job “involuntarily.” His basic premise in the book is, “the world is not just.” He quotes Elizabeth Moss Kanter by saying, “power is business’s last dirty, little secret.”

Many people believe that the pursuit of power is Machiavellian or sinister—but Jeffery contends it’s a necessary force that can be harnessed for individual gain, but also for the benefit of individual organizations and society.

Power is determined by one’s relationship with those in power. One of the least considered ways to get power is to work at “unglamourous jobs.” Taking on these low-profile but vital tasks tends to be easier to do as there is less competition to own them. And you will get lots of thanks for doing them from the people who recognize their importance but are too busy doing high-profile work to focus on them.

Another theme: Seemingly administrative tasks often bring you into contact with lots of people inside your company and make you central in the flow of communication. Being central in information flows is a source of power, and becoming known to many people is very useful, also.  As Lyndon Johnson undertook the seemingly routine tasks of scheduling votes on uncontroversial issues and was in touch with people to get information on their voting preferences on important issues, he not only provided an important service to his fellow Senators, he was in regular contact with them — and became the source of information about what was going on.

Jeffery’s research indicates that women are less likely to pursue power than men for a variety of reasons: a.    Women have more negative attitudes toward holding power, b.    They are less likely to pursue power-based influence strategies, c.    They are more bothered by and disfavor hierarchical relationships,  d.    They are less motivated to dominate others, e.    They are less likely to take actions to attain power.  f.    Women bank too much on likeability. g.    Moreover, in situations such as salary negotiations, studies show that women often believe that they deserve less than similarly qualified men and are, as a consequence, likely to demand less and to press their salary demands with less vigor. h.    Women, as a rule, tend to be less willing to make the trade-offs required to attain positions of power.

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