Scott's Reviews > Power: Why Some People Have it and Others Don't

Power by Jeffrey Pfeffer
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's review
Dec 12, 10

really liked it
bookshelves: first-reads, business
Read from October 28 to November 21, 2010

Jeffery Pfeffer offers a well-crafted, how-to manual of gaining power in an organization through his aptly titled book. There are several themes throughout the book that sometimes do not seem entirely righteous including: the world is not just or fair (get over it); be your own champion and promoter; do not worry about being well-liked; and do not pass over or delegate power. The lessons may not always be pleasant, and they may seem Machiavellian to the delicate (he finally references The Prince by name on page 86); but they are probably correct.

Pfeffer’s first lesson from the beginning of the book is to ignore overly-inspiring leadership books from the likes of Rudolph Giuliani and Jack Welch; among scores of other authors. Their genre may emphasize collaboration, positivity, and respect. But, they gloss over the more sordid details of how one truly gains power. In other words, reading a (semi) autobiographical legacy piece will not help an aspiring power holder.

From there, Pfeffer digs into the details on where to start (grab on to everything, become an expert), overcoming one’s anxiety about power, getting noticed, flattery (otherwise known as sucking up), and the obligatory chapter on networking.

Pfeffer’s contrarian bent; or perhaps more aptly; his unabashed honestly, is the most refreshing aspect of the book. One can grab power more quickly if one dispels the suppositions that the world is just, that intelligence and competence alone will reap rewards, or that focusing on the small tasks is a one-way ticket to middle management (quite the contrary – learning what no one else knows is the best way to grab power).

The greatest strength of the book lies in its organization. Pfeffer obviously wrote from an outline, which is seemingly a lost art. The chapter, section, and subsection headings were apparent, efficient, related, and fluid in what could easily be a dry topic. One will never lose sight of the points that Pfeffer articulates in each section.

There were a couple of dry spells. The aforementioned networking chapter could have been combined with the preceding chapter entitled “Making something out of nothing.” And, most the anecdotes and examples that Pfeffer employed to solidify his points were uninspiring at best; and completely unrelated at worst.

Those with sensitive gag reflexes may have difficulty in certain sections. Some of the advice seems off-putting, cold, and calculated, if not outright devious. But, Pfeffer manages to bring the lessons back to the forthright and respectful. If contrived anger, false praise, and shameless self-indulgence makes one’s stomach curl (say, for example, if one is not a psychopath), one can learn many of these techniques in a (mainly) positive way. There are costs and rewards to achieving power; and Pfeffer’s outline is an unvarnished success for showing the way.
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