"Power" by Jeffrey Pfeffer
When we think about the world of international relations, we often think about power, influence and prestige. For many, working in government is a position of power but many of us sometimes feel as though we are unworthy of power or least to be in a position of power. We underestimate our worth and our ability and therefore never aspire to anything more than what we want right now. Thinking long-term is highly advisable when moving into international relations, not only in terms of how your movements may affect other people in your life but also visualising the end goal. Where do you want to end up and how realistic are you being with yourself?
When we hear children say that they want to be “President”, is that a real aspiration or just “child talk”? Should we encourage ourselves to reach for the most powerful positions for our country or be more realistic and identify other opportunities that provide the right balance, motivation and satisfaction? Also, do you REALLY want to be President? And do you know what that job entails? Of course, having aspirations is encouraged but many of us mistakenly believe that power and success is earned by those who follow the rules, and that prestige is earned by people who deserve them.
To help tackle the notion of power in our career, we are recommending the book “Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t” by Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor at Stanford University who specialises in organisational behaviour. This book is recommended to support Chapter 1 - “Skills for a Changing World” of the Diplomatic Planner. Pfeffer provides a realpolitik guide to leading a successful career with a focus on what power and prestige is and the right ways to attain them for our career growth. For instance, when we see someone get to the top through a ruthless and underhanded approach, we often believe that karma will get them and take it for granted that their bad behaviour will someone be punished. We rarely take the time to learn from their successes. By doing so, we are limiting our mindset because we are missing out on a range of useful techniques and tips from people we simply don’t like.
There is also the general notion that someone who is President or Head of State is in that position because they are a natural leader. They were born to do that job and therefore it came easy to them to reach the top. The author asserts that we need to stop thinking like this because anyone has the potential to become a great leadership as leadership is learned. Confidence is naturally associated as a visible quality for leadership but it doesn’t just take confidence to climb a mountain. It requires skill, training, and capability. For this reason, Pfeffer recommends that assess our strengths and weaknesses to understand our own limitations, which have been implemented in Chapter 1 of the Diplomatic Planner.
A leadership quality that is often overlooked is empathy. The ability to understand what people want is critical to leadership. If you fail to provide, you could get toppled by the next best leader. Once you know your weaknesses, you can train to overcome them. Stand by out asking questions and occasionally breaking the rules. The author referenced an old Japanese proverb, “the nails that sticks out gets hammered down” by instead saying that if you were a nail that stuck out, wouldn’t you notice this first? Simply put, when it comes to career advancement, being more visible will get you noticed and Pfeffer recommends that we ask powerful people for help.
Many people are afraid to make bold moves such as inviting a boss to lunch because they feel they will be ignored or rejected by them. Doing so will, in fact, make you memorable as your approach will be recognised as being different. We can’t achieve power on our own but in order to get help, we also need to be able to provide something of value in exchange. Consider what resources you have. Money, career advice, social support, any kind of asset that people want or need. Sharing resources will compel others to help you. The element of reciprocity means that they will be in a position to help you when you have helped them. But remember to treat people fairly and kindly.
Pfeffer also focuses on the power of a smile. Your emotions don’t just influence the people around you. A smile will be returned to you as it is a contagious emotion. Such emotion exudes power as it displays a dominant behaviour and brings along good reputation. Nothing beats a good first impression. Naturally, when beating on the path to power, you will inevitably encounter some amount of conflict and failure. As a leader, you are bound to meet others with different values and agendas. In order to become powerful, choose your fights wisely and don’t engage in unnecessary conflict. However, defend yourself when someone stands in the way of your goals and offer your opponent a graceful way to retreat. You don’t want to get into the habit of creating permanent enemies, especially when you cause an embarrassing scene.
Pfeffer’s book provides a full roster of examples and anecdotes of how power and success is earned by people who break the rules and continuously develop their skills. Consider what power means to you and put this in the context of your work in general.
“Power” is recommended for the purposes of the Diplomatic Planner. The Diplomatic Planner is a 12-month career development toolkit for diplomacy and internationals for professionals looking to explore or grow their expertise in the field. Both books are available for purchase via Amazon. For further recommendations, insights, case studies and practicable worksheets, please join the Grassroot Diplomat Online Academy via: www.grassrootdiplomat.org/register