You Are Not The Only One Responsible For Your Career
Best-selling author and marketing guru Keith Ferrazzi says that, contrary to what most people think, they are not responsible for their own careers. As he noted, your driving ambition and even your great performance are not going to be sufficient to assure success in a typical hierarchical organization. The people responsible for your success are those above you, with the power to either promote you or to block your rise up the organization chart. And there are always people above you, regardless of your position.
Therefore, your job is to ensure that those influential others have a strong desire to make you successful. That may entail doing a good job. But it may also entail ensuring that those in power notice the good work that you do, remember you, and think well of you because you make them feel good about themselves. It is performance, coupled with political skill, that will help you rise through the ranks. Performance by itself is seldom sufficient, and in some instances, may not even be necessary.
How Does Power Help In Your Career?
Hierarchy is ubiquitous and sought by people and, as a consequence, there are inevitable contests for obtaining the scarce higher-level positions in status hierarchies. You need to take care of yourself if you are going to survive and succeed in places where, if you don’t look out for yourself, no one else is going to.
In addition, power and influence skills are essential for getting things done in complex, interdependent systems and may be an effective way to make decisions, particularly compared to the more typical hierarchical arrangements. There are many, many jobs (e.g. project or product managers) where people have tasks to accomplish that require the cooperation of others but do not have the formal authority to order, reward, or punish those whose cooperation they need.
The bottom line is that you need to master the knowledge and skills necessary to wield power effectively. In some circumstances, this may be good for the organization, but in virtually all circumstances, it is going to be good for you.
Likeability Is Overrated
People are sometimes afraid to ask for things and to pursue strategies that cause them to stand out because they are concerned they won’t come across as likable. Likability can create power, but power almost certainly creates likability.
People will join your side if you have power and are willing to use it, not just because they are afraid of your hurting them but also because they want to be close to your power and success. What this implies is that if we interact with powerful people because we need them to do some task or to help us in our career, over time we will come to like them more or at least forgive their rough edges. And in choosing who we will associate with, usefulness to our career and job loom as important criteria.
Building A Relationship Is Simple
Sometimes building a relationship so that others will help you requires nothing more than being polite and listening to them. Most people like to talk about themselves—give them the opportunity to do so. Being a good listener and asking questions about others is a simple but effective way to use a resource everyone has—time and attention—to build power. And here’s an advice: if you don’t have much power, you probably have time. Use that time to befriend others and go to events that are important to them.
Acting With Power
Andy Grove (the former CEO of Intel) understood three important principles about acting with power.
- Attitudes follow behavior, as much research attests. Over time, you will become more like you are acting—self-assured, confident, and more strongly convinced of the truth of what you are saying.
- The emotions you express are contagious. Walk down an airport corridor and smile, and watch people smile back; change your facial expression to a frown, and you will be met with frowns.
- Emotions and behaviors become self-reinforcing: if you smile and then others smile, you are more likely to feel happy and smile. This reflexive quality in human interaction means that a mood or feeling, once generated, is likely to be quite stable. Grove may have had to act confident and knowledgeable at first, but as others “caught” that feeling, it would be reflected back, making Grove himself more confident.
Display Anger Instead of Sadness
Research shows that people who express anger are seen “as dominant, strong, competent, and smart,” although they are also, of course, seen as less nice and warm.
In one study conducted at a software company, people rated their coworkers on how frequently these individuals exhibited a variety of emotions. People rated coworkers who expressed more anger as better potential role models—people from whom they could learn. In yet another study reported in the same paper, participants assigned a higher-status position and a higher salary to a job candidate who described himself as angry. He was perceived as more competent when expressing anger rather than sadness.
If you express anger, not only do you receive more status and power and appear more competent but others are reluctant to cross you
Speaking With Power
The language people use and how they construct presentations and arguments help determine their power. Great orators move masses—Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech and the speeches of Barack Obama in his campaign for the presidency being two notable examples. There are some well-established principles that can help you subtly obtain more influence as you speak with power:
- Use interruption. Conversation, interrupting others, although not polite, can indicate power and be an effective power move.
- Use us-versus-them references. “It is widely known that the need to resist an external threat, whether real or imagined, has always been an extremely effective rallying cry when it comes to strengthening group solidarity.
- Pause for emphasis and invite approval or even applause through a slight delay.
- Use a list of three items, or enumerations in general.
- Use contrastive pairs. Here’s an example. Do you want your health-care decisions being made by you and your doctor or by some government bureaucrat?
- Avoid using a script or notes. If you speak without aids, the implication is that you have a mastery of the subject and are spontaneous.
Overcoming the Self-Promotion Dilemma
On the one hand, people don’t advocate for themselves and claim competence, particularly in settings such as job interviews or pushing for a promotion when they would be expected to do so. On the other hand, self-promoting behavior, although expected in many instances, also creates difficulties. When you tout your own abilities and accomplishments, you face two problems: you are not going to be as believable as presumably more objective outsiders.
There is a solution to this dilemma: get others to tout your abilities.
In a series of experiments, researchers investigated what happened when a person claimed competence for himself compared to when another made the identical statements on his behalf. Not surprisingly, when another made statements about how great an author was, for instance, that person was perceived as more likable than if he made the same statements on his own behalf. The author was also perceived as more competent when another stated his abilities than when he did so himself.
Those who speak on your behalf also have their statements judged as more credible than when you make the same claims yourself. And the very fact that you were able to get, for instance, a reputable public relations firm or a great agent to work for you signals your capability and adds luster to your reputation.
The Price of Power
As the saying goes “There is no free lunch”, nothing comes without cost, and that is certainly true of power. People who seek and attain power often pay some price for the quest, for holding on to their positions, and confronting the difficult but inevitable transitions out of powerful roles.
COST 1: VISIBILITY AND PUBLIC SCRUTINY
You are like most people, playing while others watch is a different and more demanding experience than playing under the gaze of your music teacher or parents or, better yet, alone. A recital is a lot more stressful. That stress leads people to forget their notes—or their lines if they are on stage—and perform a lot worse than when they perform without an audience.
COST 2: THE LOSS OF AUTONOMY
People who have recently been promoted tend to be overwhelmed by the time demands of their more powerful job. Not wanting to refuse requests by groups and individuals whose support they may need and whose attention they value, powerful people can easily find themselves overscheduled and working too many hours, something that drains their energy and leaves them unable to cope with the unexpected challenges of their job.
COST 3: THE TIME AND EFFORT REQUIRED
Power requires time and effort, there are no two ways about it. Time spent on your quest for power and status is time that you cannot spend on other things, such as hobbies or personal relationships and families. The quest for power often exacts a high toll on people’s personal lives, and although everyone bears some costs, the price seems to be particularly severe for women. But it is an inevitable cost of pursuing powerful, high-status positions that require time, energy, and focus for success.
COST 4: TRUST DILEMMAS
Here’s a simple truth: the higher you rise and the more powerful the position you occupy, the greater the number of people who will want your job. Consequently, holding a position of great power creates a problem: who do you trust? Some people will be seeking to create an opportunity for themselves through your downfall, but they won’t be forthcoming about what they are doing. Some people will be trying to curry favor with you by telling you what they think you want to hear so you will like them and help them advance.
COST 5: POWER AS AN ADDICTIVE DRUG
Power is addictive, in both a psychological and physical sense. The rush and excitement from being involved in important discussions with senior figures and the ego boost from having people at your beck and call are tough to lose, even if you voluntarily choose to retire or leave and even if you have more money than you could ever spend.