How to Become More Powerful

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May 5, 2017

“There are two fundamental dimensions that distinguish people who rise to great heights and accomplish amazing things: will, the drive to take on big challenges; and skill, the capabilities required to turn ambition into accomplishment.”

Jeffrey Pfeffer
Professor of Organizational Behavior
Stanford University

That’s easier said than done for most of us.

So how do we begin to build the will and skills necessary to achieve great heights in our professional and personal lives?  Fortunately, Pfeffer offers insights on how to succeed and wield power in his book, Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t.

7 personal qualities that build power

1. Ambition — Success requires effort, hard work and persistence. To expend that effort and make the necessary sacrifices requires a driving ambition. Organizational life can be frustrating and divert our effort and attention. Ambition (a focus on achieving influence) can help us overcome the temptation to give up or to give in to the irritation and distraction.

2. Energy — Energy accomplishes three things that help build influence. First, energy is contagious. Energy inspires more effort from others, and your hard work signals a job is important. Employees pick up on that signal and are more willing to expend effort when you do too.

Energy provides an advantage in getting tasks accomplished, and having energy enables you to persist and master subject matter more quickly. Research on exceptional accomplishment consistently finds that “laborious preparation” plays an important role.

Finally, leaders often promote those with high energy because of the importance of being able to work hard, and because expending great energy signals a high degree of organizational commitment.

3. Focus — There are several dimensions to focus. One is specialization in a particular industry, providing depth of understanding and a more substantial network of focused relationships. Although there’s a lot of data about increased career mobility, it’s often easier to acquire positions of influence as an insider.

Another dimension of focus is concentration on a limited set of activities or functional skills. If, as research suggests, achieving mastery requires hundreds of hours, you can acquire those hours in less elapsed time if you focus your attention more narrowly.

Similarly, concentrate on the most critical activities within your particular job that have the most impact on getting work done and on others’ perceptions of you and your effectiveness. You’re more likely to acquire power if you focus on the duties that have the most leverage.

4. Self-knowledge — Learning and personal development requires reflection, and structured reflection takes time. It also requires the discipline to concentrate, make notes, think about what you’re doing, and it’s very useful in building a path to power.

5. Confidence — Because power causes people to behave more confidently, observers will associate confident behavior with actually having power. Coming across as confident and knowledgeable helps you build influence. The consequences of not being confident or assertive apply to everyone, but can be particularly relevant for women, who are often socialized to be deferential and less assertive.

6. Empathy for others — The ability to put yourself in another’s place is useful in acquiring power. Empathetically accurate perceivers are those who are consistently good at reading other’s thoughts and feelings. What prevents us from putting ourselves in the shoes of others is too much focus on the end goal or our own objectives, and not enough concern for recruiting others to our side.

7. Capacity to tolerate conflict — Because most people are conflict-adverse, they avoid difficult situations and difficult people, frequently consenting to requests rather than paying the emotional price of standing up for themselves and their views. If you can handle conflict and stress-filled situations effectively, you have an advantage over most people.