2) The power of groups trumps that of individuals. Exploiting relationships and playing hardball politics for personal glory is a ticket to tenuous influence. True power comes from treating other people with respect with the understanding that, in return, they’ll grant (and responsibly assume) power. This is a good-faith transaction — a pact — that requires more than one person to agree to it. Watch out when Pfeffer says, “Don’t worry about how your efforts to build your path to power are affecting your employer” — you won’t last long in the real world with that attitude.
3) Get noticed — but for the right reasons. Superstars do obtain power and influence. But rather than stepping into the spotlight every time something good happens, the most trusted leaders know it isn’t all about them. Their power and influence flow from sharing credit, accepting blame, working hard, being competent and exhibiting judgment, character and wisdom. It’s impossible not to notice people who operate with that attitude. Pfeffer’s advice that “your first responsibility is to ensure that those at higher levels know what you’re accomplishing” is a recipe for eventual alienation.
4) Seeking power isn’t bad — ruthlessness is. The ruthless pursuit of power violates a core principle of ethics: Kant’s Categorical Imperative. As Kant put it, "Act only on that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law." In other words, don’t do it yourself if you don’t want everyone else to follow your example. A benighted self-interest is toxic; an enlightened one is empowering.
5) You can’t get rid of every scorpion, but you can avoid them. It’s one thing to teach young leaders that power-mad scorpions exist in the business world (they do) but it’s another to teach them to become scorpions. It is good to know how to deal with them, but even better to steer clear of dangerous situations and leave those who would sting you to deal with their own kind.
Pfeffer’s right about one thing: there are a thousand pathways to power and influence. If you are a lone wolf seeking power by any means, you may gain influence for a while at a cost of long-run success and happiness. Success doesn’t come from stepping on toes and hustling behind backs, but from stepping up and having peoples’ backs. Exploiting others on a “Paths to Power” quest may get you rolling fast, but it won’t be long before you notice that you’re heading downhill — and taking your team with you.
Joel Peterson is the chairman of JetBlue Airways and the founding partner of the investment firm Peterson Partners.
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