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on January 27, 2000
Power is a rare coin: glittering, valuable, and hard to swallow. For many people power is unsavory, disgusting, an abrogation of all that our democratic ideals hold dear. Power corrupts, says the axiom, and our lives, our goals, our organizations prosper in joy and harmony only when it has not tainted the very air we breathe.
Stop kidding yourself. Power - politics, influence, authority wielded decisively - is what makes companies work, what allows organizations to function productively and effectively. And as Jeffrey Pfeffer argues in Managing with Power, power is not an evil miasma to be thwarted, but a tool to be seized and wielded. By recognizing the combination of techniques, strategies, tactics, and dynamics that underlie power, managers can use it successfully to accomplish and achieve.
Pfeffer's take on power therefore sidesteps classic moral quandaries regarding good and evil, means and ends. The world's problems are questions not of morals but of action - or rather, of inaction and passivity. Using Managing with Power, the reader can learn to diagnose the sources of power: how communication and allies create influence, why formal authority matters, and when location matters more. The reader can then study how power may be used effectively and how it may be lost in turn, by following Pfeffer as he analyzes the actions of corporate and political leaders (Lyndon Johnson, Henry Ford II, Roger Smith, et al.). His subjects are measured by their results and their actions; morality is rarely relevant.
Machiavelli would have loved this book, which may put it beyond the pale for many readers. Others attracted by the topic may be dissuaded by the scientific tone and language. Pfeffer is ever the calm observer, the dispassionate social psychologist, and his serenity at times traps the reader in sentences more intricate than articulate: "Needless to say, there were more and more such vacuums to be filled, as his reputation as someone who gets things done, in this case, by analysis, grew." And putting the style itself aside, readers expecting a handbook on how to become rich and powerful will be sorely disappointed. This is a meticulous and methodical analysis; it's not How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
Nonetheless, if you're interested in power, if you want to understand the real basis of management and leadership (and why that distinction is immaterial), read this book. Managing with Power is thoroughly researched, theoretically grounded, and remarkably persuasive. Readers glutted by the soul-numbing pablum of most modern business writing will find here a book to stretch the mind and question the most instinctive beliefs. Does power corrupt? Power gets things done.
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on April 3, 2004
Jeffrey Pfeffer is Professor of Organizational Behavior in the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, California. Previously he has been at the University of Illinois, the University of California at Berkeley, and as a Visiting Professor at the Harvard Business School. He has written several business- and management-related books.
This book consists of four parts, with each part consisting of 3-to-6 chapters. Pfeffer starts with a definition of power: "... the potential ability to influence behavior, to change the course of events, to overcome resistance, and to get people to do things that they would not otherwise do." This power is utilized and realized through politics and influence. Based on above definition the book discusses the details to the implementation process which consists of seven steps:
1. Decide on your goals.
2. Diagnose who is important in getting your goals accomplished.
3. Have a sense of the game being played, the players, and what their positions are.
4. Ascertain the power based of the other players, as well as your own potential and actual sources of power.
5. Determine your relative strength, along with the strength of other players.
6. Diagnose what is going to happen in an organization, as well as preparing yourself to take action.
7. Consider the various strategies or tactics that are available to you, as well as those used by others.
I believe it is important to keep these steps in mind since the book does not follow the sequence of these steps. The other chapters in Part I - Power in Organizations provide help both in diagnosing the extent to which situations are going to involve the use of power and in figuring out who the political actors are and what their points are likely to be. Some important quotes in this part are: "Power is a valuable resource [and] those who have power typically conserve it for important issues [scarcity and importance are correlated]." "Knowing the power of various organizational members and subunits is important, and so is understanding whose help you need in order to achieve your goals."
Part II - Sources of Power, consisting of 6 chapters, considers where power comes from, or some people and some subunits have more power than others. It offers implicit lessons on how to acquire more power and influence for ourselves. "Power comes from being in the 'right' place. A good place or position is one that provides you with: 1. control over resources.; 2. control over or extensive access to information; and 3. formal authority." By using both well-known and practical examples, the author discusses each of these aspects in detail. His view is that although individual attributes are important, being in the right place (in particular, the right subunit) is more important.
Once we know where power comes, we need to know how to use it effectively to get things done. This is the subject of Part III - Strategies and Tactics for Employing Power Effectively, which consists of 6 chapters. It begins with the topic of framing and how the way we see things depends upon the context in which they are seen. This, in turn, is affected by the principles of contrast, commitment, and scarcity. There is also the consideration of interpersonal influence by examining the impact of what others are saying or doing, the effects of liking, and the use of emotional contrast. Understanding this make it possible for us to consider some strategic elements in the exercise and development of power. "It is not enough to know that power exists. It is also critical to know how power is used - to have an arsenal of strategies and tactics that translate power and influence into practical results."
However, the discussions of the strategies and tactics for employing power might us lose sight of what organizations are all about - getting things done. Therefore the final section of the book, Part IV - Power Dynamics, begins by providing some cautionary ideas about how power is lost. It shows how even the mighty fall, and consider what this means for us as we think about own personal relationship to power and influence. This part also considers how power dynamics can be productive or unproductive for the organization. "The book is about managing with power, and it is also about managing power." The final chapter returns to the main subject of the book: getting things done through understanding and using power and influence. "... there is a greater sin than making mistakes or influencing others - the sin of doing nothing."
Yes, I do like this book. It discusses a subject with which most of us have to deal day-in day out, whether we like it or not. Jeffrey Pfeffer provides us with an excellent handbook for understanding power and influence, but also with strategies and tactics on using it. Pfeffer also recognizes that certain individuals are obsessed with politics and power (I think that most of you will know what I am talking about), and therefore finishes the book with some excellent cautionary advice. Although the author has a strong academical background the book is written in a very practical manner complemented with good, understandable examples. Highly recommended.
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on September 11, 2008
It is probably the gap between expectations and the actual content of the book that made me write this review. The table of content is leaving you salivating - all the right things seems to be here, delivered in scientific-but-entertaining way.
Unfortunately the content is different. The author remarks in introduction, that he just felt it is time to write something (it is not direct quotation, of course), and you can tell this after a few initial chapters.

Ok, to make a long story short:
1. There is no single, well thought-out theory of power and leadership behind this book. What you can see instead, is a magpie approach, which turns the book into a hodge-podge of loosely-connected ideas, and many of these directly contradict each other. Also, as a quick look at the bibliography will make clear, many of these ideas were not state-of-the-art even at the date of the publication of Mr. Pfeffer's book.
2. Another distracting feature is author's propensity to enliven the narrative with anecdotes taken mainly from 3 biography books (on Johnson, Kissinger and Moses). One can not help by wonder if this reflects precious few reading opportunities the author has had lately.
3. Author uses terms (even the most fundamental - like authority, power, influence, resource) loosely, and frequently either without defining them or doing this sloppily. While seemingly minor, this fault leads to deficiency in his analysis. For example, Mr. Pfeffer fails to distinguish between formal authority and informal power.

Ok, you probably got an idea. But mind you, the book has its virtues. The ideas about power of functions (with heart-gladdening lampooning of Finance) are quite original. Pointing out that good work will bring you little good in career terms is, although by no means original, very refreshing in our time of domination of transformational leadership theories.

So I rated it with 2 stars. Have a glance on it in a library, but do not buy it unless you decide you like it and need it.
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This book is the best treament on organizational power and influnce. Regardless of your status in any organization, this book is a must read. The discussion of early career power developement, mid-career use and end-career release, this book is the most revealing discussion on the use of organizational influnce I've uncovered. The early sections of the book discusses some the roots of power and influnces and allows the captive reader to determine their own and recognize others' sources of influnce. This in turn can help you long-term in your career. Absolutely a must read.
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on August 4, 2001
Using some very popular figures such as Presidents, CEOs, and the like. Dr. Pfeffer takes a detailed look at how power is gained, used, and lost in the world of humanity. This book is fairly easy to read and is packed with usable information for wading one's way through the often political nature of business. Even those who aren't aspiring CEOs can benefit from this book. If nothing else you should be able to recognize THE GAME as it takes place in your organization, and in the process keep out of the line of fire. Insightful yet practical.
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on July 5, 2006
This book is a must-have for any manager's bookshelf. It delves into a topic cited widely in management literature, but seldom covered in depth.

Frameworks for describing and explaining power in business are suggested, with numerous illustrations.

My only disappointments with the book are (a) the lack of empirical generalisations as a basis for the framework (in the HBR style, anecdote counts more than empirical generalision) and (b) the absence of practical advice on what to do with the framework.

Nevertheless, this is still a unique contribution to a very important subject and it is highly recommended.
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on October 28, 2009
I'm writing a book review for the first time, because I was quite disappointed with this book even though I had read all of the several reviews posted here before hand. I think the reviews here don't represent the true value of this book.

In short, this book is a lot of bits and pieces of episodes that do not really lead to any theory or takeaway. I kept hoping til the end that something worth remembering would come up.

I would recommend this book to someone fresh out of college who needs basic understanding of corporate politics, but definitely not to any of my friends with work experience (5+ years?).

I decided to buy this book because I had not taken any power and influence related courses during my MBA studies in the US. I had kept all the syllabi of all courses offered at my school and I was catching up on some textbook readings for the courses I hadn't taken. This is another reason why I didn't think twice about buying it without reading it.

I hope this helps!
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on February 24, 2006
Although I am not 100% on board with Pfeffer, he sure did get me thinking about how to recognize behaviors that may be related to power. He also gives excellent (although dated) real-life examples of how leaders used and failed to use politics, and the results of each. If you think politics in organizations stinks, read this book to get a different take. You may just discover some tools that will help you help others.
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on January 9, 2007
Although much of the research described in this book was conducted some years ago, the conclusions are still very relevant. Pfeffer writes well, & the book is very readable. He also goes beyond the research at times to furnish the reader with suggestions that can be very useful for anyone who is part of an organization of any type. Power is a very real phenomenon, & members of organizations (and who isn't?) need to understand how it works & how to deal with it.
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on October 7, 2012
First read this book when I was in business school and I continue to refer to it today. It is the best book out there for understanding the power dynamics within corporations. If you find corporate politics frustrating and painful, this book helps you look at internal situations scientifically and unemotionally and respond in kind.
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