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Nice Guys Finish Last
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.