in: Career & Wealth, Leadership, Podcast

• Last updated: December 5, 2022

Podcast #853: The Real Rules of Power

Most leadership advice says the same thing: to be a good leader, you need to be generous, humble, and authentic.

My guest, professor of organizational behavior Jeffrey Pfeffer, would say that kind of advice may make us feel good and represent the world as we’d like it to be, but it doesn’t actually work in the world as it really is. What the research shows does work is what he lays out in his book: 7 Rules of Power: Surprising—but True—Advice on How to Get Things Done and Advance Your Career.

People often have negative associations with power, but Jeffrey would argue that power, and many of the techniques involved in getting it, are morally neutral, and can be used for ill or for good. So if you have a worthy aim and want to grow your influence and move up in your job, you have to get comfortable going after something that may make you uncomfortable. Jeffrey shares how to do that as we take a quick and dirty dive into the real rules of power.

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Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. Most leadership advice says the same thing. To be a good leader, you need to be generous, humble, and authentic. My guest, professor of organizational behavior, Jeffrey Pfeffer, would say that kind of advice may make us feel good and represent the world as we’d like it to be, but it doesn’t actually work in the world as it really is. What the research shows does work is what he lays out in his book, 7 Rules of Power: Surprising but True Advice on How to Get Things Done and Advance Your Career. People often have negative associations with power, but Jeffrey would argue that power and many of the techniques involved in getting it are morally neutral and can be used for ill or for good. So if you have a worthy aim and want to grow your influence and move up in your job, you have to get comfortable going after something that may make you uncomfortable. Jeffrey shares how to do that as we take a quick and dirty dive into the real rules of power. After the show’s over, check out our show notes at

All right, Jeffrey Pfeffer, welcome to the show.

Jeffrey Pfeffer: It’s a pleasure to be with you. Thank you for having me on.

Brett McKay: Well, so you are a professor at Stanford and you spent a lot of your career researching, writing, teaching about business organization, but particularly power. You’ve written a few books about human power. What led you down that path?

Jeffrey Pfeffer: I think two things led me down that path. The first thing that led me down that path is one of the things I’ve tried to do in my career is to find topics that have the following two qualities. Number one, they’re important. And number two, nobody’s talking about them. If you can talk about something that is important and other people aren’t doing, that puts you in a pretty good niche. Empower for a long time and really still to this day is something that’s very, very important in social life, but many people are unwilling to teach about it or to talk about it because it makes people uncomfortable. So that I think is the reason why I got into this.

Brett McKay: And you make the case that you’re in the world of a business organization, leadership, things like that. And you make the case that a lot of the literature out there about leadership in the business world isn’t actually useful. What do they say about how power works or doesn’t work that you think they get wrong?

Jeffrey Pfeffer: Oh, God, we could spend hours talking about that. I think many people describe human behavior and human psychology as they would like it to be rather than as it is. So the recommendations about leadership are to be authentic, to tell the truth, to be modest, to be self-effacing, to be generous, all of these things. But if you look at the world, the difference between frontline and CEO salaries are higher than they’ve ever been. The research on lying indicates that people lie all the time. So the narcissism, not modesty, is reliably and predictably related to getting and then holding leadership positions. So much of the social science research, what does it take to be successful? What are the behaviors that we actually reward? They’re almost no resemblance to the aspirational platitudes that much of the leadership literature puts forward.

Brett McKay: Whenever I go on LinkedIn, I check out what people are posting. A lot of this stuff is very aspirational. Here’s an example of this leader that was modest and is humble and blah. And I’m like, “Is that really how it works?” And you’re saying no.

Jeffrey Pfeffer: No, that isn’t how it works. Of course not. And I think you used the right word. The word is aspirational. I think many people… There’s a lot of virtue signaling on LinkedIn and Twitter and holding that aside. There’s also a lot of writing about how people would like the world to be. And what the position that I take is that it’s fine to have aspirations, but if you’re going to get from where you are to the aspirational world you would like to see, you need to understand number one, where you are, and you need to understand why you are where you are ’cause otherwise you just put out these platitudes and nothing ever changes.

Brett McKay: And power is that ability that allows you to make that change that you want.

Jeffrey Pfeffer: That’s exactly right. Power is the ability to get things done against opposition. The Stanford Business School motto is change lives, change organizations, change the world. And if you’re going to change anything, you need influence.

Brett McKay: All right. So power is the ability to get things done in opposition. But if power is the ability to get things done, why are people uncomfortable thinking about and going after power, being effective? Why are people squeamish about that?

Jeffrey Pfeffer: I don’t know. It could be how they were raised. You’re not supposed to seek power. You’re supposed to do good work and work hard and keep your head down and everything will be okay. And so I think how you’re raised and the literature to which you’re exposed causes you to, I think, step away from power. And my friend Deborah Liu, who is now CEO of, and prior to that, worked at Facebook, wrote a book, and I love the title, Take Back Your Power. And the reason why I like that title is because the opposite of taking back your power is giving away your power. And I think in a hundred ways, people lean away from being powerful rather than leaning into it.

Brett McKay: Well, you mentioned earlier a lot of these things that, if you look at the research, how we reward influence and power to people, people who are narcissistic tend to have more power, deception. These are some negative things. But in this book, The Seven Rules of Power, you make the case that you don’t have to be an unethical person to want power ’cause if you want to do good, if you want to do… You have a moral, this good thing you want to do in the world, you have to think about, “Well, how am I going to do that?” And you have to think about, “Well, how am I going to get power?”

Jeffrey Pfeffer: That’s exactly correct. And by the way, the seven rules, number one, getting out of your own way. Number two, breaking the rules. Number three, showing up in a powerful fashion and building a powerful brand and networking. I don’t think networking is unethical. I don’t think putting a brand forward or showing up in a powerful fashion is unethical. I certainly don’t think getting out of your own way and losing the descriptions that hold you back are unethical. So I don’t see.

Much of the stuff that I talk about in this book as being unethical or bad in any way. Of course, you ought to get out of your own way and you ought to lean into your power and try to show up in a way that makes a positive impression on other people.

Brett McKay: Well, let’s dig into these rules a little bit more. So you said the first rule of power is getting out of your own way. What do you mean by that? And how do people get in their own way when it comes to power?

Jeffrey Pfeffer: Oh, my God. That’s a great question. People get in their own way in a number of ways. Number one, I think they apologize too much. So I call this kind of the pre-emptory apology. Pardon me for interrupting. I see people at meetings or even in my classroom. I’m not sure the comment I’m about to make is worthwhile, this kind of modesty thing. Pardon me for taking your time. No, do not engage in pre-emptory apology. And if you’re going to make a comment that nobody wants to hear, don’t make it in the first place. Don’t apologize for it in advance. I think that’s one way in which people give up their power. And I think people carry in their heads descriptions of themselves. I’m not that good. This idea about self-handicapping or this idea that you’re not worthy and deserving. If you go into a situation and you don’t think you’re worthy and deserving, the odds are nobody else is going to think you are worthy or deserving either. So I think you need to come into situations with a sense of your own competence and confidence. And you need to come into situations using a set of adjectives about you that empower rather than disempower you.

Brett McKay: Well, another way that people get in the way of themselves that you talked about in the book that I thought was really interesting is this emphasis on authenticity. And you call this the authenticity a curse actually when it comes to power. Why is authenticity a curse?

Jeffrey Pfeffer: Well, it’s way too self-referential. People think that you ought to be true to yourself. I don’t think that’s what leaders need to be. Leaders need to be true not to what their own feelings are, what their own preferences are, or what their own ideas are. They need to be true to what the people around them need. So if you’re running a startup and you come in one day and you’ve had setbacks ’cause startups invariably face various kinds of setbacks and challenges, and you say to your team, “I’m not sure what to do. I’m not sure how we’re going to get out of this.” You’re going to lose the team. You’re going to lose your investors. You’re going to lose your customers. You have to sometimes display confidence that you don’t feel. You have to sometimes display certainty that you don’t feel. And certainly if you show up, my friend Gary Loveman used to run Caesars, the casino company, if you show up in the middle of the night and you’re tired and you’re not, and maybe your family has done something bad or your children have gotten into trouble or whatever, the people in the casino don’t want to hear about this and they don’t want to hear that you’re tired.

You need to show up with energy. You need to show up with a dedication to and a focus on the people who are around you and what do they need from you. And I think what they need from you is they need energy and they need the sense that you care about them and you’re going to devote your efforts to making them more successful.

Brett McKay: Well, as you’re describing that idea of being authentic with the example of, you know, if you’re… It’s late at night, no one wants to hear that you don’t know the question or you’re tired. There’s just all this, a lot of talk lately in the past decade or so about being vulnerable as a leader. And I think people are like, “Well, if you don’t know, and if you’re tired, like you should let people know that ’cause then they’ll trust you more or whatever.” And you’re saying, it sounds good, but that really people don’t respond well to that.

Jeffrey Pfeffer: That’s research that suggests that, you know, it’s fine to be vulnerable to your significant other or maybe to your children or to close friends, but in a work situation, people want to know that you’re going to lead them to victory, that you have the confidence and you are going to tap into their energy and you’re going to give them energy ’cause we know emotions, including energy is contagious. And then at the end, you’re going to lead them to success. Absolutely.

Brett McKay: Another thing that gets in the way of how people get in their own way is this wanting to be liked. But the problem is if you want to wield power, sometimes you’re going to do things that people don’t like and they’re not going to like you. So how do you overcome that desire to be well liked by everybody?

Jeffrey Pfeffer: I think you need to focus on results. You know, again, my friend Gary Loveman, who ran Caesars for many years as a CEO, has this lovely saying, “You want to be liked a dog, a dog will love you unconditionally.” But your job as a senior leader is not to win a popularity contest. I mean, people are looking to you to make sometimes tough decisions. Maybe you need to lay people off because of economic circumstances. Maybe you need to fire people because they’ve underperformed or they let you down in various ways. You know, maybe you need to make decisions about strategic direction for the organization that not everybody is going to agree with. And you’re paid as a leader. Your job as a leader is to help people become more successful. And sometimes that involves making pretty tough decisions.

Brett McKay: All right. So this first rule of getting out of your own way, it seems like it’s a mindset shift. You have to just start getting comfortable with the idea that to be a leader, you’re going to have to do things that might go against what you feel is authentic or natural if you actually want to get stuff done.

Jeffrey Pfeffer: I think that’s exactly right. I mean, if you think about Jeff Bezos of Amazon or Elon Musk of Tesla, you know, I’m not sure they’re going to win popularity contests or people are going to like them. I think most entrepreneurs, most many CEOs leading successful organizations, they are focused on accomplishment and they are focused on making things happen. And sometimes that involves, you know, not necessarily behaving as everyone would want you to behave.

Brett McKay: Well, related to that is a second rule, and that is, Break the Rules. What do you mean by break the rules? What kind of rules are we breaking here?

Jeffrey Pfeffer: Breaking almost all rules. My friend, Jason Calacanis, the angel investor who wrote a book talking about how he turned a hundred thousand into a hundred million dollars when he was applying to Fordham, he would drop in on the admissions office, the admissions officer without an appointment. When he got admitted to Fordham, he dropped in on the Dean without an appointment to get a better job in the computer lab. You know, I think breaking the rules, there’s a, Malcolm Gladwell has a 2009 article in the New Yorker, how David beats Goliath. How does David beat Goliath? Then we’re talking about the biblical David and Goliath. You know, if David puts on all of the armor like Goliath has and has a sword like Goliath has, poor David is a little, is much smaller than Goliath, isn’t going to be able to move. So David says, “I’m not going to fight Goliath on Goliath’s terms. I’m going to fight Goliath using my tools, the tools of a shepherd. I’m going to use a slingshot.” So David beats Goliath by basically engaging in what the technical term would be asymmetric warfare. And it’s true, not just in warfare, it’s true in business strategy.

I think the most successful business organizations are ones that change the rules of the game to favor what their particular capacities and capabilities are.

Brett McKay: So what does that look like on a day-to-day basis? Like, you know, let’s say you just got hired at a company and you want to make a mark. I mean, like what kind of rules should you start breaking and what does that look like?

Jeffrey Pfeffer: Well, you know, so I have a friend, the former student named Tristan Walker and Tristan Walker wanted to get a job at Foursquare. He sent emails and resumes to the CEO at the time at Foursquare and the CEO was busy running the startup. And so Tristan Walker began, basically he didn’t get the job of being the head of business development. He started doing the job of being the head of business development. And when he landed a contract with Starbucks, the head of Foursquare, the CEO said, “Wow, maybe I ought to hire this guy because he was already doing the job for which he wanted to be hired.” Now, that’s an extreme example, but it’s an interesting example. And I see this inside organizations all the time. People take initiative. You know, I believe this organization ought to do a strategic review. Okay. I can’t get anybody’s attention. I will do it myself. I think we ought to reach out to the following potential customers. I can’t get the sales team to do it. I’ll do it myself. In other words, you take initiative and do what you think needs to be done without waiting for permission to do it.

Brett McKay: Yeah. I think that’s interesting. A lot of times we tell people to take initiative. You know, we tell our kids that you got to take initiative, but when you get in an organization, taking initiative is seen as, well, you don’t do that, that you’re a renegade if you take initiative. But you’re saying you need to do more of that. You need to keep doing that when you get in an organization.

Jeffrey Pfeffer: And you know, if you land a contract for Foursquare with Starbucks, nobody’s going to say you shouldn’t have done that. If you reach out to a potential customer and you’re successful in landing that customer, nobody’s going to say, “Oh, you shouldn’t have done that.” You know, if you undertake a strategic review that leads to some great insight that makes the organization successful, nobody’s going to say, “Oh, you shouldn’t have done that.” You know, at the end, it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission. That’s the basic principle.

Brett McKay: And you use the example of Robert Moses, who he did this a lot when he was doing his thing in New York City. Instead of going through the typical bureaucratic rigmarole to get something approved, he would just do it.

Jeffrey Pfeffer: He would just build it. He would absolutely. He would, you know, instead of asking for permission to do something, he would do it. And then, you know, once the park was built or once the playground was built or once the swimming pool was built, what are you going to do? You know, people are enjoying it. You’re not going to say, “Well, you shouldn’t have done that.”

Brett McKay: Well, then you also bring in research. Like all this stuff isn’t… You’re not just pulling the stuff out of your hat somewhere. There’s research that shows that we actually, when we see someone break the rules, we kind of like, “That guy, I want to listen to that guy ’cause he’s, I don’t know, he’s like above the law in a way. So maybe we should pay attention to him.”

Jeffrey Pfeffer: Yep, yep. Rule breaking, you know, because, because it’s heuristic association between, you know, but the powerful people get to break the rules. So if you break the rules, people will think you have more power than maybe you have.

Brett McKay: We’re going to take a quick break for a word from our sponsors.

And now back to the show. All right. The next rule is about appearing powerful and you use the example of two CEOs to highlight this rule. It’s a Lloyd Blankfein and Tony Hayward. What can these two guys teach us about the importance of appearing powerful?

Jeffrey Pfeffer: People, you know, I think people respond to how you look, you know, and so if you show up and you speak in a powerful voice and you show up and use powerful gestures as opposed to hunching over, you know, people pay more attention to you.

You could look at Oliver North and his testimony years ago for Iran-Contra, you know, he shows up in his military uniform and he is assertive. People respond to others, how others look and how they appear. Body language is important. My colleague at the Berkeley, Dana Carney, has done a ton of research. She’s writing a book on the importance of body language. We know this and we see this. Next time you watch a political debate or something on TV like that, turn off the sound and you can tell who’s winning just by the body language.

Brett McKay: Well and you talk about these two guys, they both got called up to, you know, I think Congress to give testimony or something ’cause of wrongdoing that their companies were accused of taking part in. And one of them went there and there was… He’s very conciliatory, like, “Oh, you know, we’re really sorry.” And he was talking about, “It’s been so hard for me and blah, blah, blah, blah.” And the other guy was just… He didn’t really talk about what he’s being accused of. He’s like, “Well, here’s, you know, I’m running this company. We’re trying to get this done. And as a consequence, something like this happened. It’s just, that’s just part of doing business. And, but we’re doing this, we’re creating more, so much more value because we, that thing happened or something like that.”

Jeffrey Pfeffer: Yep. That’s exactly right. I mean, Tony Hayward for BP, you know, reads a statement, which of course prevents him from making eye contact, which is already a bad thing. He’s all hunched over. He doesn’t use forceful arm gestures. And he certainly apologizes a lot for the BP Gulf oil spill. Lloyd Blankfein, representing Goldman Sachs, which has been accused of shorting securities that it sold to his clients, comes up and says, “You know, we are the other side of what our clients want to do. So we buy what we, you know, if they want to sell to us, we buy from them. If they want to buy from us, we sell to them. And then we cover the risk by taking the other, by perhaps making shorts or, you.

Know, buying derivatives or whatever they do. And yes, we are the other side of what our clients want to do. And by the way, we’re a 140-year-old firm. And this is what market making is. Market making is being the other side of our clients’ transactions.” And completely unapologetic.

Brett McKay: All right. To appear more powerful think about body language it’s important. Look people in the eye, stand up straight. We’ve had people in the podcast talking about those. Those are powerful social cues that signal competence and effectiveness and power to other people. So you might think that’s just dumb stuff, but it actually is really like those little small details are important.

Jeffrey Pfeffer: Absolutely…

Brett McKay: Okay. So another rule is if you have power, you have to use your power to increase your power. Why does using your power increase your power?

Jeffrey Pfeffer: People want to be associated with success. People want to be associated with other people who are able to get things done. So to the extent that you’re able to get more done, more people are going to support you. I mean, think about yourself as a startup or think about yourself as, you know, maybe Robert Moses being parks, building parks, grounds, there’s swimming pools, or think about yourself as Lyndon Johnson passing all that great society legislation. The more stuff you get done, the more effective you look. The more effective you look, the more people want to support you because, you know, while Don Quixote is a nice figure in literature, nobody wants to be associated with people who are tilting at windmills. They want to be associated with people who are actually making things happen. So the more you’re able to get done, the more people want to invest in you and to work with you.

Brett McKay: Well, I think FDR, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, he understood this principle. You know, as soon as he got in, this is where the whole idea of, you know, the first hundred days of a president, right? How much are they going to get done? Well, as soon as he got in, he established all these agencies and was doing all this different stuff to help alleviate the depression. I think what he was trying to do, he’s trying to give confidence to the American people that we’re in charge, we’re going to get stuff done, and that only increased his power.

Jeffrey Pfeffer: Yep. That’s exactly right. That’s another good example.

Brett McKay: Yeah. LBJ did that too. And you talk about as soon as after the assassination, like immediately he was setting out, here’s what we’re going to do to get the great society going, education, civil rights. He had a plan like within that first day to get stuff done.

Jeffrey Pfeffer: Yep. And the more bills he passed, the more people then say, “Wow, here’s somebody who can actually get the civil rights legislation that Kennedy tried to get through and was never able to.” And the more effective you look, the more people want to be associated with you and to work with you. I mean, you think about this, if you’re working in a company and you’ve got two leaders, one leader is getting stuff done and making stuff happen, and the other leader isn’t, who do you want to work with? You want to work with people… You want to work in the unit that’s making things happen.

Brett McKay: Well, so yeah, and I think a lot of, I’ve read business advice where if you’re put into a new leadership position, well, you maybe what you should do is just kind of embed yourself in the organization, see how things are run, and then you make your changes. You’re saying, no, you need to go in there and just start making things happen right away.

Jeffrey Pfeffer: People are looking to you and they are trying to evaluate, is this somebody who’s going to be successful or not? And the sooner you show that you’re going to be successful, the more support you’re going to get.

Brett McKay: Okay. And what this also does by exercising power, it also, it’s fights, it helps you fight off would-be pretenders as well to your leadership position.

Jeffrey Pfeffer: That is absolutely correct. And you see this with outside succession and CEO roles and obviously on political roles. You know, when a new CEO comes in from outside, oftentimes there’s a lot of turnover in the top management team. Jim Collins, good to great, the great management thinker and writer, talks about getting the right people on the bus. And that’s exactly right. It’s very hard to get things done if you don’t have the right talent and skills working with you. And by the way, getting the right people on the bus oftentimes means getting the wrong people off the bus. So yes, you want a team who can execute. You want a team who can get things done. I mean, think about a football team. You come in as a coach, look at Lincoln Riley at USC. One of the things Lincoln Riley did when he came to coach USC is he said, “I’m going to apparently, according to the, what I read in the newspaper, have the largest number of transfers almost in the history of college football because I want to try to get the best talent on this team, so I have the best chance of winning.”

Brett McKay: Lincoln, I’m from Oklahoma. I went to OU. He is persona non grata here. We don’t like Lincoln Riley. Okay. So, and another rule is success excuses almost everything. What’s behind that rule?

Jeffrey Pfeffer: What’s behind that rule is that once you are successful, once you are rich, you can, and there are a bunch of psychological dynamics behind this. People will forget or forgive what you did to get into that position of power. You see this all the time with wealthy business people, you know, once you’re rich and successful, you can put your name on a lot of pieces of concrete and auditoriums and concert halls and etcetera, and people are happy to take your money and you can buy legitimacy. Once you become rich and successful, people want to be associated with power, with that rich, with that wealth and success and they will forget or forgive or both what you did to get there in the first place.

Brett McKay: So going to like a more, you know, down to earth example, right? So you talk about someone taking initiative to start a thing that they, you know, maybe they didn’t get permission to start a development thing within their business. Well, if it’s successful, people aren’t going to care. Like the boss is going to care that you didn’t follow protocol ’cause it was successful.

Jeffrey Pfeffer: That’s correct. The saying is always failure is an orphan and success has many parents.

Brett McKay: And one of the things you talk about in your previous book on power too, is that the just world fallacy contributes to the way people will allow success to excuse almost anything. How does that work?

Jeffrey Pfeffer: The just world idea is an idea that started by the social psychologist, Melvin Lerner, who says that people want to believe that the world is a just and fair place that you get what you deserve. But the dual of idea of that you get what you deserve is once you get a lot of stuff, once you’re successful and powerful, people will say, “Well, you must have deserved it in the first place.”

Brett McKay: Yeah, it’s a double-edged sword though, because we figure someone who is successful, you know, they deserve their success. So he’s a skillful, good person and we want to be associated with them. But when it comes to be, you know, when it’s related to ourselves, we can get caught up into believing that our good actions will always be rewarded. And then we’ll, you know, we start to feel frustrated and resentful that we’re not being adequately rewarded or, you know.

You, you see someone at work who’s getting something using nefarious means or they’re just kind of just not a pleasant person. And we think, “Well, they don’t deserve that.” But you have to accept that, you know, good things happen to bad people, bad things happen to good people, but regardless, you have to keep trying to be proactive and make things happen in the world with your own actions, right? You have to like, you know, exercise your agency.

Jeffrey Pfeffer: Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. I mean, I used to believe that the big contribution of my class was to teach people a lot of social science and a lot of social psychology around power and influence. And I’ve now come to believe that while I am teaching them social psychology and social science and everything I talk about in Seven Rules of Power, of course, has a lot of research behind it. The biggest effect of my class is to cause people to be bolder than they were before, to take more risks than they thought they could, to break the rules, to step out of their comfort zone and to try stuff and to be, and to be, and you use the word, I think is exactly the right word, to become more proactive, to become more agentic. And you know, if once you become more proactive and more agentic, you’re more likely to get more stuff done. The more stuff you try to do, the more stuff you’re going to get done.

Brett McKay: I had this conversation with, I coach flag football, a bunch of 11 year olds. And sometimes that games, you know, they’re like the rep, you know, this is like, this is flag football. So there’s one ref, you can’t see the entire field. There’s no playbacks. And sometimes the ref will miss a penalty and there’s like, “Oh, that’s not fair. Oh,” they just get really, I’m like, I always tell like, “Guys did all that yelling. Did that change the call?” “No.” It’s like, “Well, you gotta, well, the only thing you can do is go out there and play harder and try to do better. That’s complaining and whining about, you know, they that’s not fair. It’s not doing anything.” It happens every game, but like for some kids it’s landed. Some other kids are still, I still have to try to pound into their head.

Jeffrey Pfeffer: Sounds like a great coaching idea. You know, I mean, it is a great coaching idea because the question that you asked in the comment you just made is exactly the right question. Does your complaining, does your whining, does your this, that, or the other thing, does it change anything? And if the answer to that question is no, then let’s do something that’s way more productive than doing things that don’t make a difference.

Brett McKay: Another rule is you gotta to expand your brand or develop a personal brand. What role does that play in acquiring power?

Jeffrey Pfeffer: Well, I think narratives are important. And I think you will… You just as you know, products need a brand. I think you, people need a brand, you know, and they need, not only do they need to build a brand, which is a short statement that summarizes, you know, what they’ve done in their lives and who they are and how that makes them uniquely qualified for the job to which they aspire, or the job that they hold. And then you need to promulgate that brand through social media. And the example I use in the book is Tristan Walker. He’s a graduate of Stanford, African American, was an executive in residence at Andreessen Horowitz and, you know, thought about doing the same stuff that everybody else thought of doing, you know, FinTech or, you know, social media. But as an African-American man, he understood, number one, that there weren’t a lot of personal grooming products and, you know, that many of the shavers left him with razor bumps or, you know, were hard on his skin. And he said, “Well, you know, instead of doing what everybody else is going to do, I’m going to basically build grooming products for people of color, which are a large growing segment of the population completely underserved.”

And if you think about it, that is a product and that is a brand that fits him. I am a black man and I am going to build products for black men and for Latino and African-American women, for people of color. And I know that market because I am that market and I’ve lived that experience. And so that’s a brand that fits him and suits him. And he built Walker & Company Brands, which was then bought by Procter & Gamble. So, you know, you need a brand that somehow integrates your life experience with your competence and capabilities in a way that says you are uniquely qualified to do what you’re doing.

Brett McKay: Well and you also say sometimes you got to be appropriately controversial. What do you mean by that?

Jeffrey Pfeffer: Well, you know, there’s, what is the saying? There’s various forms of publicity. There’s good publicity, there’s bad publicity, and then of course the worst is no publicity. You need to stand out. And one of the ways of standing out is by saying things and doing things that catch people’s attention. I mean, if I said to you, I want you to bring out a personal computer, the last thing you would do was bring out another Windows machine that’s black because there are like a zillion Windows machines that all look alike. I mean, you know, Apple had at one point these kind of pastel-colored machines and they have different operating system. I mean, you need to do something to stand out and to differentiate yourself so that people notice your product, so that people notice you. No one has ever been hired into a job for which nobody knew them or thought of them. The first thing you need to do if you’re going to be hired, if you’re going to be promoted, somebody has to know who you are.

Brett McKay: And thinking for a lot of people, again, this goes back to this idea of getting out of your own way, right? Some people are like, “Well, it’s just, I’m a modest person. I don’t feel authentic when I’m talking about what I do.” And you say, “No, if you actually want to get stuff done, you have to get comfortable talking about how effective you are.”

Jeffrey Pfeffer: That’s exactly right. I mean, you should not assume that your boss is watching you every minute and is noticing everything you’re doing. So maybe you ought to let you help your boss understand your accomplishments.

Brett McKay: No, that’s a good point ’cause someone else is probably taking credit for the, that team effort you did and it’s not you, but it’s some other guy.

Jeffrey Pfeffer: Could be.

Brett McKay: So another important part of gaining more power is networking. So how does networking increase your power? What type of network are we talking about here?

Jeffrey Pfeffer: Well, if leadership is getting things done through other people, it seems pretty obvious to me that the more other people you know, the more you’re going to be able to get done. Organizational life, social life, is in fact social. And so the more connections you have, and particularly the more connections you have with people who can help you be effective, the better off you’re going to be.

Brett McKay: You also talk about this importance of focusing on weak links. What are weak links and why are they important to building power? Yeah.

Jeffrey Pfeffer: So many people spend most of their time with people who are close to them. They are their family, they are their close friends, they are the people they work with all the time. And the problem, there’s not a problem, the issue with spending most of your time with people who are close to you is people who are close to you probably know the same things and the same people that you do. And the people to whom you’re weakly tied, people that you may have met only once or twice, people who are casual acquaintances, is they are going to diversify both what you know and who you know. And just as diversification is good in financial markets, it’s good in social markets as well. The more different ideas you’re exposed to, the more different people you are exposed to, the more different sectors of the economy you’re exposed to, the more creative you’re going to be and the more you’re going to be able to get done because you’ll know more different people and things.

Brett McKay: I think one issue that might happen with people who are proactive, like to get things done, they might think, “Well, man, networking just takes a lot of time and it just takes me away from my core competency, which is like why I’m here to increase whatever profits in this sector.” But you still got to network. So how do you make time? Have you found any good advice on making time for networking?

Jeffrey Pfeffer: I think you need to write down the people who you need to meet in order to advance your and your organization’s agenda and then figure out how you’re going to meet them and then literally make lists and hold yourself accountable and use your phone or use something to keep track of how you spend your time and say to yourself, I’m going to spend a certain amount of time networking. People say to me, I don’t spend enough time exercising or I don’t spend enough time taking care of my physical body. How do you do a better job of that? You make a certain time in the day every day to run or to do whatever exercise you’re going to do. Similarly, I think you want to set a time and a certain amount of time each week to build the relationships. They’re going to permit you to get things done. In a world basically of interdependence.

Brett McKay: You know, for me doing stuff like building your personal brand or networking, even though I know they’re either effective in building power and influence, these are stuff… It’s just stuff I don’t like doing. I can’t bring myself to do. So I guess at the end of the day, people have to learn these rules of power and influence and then they got to decide if they want power enough to be willing to do the things they may not… Do things they may not like or be comfortable doing or they got to decide, “Well, maybe I just don’t want that much power and influence ’cause I don’t want to do all that stuff.” So that’s something they got to think about. Well, Jeffrey, this has been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about the book and your work?

Jeffrey Pfeffer: Well, I have a personal homepage, I have a podcast myself called Pfeffer on Power, which is So between the podcast and my personal homepage, or you can read Seven Rules of Power, those are all ways to learn more about this. And you know, I’m happy to send people my course outline or, you know, whatever. I think there are a variety of ways to learn about this.

Brett McKay: All right. Well, Jeffrey Pfeffer, thanks for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Jeffrey Pfeffer: Thank you.

Brett McKay:My guest today was Jeffrey Pfeffer. He’s the author of the book, Seven Rules of Power. It’s available on and bookstores everywhere. You can find more information about Jeffrey’s work at his website, And that’s Pfeffer with a P. Also check out our show notes at Where you can find links to resources where we you delve deeper into this topic.

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