Power Aphrodisiac

What is power really? And can you afford not to use it or face it wisely?

Unfortunately for all of us, Henry Kissinger’s  infamous aphorism “power is the ultimate aphrodisiac” has never been more alive and well, with the current global finance crisis the pan-ultimate example, partially if not wholly attributed to greed and abuse of power.

Talking to Stanford Business School Organizational Behavior Professor, Jeffrey Pfeffer about his course “Paths To Power,” one of the most popular electives in the school, he says that “insufficient sensitivity to and skill in coping with power dynamics have cost plenty of MBA alums – and many other talented people promotion opportunities and even their jobs. Recent graduates from leading schools have been referred by their (iconic) companies for coaching help because, although bright and hard-working, these high-potential young leaders lack the power skills necessary to maximize their career opportunities. And power and influence issues are important causes of career derailment with studies estimating that between 33% and 75% of otherwise talented and successful executives suffer serious career setbacks.

Is it really just the desire to be in control of your environment and the essence of authority, line of command, obedience/disobedience and the unavoidable association with punishment, reward and the possibility of overstepping and abuse? Regardless, power is a reality in much (maybe all) of organizational and social life found in family structures, fraternities, social circles, and of course jobs of all kinds – salary levels, corner offices and job titles. Leadership is often associated with power in its good sense yet some people may believe they can “escape” from it by working in Wall Street, oil companies, the army or any government body – because for some people just being part of a powerful organization is enough and then you don’t really have to do much other than flash your business card around – maybe. Or not?

Learning to navigate the path to power or in some cases getting away from it and its potentially addictive side,  is really all about how you exercise your influence. While it’s easy to rationally grasp power, the emotional load that comes with it and because of it, can be so terribly uncomfortable on both ends of the power stick.

One of the objectives in the popular Stanford course is to get the students to become much less judgmental, particularly about who they like or don’t like or who they approve or don’t approve of.  As Pfeffer says in his syllabus “there comes a time in your career where you can no longer “afford” to like or not like colleagues—critical relationships simply have to work, regardless of your personal feelings.” The judgments you should make are whether or not someone is on your critical path, whether they can be helpful or harmful to your job and your career, whether you can learn anything from them.  If someone is critical to your success and you have decided you don’t “like” or “approve” of them, you will have (unnecessarily) created a big obstacle to building the sort of relationship with an individual that you need.

While this may sound like ‘politicking’ the labyrinth of life and career navigation is often dark and obstructed. After all, sometimes all you have to do is not see new things but see the same things differently…

PS: Photo courtesy of my good friend, Helena Chari, whose facebook wall photos give me a big smile always 🙂
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