Power (Book Review)


title: Power – Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t

author: Jeffrey Pfeffer

what you’ll learn: how to play the hidden game (how to get what you want)

Why You Must Read It

There is a game being played around you … one that you don’t even know exists. That is why two men with the exact same intelligence and credentials will end up in different totally places. One will be stuck in middle management, while the other will soar to the upper echelon of the company.

Why? Because the first man did not know the game, while the second man lived the game.

Few people will teach you the game. Few people even know it exists. Personally, I did not know about it until a year ago, during my third year of medical school.

“What is the game?” you ask. Before I tell you the answer, lemme tell you two personal stories (and if you’re smart enough, you can figure it out the answer yourself) …

I still remember a painful experience I had in high school. A group students and I were working on a cultural project — creating an information booth about Japan. I was a diligent, hard-working kid. I did a lot of work, such as making posters and other creative crap. Yet, there was one kid who would nitpick at everything I did.

Why did I use staples in my poster instead of tape?

Why didn’t I add more information?

Blah, blah, blah … The kid wasn’t satisfied with anything.

But that was not the sad part. The sad part was that I did not defend my own work; I did not defend myself. I acted too fearful. And when I didn’t speak up for myself, the group only heard one side of the story.

The criticizing got worse and worse.

I did not know how to play the game.

Fast forward to 2014 …

I have done some outrageous things, stuff that a normal medical student would not dream of doing. I had to meet with higher ups for “falling out of line.” Every time they threw an accusation my way, whether it was true or not, I promptly rejected their claim.

I told my own version of what has happened. I told my own story. I defended myself.

In a situation where most people would have been afraid, I was angered. Full of self-righteous conviction, I pointed the finger back at those who complained against me — explaining the injustice of the situation.

“I was trying very hard to do my work. But she was the one who made it difficult to do so.”

This time, the complaints stopped immediately.

I played the game like a pro.

So back to your question: What is the hidden game?

It is the hidden game of power — a game that is hidden in plain sight. People who play the game think differently and act differently.

“How did you learn how to play the game?” you ask. Well, my friend … many things happened in my life since high school. But one of my key mentors that taught me the ropes was Jeffrey Pfeffer. And if you want, he can teach you too.

Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor at Stanford University’s business school, wrote about the game of power in his book: Power – Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t.

He will show you the rules of the game.

He will show you how power players think.

He will show you how power players act.

He will show you why being a good worker is not enough.

He will show you why you have to break certain rules to get what you want.

He will show you how to make allies. (That is what I do, to get people to support my side of the story.)

He will show you how to get your way.

Every advice he gives is backed by research and / or historical events.

If you too wanna be a power player — to be among the CEOs, politicians, moguls, and other people who get what they want — you seriously gotta read the book. It is one of the best books on power, and deserves to be a classic.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Be Prepared for Power

Chapter 1 – It Takes More Than Performance

Chapter 2 – The Personal Qualities That Bring Influence

Chapter 3 – Choosing Where to Start

Chapter 4 – Getting In: Standing Out and Breaking Some Rules

Chapter 5 – Making Something out of Nothing: Creating Resources

Chapter 6 – Building Efficient and Effective Social Networks

Chapter 7 – Acting and Speaking with Power

Chapter 8 – Building a Reputation: Perception Is Reality

Chapter 9 – Overcoming Opposition and Setbacks

Chapter 10 – The Price of Power

Chapter 11 – How — and Why — People Lose Power

Chapter 12 – Power Dynamics: Good for Organizations, Good for You?

Chapter 13 – It’s Easier Than You Think

Choice Excerpt

Research shows that people who express anger are seen “as dominant, strong, competent, and smart,” although they are also, of course, seen as less nice and warm. Social psychologist Larissa Tiedens has conducted research on the relationship between expressed emotions and perceptions of power. In three studies using vignettes as the stimuli, Tiedens and some colleagues explored people’s expectations for emotional expressions by high-and low-status others. The researchers found that in negative situations, participants believed that high-status people would feel more angry than sad or guilty and that low-status people would feel sad or guilty instead of angry. A second experiment demonstrated that angry people were seen as high-status while sad and guilty people were viewed as low-status.

In another series of experimental studies, Tiedens showed that people actually conferred more status on people who expressed anger rather than sadness. One study had participants watch two video clips from former president Clinton’s testimony in the Monica Lewinsky scandal. In one clip he appeared angry, and in the other he hung his head and averted his gaze, typical for someone expressing guilt and remorse. People who viewed the anger clip were significantly more pro-Clinton in their attitudes. They believed it showed he was a person in power compared to those who saw him acting sad. In a second study, to avoid any contamination by preexisting attitudes about Clinton, an anonymous actor played the role of a politician and delivered the identical speech on terrorism, in one instance acting as if he were angry and in the other as if he were sad. Study participants were more likely to say they would vote for the politician in the angry rather than the sad posture. They also thought the angry person would be a better political leader.

In a study Tiedens conducted at a software company, people rated their coworkers on how frequently these individuals exhibited a variety of emotions. People rated coworkers who expressed more anger as better potential role models—people from whom they could learn. In yet another study reported in the same paper, participants assigned a higher-status position and a higher salary to a job candidate who described himself as angry. He was perceived as more competent when expressing anger rather than sadness.

If you express anger, not only do you receive more status and power and appear more competent but others are reluctant to cross you. After all, who wants to be the brunt of anger? No wonder “General George Patton tried to practice his scowl in front of his mirror.” Consider what political commentator and former legislative aide Chris Matthews said about Senator Ed Muskie of Maine: “Why tangle with the guy? Why ruin your day? A bad temper is a very powerful political tool because most people don’t like confrontation.”

Get it now!

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  1. Interesting review Alex.

    Reading the excerpt I actually don’t like the conclusion that people who are frequently angry is seen as powerful. It’s not because the conclusion is wrong it’s just that I hate the fact that it’s the truth. There are people out there who manipulate their anger to achieve what they want.

    I despise anger and I despise myself if I’m angry. Although, I can accept anger from people who can use it well and not just using it for the sake of controlling others.


    Ha! I’m just about to go to a medical school in Australia next month and I’m intrigued with you saying :

    “I have done some outrageous things,stuff that a normal medical student would not dream of doing.”

    It makes me wonder…

    • Hey Wan,

      You’re right that there are people who manipulate their anger to get what they want. It works because people don’t like confrontations, so they will usually give in.

      Like anything, anger is a only a tool. It is not the only way to getting what you want. If you are personally against using anger as a weapon, then don’t use it. But understand that it could be used against you.

      Ha, ha …

      And about my “outrageous things,” you can interpret it as good or bad. But one thing is for sure … it’s exciting.

      • When I think about it, I can only accept anger from people I admire or trust. Righteous anger perhaps? Haha maybe I’ll use anger one day but when that time comes, I need to make sure that I am a person worthy of being angry at others.

        Yeah, it’s a bit personal really. You see I had a teacher once who loves to be angry at others and deep down I feel like I want to punch or scold him back. But subconsciously I try to repress that hatred because I think that it’s a dark side of me.

        Looking back I realized people use anger to make them authoritative and if you are the superior such as teacher is the superior for students and father is the superior for child, the more likely they feel that their anger is justified and they’ll tell stuff such as ‘I’m angry at you because I love you.’ I still question the validity of that statement till this day.

        Ironically, I guest posted about anger in another blog -http://www.thebridgemaker.com/3-lessons-to-see-anger-in-a-new-way/ and the first two main points are “Anger needs to be focused” and “Anger is not an evil emotion”. Anger is actually not evil but there are many people who used it for evil ways and that’s anger is always seen as negative.

        And I like how you describe your outrageous things – it’s exciting. I actually don’t really care if it’s good or bad because I know that each one of us has their own moral compass that’s ultra-subjective. People can do what they want and if I think that what they do is bad then that’s only my opinion.

  2. My Father is the type to express his anger. I have seen him angry and talking down some burly dudes at his construction job. When i saw that i was like one of these days some one is going to punch him in the face! He has always done that ever since i could remember and the funny thing is that people would actually fold right away.

    Expressing anger although powerful should not be the only skill to use. There are many others like knowing how to handle people, knowing how to speak and motivate them etc. I know for me expressing my anger is easy and i have used here at work while getting frustrated at some issue i cannot solve or at some person. I would bang my fists on my desk as hard as i can so that everyone hears me. You know these users quickly leave me alone and i do not get bothered for the rest of the day! I know its bad and i do feel bad about it later but a man has to do what a man has to do.

    It sounds like a great read Alex and also great post!


    • Jose,

      You’re right that anger is not the only skill to use. There are many others. Frankly, for me, I rarely get angry. I only use it defensively. But when I do, I am in total control of myself.

      If the only tool you have is anger, soon enough, no one will want to be around you. And it isn’t great either. Judging from our interactions in the past, I’ll say that you use it sparingly as well.

  3. Hi Alex,

    I personally see anger as a weakness and is a sure sign of one who lacks confidence and self-control. To me, people who express anger often fall into the same category of those who complain about everything but don’t take action to better themselves. What’s worse is that they expect other people to fix their problems. There is no logic in this.
    When people get angry at me (which is never), I just smile in their face because I really don’t care what they think. (It’s a dog eat dog world, as it should be, and one has to have the borderline mentally of a sociopath not only to survive, but to thrive.)
    I will on occasion get angry at myself for not exercising my foresight. In other words, I should have known better. We can’t change the past, so the best we can do is not to repeat our mistakes. Keep the following quote in your mind at all times, and I’ll guarantee that you can prevent about 99% of any anger that might be directed your way:
    “Wolves don’t lose sleep over the opinions of sheep.”
    That being said, there is a place for anger if it is used in due season. Just keep in mind that anger, just like any other emotion, has to be provoked. But if anger is harnessed in the proper way and employed in a constructive and thoughtful manner, it is actually quite beneficial. Moderation is key here.
    I could write books (maybe libraries) about human emotions. Let’s face it: Man is not a logical creature, but a creature of emotion. It saddens me deeply how docile the vast majority of people are and how easily they can be manipulated into doing or thinking just about anything. Does anyone possess any critical or analytical thinking skills anymore?
    Anyway, I’m just curious, what made you want to become a doctor, Alex?
    The Great Bob

    • Alex Ding says:

      Hey Bob,

      Good to hear from you. Where have you been hiding?

      Your opinion regarding anger is understandable. Anger is a misunderstood emotion — often associated to loss of self-control, and often with good reason. But being angry does not necessary mean a loss of control. Even Jesus expressed anger, but he did not lose control. It is a sign of conviction.

      Wanting to right wrongs.

      Wanting to seek justice.

      Wanting a fair opportunity.

      Wanting to get your way.

      Those with conviction are more likely to get their way. Most people don’t have any deep desire in life, which is why they fear those with intense emotions (which some people may call “craziness”). Intense sadness, intense madness, and intense gladness. As long as it is intense, it is scary.

      And regarding if people possess analytical thinking skills, I think those people who are the engineers, programmers, and mathematicians are very, very analytical. Some may even have Asperger syndrome — super left-brain dominant. They are the minority, as most people are emotional. Rather than getting sad about emotions, use it to your advantage. =)

      It is actually kinda funny how I became a doctor. Short answer is that I made a mistake that I will not repeat ever again. Maybe I’ll talk about it in another article.

  4. Bob Smith says:

    Hi Alex,
    I’ve been reading a lot and contemplating my next career move. That first step is always the hardest!
    As regards to you mentioning Jesus and his anger, one event comes to mind. (It’s been a long time since I read the Bible, so please forgive me if I don’t get the story right.) Anyway, one day a hungry Jesus comes upon a fig tree and gets upset that it is barren. He then curses the fig tree (and I think he kills it) for not having fruit when it’s not in season! Does this make any sense to you? I’m sure he had a lesson to be taught in this demonstration of power, but I think it’s a messed up way to show it. I guess it would be like cursing a banana tree for not producing pecans. Why would he get mad at something (the fig tree) for doing what Nature (or God) intended it to do? Sometimes I just throw in the towel, so to speak, and give up trying to make sense out of the craziness that surrounds us.
    When I mention people not having analytical skills I was talking about sheeple (the masses). Time and again we see it in politics. People get duped by the same promises over and over again like a broken record. History repeats itself. I have come to the conclusion that most people have horrible memories. Oh well.
    I almost went that route to becoming a doctor. I might still do it. I devour every book I can on human anatomy and physiology. But what amazes me the most is how HARD it is to kill a person. (I’m not advocating killing, I’m just trying to make a point.) I mean people smoke, drink, don’t exercise, treat their bodies like crap by eating garbage but the life force is so potent that the body will usually self-correct itself…up to a point.
    I guess the biggest reason I didn’t become a doctor is that I feel it’s turning into a profit motivated industry that doesn’t care about treating disease but rather treating the symptoms.
    I can’t turn on the TV (I don’t watch TV, but let’s pretend I do) without seeing an ad about depression and them telling me some pill will cure me. Messing with people’s minds in a chemical way is a very dangerous thing in my opinion. So many people are doped up on these medications and the pharmaceutical companies don’t care because all they see is dollar signs. I thank my lucky stars I don’t take any meds to cure my depression. The last thing I need is a chemical dependency. Life is not fair, but I’d rather take it like it is than be in a zombie-like state and pretending that all is ok.
    I am reminded of the Hippocratic Oath that makes SO MUCH SENSE. It states:
    “First, do no harm.”
    I am sure you are familiar with it but I can’t help but thinking that some doctors tend to pile more and more subscriptions on their (victims) patients that are not necessary. Maybe the pharmaceutical companies give them incentives to push their drugs on people that don’t need them. Who knows?
    With the overuse of antibiotics, we are creating some superbugs that are going to be virtually impossible to get rid of in the future. I guess the phrase “What doesn’t kill me, only makes me stronger” especially applies here. I’m sure you have heard of nosocomial infections?
    Anyways, I have begun eating only natural foods for about the last year or so and I feel great. (Interesting how the “organic” foods cost more but I will pay it without hesitation because my health is on the line and I can’t put a price on that.)However, it’s so hard to find foods in the supermarket without preservatives or high fructose corn syrup, or salt, or sugar or any other chemicals. This stuff can’t be good for us. We are turning our back on Mother Nature and we are paying the price with unprecedented levels of obesity and, in my opinion, astronomically high rates of mental disease. Perhaps if we start demanding better foods there will be more of it. We ultimately vote with our money when we buy “garbage.” It sends the message to the manufacturers to keep making this “poison.” Anyway, you won’t find me in a McDonalds.
    Sorry, if I ramble on too much. Brevity, and organized thoughts, were never part of my bag of strengths. Till next time!

    • Alex Ding says:


      Good point on Jesus and the fig tree. When He cursed the fig tree, I don’t think he was angry. But it does show a side of Jesus not many people know about.

      Most know him as someone who dies on the cross and takes up any punishment like a good little lamb. But there is another side of him as judge.

      One explanation is that the cursing of the fig tree is supposed to symbolize something else. With the cursing of the fig tree, He was symbolically denouncing Israel as a nation and, in a sense, even denouncing unfruitful “Christians” (that is, people who profess to be Christian but have no evidence of a relationship with Christ).

      Oh, and you’re right that medicine is a profit-motivated industry. It always has been. But the winners are not doctors. They are the insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, lawyers, etc. But not doctors.

      I wouldn’t suggest going into medicine as a doctor.

      You’re on the right track. Eating well and exercising enough will help you live better and longer than the pills. Pills are promoted more often because there is more money to be made there.

  5. Hey Alex, you’re a medical student?

    No wonder if you are. You have some pretty deep and developed thoughts and explanations.

    Ps: My roommate is preparing for med school now and it looks like the hardest thing ever. Got any tips?

    • Hey Sebastian,

      I am, but I’ll be done with school pretty soon.

      As for your roommate, I would advise him not to go. It just isn’t worth it. But if he is set on going, then tell him the best way to survive is to keep up with the work. Do a bit daily (kinda like developing a skill).

  6. BOB!! As always brother you put down some great comments!

    • Bob Smith says:

      Thanks, Jose!
      For the record I was never taught anything of value by the losers I use to associate myself with. If you lie down with dogs…you will wake up with fleas.
      I had to take the initiative to better myself and the very first step was to distance myself from people that did absolutely nothing to improve their lot in life. It wasn’t easy, but nothing in life worth having ever is.
      Life is hard, brother! It really doesn’t make much sense in making it harder.
      Besides, you want to know what the definition of insanity is? It’s doing the same old things over and over again and expecting different results.
      Anyways, thanks for the compliment, Jose. It means a lot coming from a person such as yourself because you seem to have such a good head on your shoulders. I wish you the best of luck in getting what you want because you certainly deserve it. Till next time!


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