Blog: Want Power? Say Goodbye to Freedom

Want power and influence in the workplace? You can have it if you’re prepared to court it, but you can forget about freedom if that is what you want, according to management guru Jeff Pfeffer.

Pfeffer, who CIO readers met in a 2006 article about the book he co-authored with Stanford Professor Bob Sutton called Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management (Harvard Business School Press), says give him freedom any day.

But for those who want to be a major power in an organization, Pfeffer will soon have a new book out on how to build up your influence at work.

Pfeffer, the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, has published extensively in the fields of organization theory and human resource management. His Web page at Stanford says his current research focuses on the relationship between time and money, power and leadership in organizations, economics language and assumptions and their effects on management practice, how social science theories become self-fulfilling, barriers to turning knowledge into action and how to overcome them, and evidence-based management - what it is, barriers to its use, and how to implement it.

And Pfeffer’s research, according to friend Bob Sutton’s Work Matters blog, demonstrates clearly that getting power involves building relationships with people you don’t necessarily like by, for instance, taking on numerous obligations, both social and professional. It means dining with and courting enemies and those in power whenever possible. Above all it means working – hard – at gaining power and influence at every possible opportunity, however unpleasant the duties that entails and the company it forces one to keep.

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Pfeffer’s book, Sutton says, provides empirically sound steps (often based on his own research) about how people who want power should identify the most powerful people and groups, and try to court them, as well as engaging in a host of other behaviours Sutton says he has rarely seen Pfeffer display.

So Sutton asked his friend why he writes about the many ways to gain power without using most of them in his own life. Pfeffer reply was along the lines of: “You can have influence or you can have freedom, but you can't have both. I prefer freedom, my book is for people who prefer to have a lot of influence in an organization."

“Indeed, a key implication of Jeff's research is that if you want to have power, you need to spend your life around lots of other people, often people you don't necessarily like or would choose to socialize with otherwise, and to constantly be thinking of ways to wield influence over them to your advantage,” Sutton writes.

For many CIOs, of course, the choice is far from simple. A degree of freedom remains a distant dream, but CIOs know that any attempt to be effective as a CIO without having a great deal of influence would be a nonsense. If getting things done means courting people they dislike, that is the price they must pay. Perhaps freedom will have to wait until they retire.