Power is not the root of all evil. There are many lessons from history which help us to understand human nature better and how it works to our benefit. Some might call it manipulation; others may see it as perfecting the art of persuasion. It really is just about personal power.
The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene is a book that outlines 48 lessons we can learn from history about how power plays out either favorably or unfavorably. Sometimes the actions we take deliver unintended consequences.
Over the next few months, I will share his 48 lessons with you; hopefully you may find some insight into how to work more effectively with your boss or organization. I would love to hear if you agree or disagree with his philosophy.
Employees often feel they must be the shining star to deserve a promotion. Or it might just be the ticket to the other direction down to the basement. Greene shares a few stories from history where people aspire to move up, only to find themselves in jail. Why? Because they pose a threat to their leader.
In one case, the finance minster believes they will receive the promotion to prime minister after the prime minister dies. The King however, decided to eliminate the position. Not too unlike what may happen in your organization. The prime minister became wary and decided to throw a lavish party, honoring the King. He believed all this attention would please the King. The prime minister invites influential people, brings in the best caterers to host the event at his newly renovated Chateau. It backfires. The King finds a reason to throw him jail. The King did not feel appreciation, he feels insecure.
Think about the last time you may have meant to do something for you boss and it backfired. What could you have done differently?
Always make those above you feel comfortably superior. In your desire to please or impress them, do not go too far in displaying your talents or you might accomplish the opposite – inspire fear and insecurity. Make your masters appear more brilliant than they are and you will attain the heights of power.
Green says, “Everyone has insecurities.” There are two truths he focuses in on which often play out in organizations. I would suggest this holds especially true in highly political organizations.
- Just being yourself may in fact be enough to create insecurity.
- There are bosses out there who are insecure no matter what you do.
Greene suggests discreet flattery as the most powerful approach to stay in the good graces of your boss. Outshining your boss creates situations where the boss may look for reasons to get you out of their organization rather than support your upward climb. No one wants to be appear dumber than the people they manage.
Include your boss as part of the solution, even if you did the idea or work. A dose of humility can go a long way.
What happens if your boss is falling out of favor with the organization? One of two situations will like be occurring: their influence is gradually eroding or it could be in a free fall. Different situations often warrant different approaches.
In a gradual decline, there may be ample opportunity to show your talents at pivotal times, whereas if their departure is eminent, it might be best to let it happen on its own course. You don’t want the organization thinking you were the last one kicking the boss as they walk out the door.