Monday, October 8, 2007

Power in organizations

(writing from Denver airport after a perfect weekend in Boulder, CO with close friends - what a beautiful place to live)

Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer wrote a very insightful book more than 25 years ago called “Power in Organizations” – and has of course written numerous follow ups over the years.

His studies on power are essential reading for anyone wanting to understand how power is captured and consolidated in organizations and companies. In essence the lesson is as follows:

The ability to consolidate power comes from two sources – people who know WHAT to do, and people who know HOW to get it done. Most people have only one or the other of these skills. Power accumulates to people who have both. They know both what to do AND how to get it done.

Think about all the people you’ve worked with, especially in startups. There are the strategists, the dreamers who can see the possibilities but don’t know how to make it happen. There are the operations types who are very good at executing through projects, but don’t come up with the exciting new ideas, and then there are the few who do both. They know where to go and how to get there – and what’s magical about those type of people is that other people want to follow. We all want to be on a team that’s going to set a great goal and get to the goal. And so we give power to those people – politicians, CEOs, product managers, surgeons.

I read Pfeffer’s book very early in my career. I’d probably been out of college just a couple of years, and I took the message to heart and tried to ensure that I would get experience that would teach me both essential skills – the what and the how - plus I like to surround myself with executives who are natural leaders and know how to manage power for the good of the company.

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