Culture & Society

If You Want to Change the World, You Need Power (1)

Motivating teams requires ambition, confidence, and empathy.

October 13, 2020

| by Beth Rimbey

“If you want to change lives, and particularly if you want to change organizations and if you want to change the world, you need power,” says Jeffrey Pfeffer, the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business. In this video, Pfeffer reveals the seven essential personal qualities you need to build organizational power and influence.

Personal Power

If you want to change lives, and particularly if you want to change organizations and if you want to change the world, you need power.

There are really a couple of major categories of sources of power. One is kind of personal qualities, which you can develop, and there are a bunch of them…


One is ambition. And that’s because there is seldom acquisition of power or triumph in competitive situations without hard work, and there’s not going to be hard work if you’re not sufficiently motivated to achieve something. So ambition is fundamental because, without ambition, you’re not going to be willing or able to expend the effort required to be successful.


All emotions are contagious. Confidence is contagious. If you act confident, people will believe that you know what you’re doing, and people will be more interested in following you and doing what you want them to do.

Part of being a leader is you need to act like a leader is expected to act. And so acting is a very important skill for exercising power. I mean, Amy Cuddy’s book Presence talks about physical and expansive posture versus contracting posture. And the fact that if you are in a more expansive posture, you actually feel differently and people will react to you differently. So body language is important. Of course acting skills are important and speaking skills are important and the ability to persuade and influence others and choosing the right words and to choose vivid words and to use vivid examples. These are all important components of the influence process.


Everybody, regardless of how intelligent and charming they are, is going to face setbacks. So the question then becomes not are you going to suffer a reversal of fortune? The question becomes what are you going to do when that setback arises? And the people who tend to be the most successful are those who have persistence and resilience, and to basically wear down the opposition simply by keeping at it.


Energy is another thing, like confidence, which is contagious. If you have high energy, people will be attracted to you. I mean, everybody can think of times when they’ve been around low-energy people, and their energy goes down. They’re around high-energy people, and their energy goes up. So yes, you have to be energetic, and you have to have enough energy to basically outlast and outwork many other people.


If I want to influence you, I need to understand what rings your bell or pushes your button or whatever phrase you want to use, so that I am then able to craft my message and craft what I offer you in ways that are consistent with what you want.

Most people worry excessively about being liked by others, and they worry about what others are thinking about them. So the first thing I would say is that most of the other people that you encounter in this world are thinking about their favorite topic, which is, of course, themselves. They are not thinking so much about you.

People are going to evaluate you not so much on whether you’re likable, but they’re going to evaluate you, and particularly in work organizations, about whether or not you’re able to get stuff done. Leaders are hired to accomplish things. And if you worry excessively about making everybody happy, you won’t accomplish very much.

Honesty Doesn’t Get You Far

Authenticity and the idea of authenticity basically gives people an excuse to not change, to not adapt. So, instead of being true to yourself, you need to be true to what other people around you need from you. This idea that you need to be authentic is insane.

Let us say you are an entrepreneur. And let us say, things don’t go well. So you can come in to your organization and say, “We’ve had this setback and that setback. And by the way, I don’t know what to do.” You will lose your employees, your investors, and your customers, or you can do what great start-up and entrepreneurs do, which is to say, “We have this problem, and I know how to fix it, and this is what we’re going to do.” And then you can motivate people, and they will stay with you, and you will have investors and employees and customers.

So if you are not able to put on a positive face in the face of adversity, you’re not going to succeed as an entrepreneur. Now, we can call this lying. We can call it strategic misrepresentation. You can call it what you want, but you have to be able to convince people to stay with you. And if you come in and say, “I don’t know what to do,” you’re done.

Accept the World to Change the World

You see on a daily basis that the world is not a just and fair place. So people need to accept the world as it is. It’s an interesting, fascinating, wonderful place. And with sufficient amounts of intellectual curiosity and interest in how the world works, you can get beyond your feelings and emotions to be clinical about how it is and how people behave and how to influence them and how to get them on your side and all of the things you need to do in order to be effective to change lives, change organizations, change the world.

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