Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don't | Summary and Q&A

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November 4, 2010
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Stanford Graduate School of Business
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Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don't

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Summary

In this video, the speaker discusses the barriers to having power. She emphasizes that the biggest barrier is ourselves. We often limit our own power by being afraid to take chances or make trade-offs. We worry about what others, especially our peers, think of us and fear not being liked or accepted. We also struggle with accepting hierarchies and tend to see the world as fair and just, which leads to complacency. The speaker suggests that being strategic, open-minded, and willing to make sacrifices are essential for acquiring power.

Questions & Answers

Q: What is the biggest barrier to having power?

The biggest barrier to having power is ourselves. We are often unwilling to take the necessary actions or make the required trade-offs to have power. We limit ourselves by being afraid of taking chances or failing.

Q: Why do we often follow traditional paths instead of seeking niche opportunities?

Many people tend to follow well-trodden paths, such as joining the same firms that hire graduates from their schools. This behavior is influenced by the desire to be liked and accepted by others. However, seeking niche opportunities rather than conforming to established norms can lead to greater power and success.

Q: Why are our peers also our competitors?

Our peers, especially in competitive environments like law firms or consulting companies, are not only our colleagues but also our competitors. In a hierarchical system, some individuals will be promoted while others won't. It is important to recognize that our peers are vying for the same positions and opportunities, and thus, it is crucial to navigate these relationships strategically.

Q: Why are we uncomfortable with hierarchy?

Many of us are uncomfortable with hierarchy and dislike having people tell us what to do. This discomfort with hierarchical authority and the desire for independence can act as a barrier to having power. It is important to recognize that hierarchies exist in various aspects of life and learning to navigate and leverage them can help in acquiring power.

Q: Why do we often think the world is fair and just?

We tend to believe in a just and fair world, which can lead to complacency and less strategic thinking. Many religious traditions include some form of balancing scheme, such as heaven and hell or reincarnation, to explain the lack of immediate justice. However, recognizing and accepting that the world is not always fair allows for a more vigilant and strategic mindset.

Q: Who should we learn from to understand the nuances of acquiring power?

Alongside learning from brilliant and successful individuals who possess excellent interpersonal skills, it is equally important to learn from people who may not demonstrate these attributes but have still achieved significant success. Understanding the tactics and strategies employed by those who have succeeded despite lacking conventional skills can provide valuable insights into acquiring power.

Q: Why is making the decision to have power difficult?

Acquiring power comes with significant trade-offs and costs. One must be willing to make sacrifices, such as working long hours and interacting with individuals who may be instrumental for achieving goals but not necessarily with whom one naturally aligns. It is a question of deciding whether the benefits of power outweigh the personal sacrifices necessary to obtain it.

Q: What is the difference between spending time strategically versus focusing on fun interactions and relationships?

Time and attention are limited resources, and it is essential to allocate them strategically to achieve power. Focusing solely on fun interactions and relationships may hinder progress and limit exposure to new opportunities. It is crucial to prioritize interactions that can contribute to personal and professional growth, even if they are not always the most enjoyable or comfortable.

Q: Why is it important to interact with a diverse range of people?

Interacting with a diverse range of people, including those outside our close circle of friends, is valuable for acquiring non-redundant information. While close friends tend to have similar social circles and can provide redundant information, weak ties and interactions with new individuals present unique perspectives and opportunities for growth. Stepping out of our comfort zone is necessary for expanding our network and acquiring power.

Q: What sacrifices are required to have power?

Acquiring power often requires significant sacrifices. This can include working long and demanding hours, maintaining relationships with individuals who may be crucial for success but not necessarily personally preferred, and prioritizing strategic actions over personal desires. The price of power is high, and one must decide if they are willing to make the necessary sacrifices.

Takeaways

The biggest barrier to having power is often ourselves. We limit our own power by being afraid to take chances, worrying excessively about what others think of us, and being reluctant to accept hierarchies. It is important to recognize that our peers are not only our colleagues but also our competitors. We tend to see the world as fair and just, which can lead to complacency and less strategic thinking. Acquiring power requires making trade-offs, including sacrificing personal desires, focusing on strategic interactions, and being willing to work hard. Expanding our network and interacting with diverse individuals is essential for acquiring power, as it exposes us to non-redundant information.

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