Whatever organisation you work in, whether it’s a small brokerage, network or large lender, currying favour is an essential part of climbing the corporate ladder.
Have you ever worked with someone of average ability only to find they’ve been promoted above you?
The reality is that while these individuals may have been so-so at their job they are masters at toadying up to the people in charge. You’ve been soundly beaten but there’s no reason why you can’t take advantage of these same skills.
That’s the basic premise of The Concise 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene.
Reading like a how-to guide for The Sopranos, it combines basic ideas to progress professionally with a detailed explanation for each rule. These are backed up by quotations from classical scholars such as Tacitus and Plutarch or past masters of the art of manipulation and war such as Niccolo Machiavelli or Confederate general Stonewall Jackson.
My favourite law is number 16 use absence to increase respect and honour. If you’ve ever queried why the fact that your boss is never around to make decisions actually increases their stock in the company, wonder no more.
Greene argues that a leader’s time is like a commodity and if any one individual monopolises the leader’s time then the value of that time naturally falls. So if you are the boss and occasionally feel pangs of guilt when you sneak off to the pub or golf course at midday, leaving your staff hard at it, remember you’re not slacking, you’re creating value through scarcity.
Other laws would probably give the Financial Services Authority cause for concern such as using selective honesty to conceal your true intentions.
In other words, if you’re honest the first time you can create a good positive first impression so people give you the benefit of the doubt once you start lying.
Ditto the importance of keeping your hands clean and using others as unwitting pawns to take the flack when things go wrong.
Similarly, law 11 advises that the art of longevity within any firm is to ensure that people are dependent on you.
Greene gives the example of Henry Kissinger who was kept on in the Richard Nixon White House through many bloodlettings.
It was not because he was the most popular, but because he’d insinuated himself into so many departments that to get rid of him would have thrown a major spanner in the works.
But he cautions that dependence on your services alone may not ensure you keep your head when everyone else is losing theirs.
That same dependence could actually breed resentment in your boss so rather than seeking to be loved, it’s better to create a sense of fear about the consequences of getting rid of you. Quoting Machiavelli, Greene argues that it is better to be feared than loved.
The laws are all pretty cynical and not for the sensitive if you think everyone should just get along this is not the book for you. Frankly it should come with a health warning. If you followed most of the laws to their logical conclusion you’d be a psychopath.
But if you’ve been bruised by company politics and want to ensure you’re on the winning side next time, Greene’s book has some handy tips for manipulating others.
Review by robert thickett