What Makes People Powerful?

(Forbes) What Makes People Powerful

A new book, Power: Why Some People Have it and Others Don’t, by Jeffrey Pfeffer of the Stanford University Graduate School of Business cites research to explain the traits that build power. We asked Pfeffer to pair some of his lessons about power with Forbes’ heavy-hitters–from politicians to technology moguls–who possess them.

Steve Jobs

Jobs, CEO of Apple and No. 42 on the Forbes 400 list, shows the wisdom of Machiavelli’s observation that it’s better to be feared than loved. “He’s a smart guy, and he’s very tough,” Pfeffer says. “He illustrates another principle, which is that likeability is highly overrated. If you get power, the likeability will follow. People love to be associated with success.”

Bill Gates

Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft and the richest person in America, is a lesson in seizing opportunity, says Pfeffer. “Part of this is luck. Part of it is being in the right place at the right time, having the opportunity and understanding how to build on it.”

Larry Ellison

Both Gates and Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle and No. 3 on the Forbes 400 list, serve as a reminder that while being focused on winning might not earn you friends, it’s a proven method for getting ahead. “Some people who are successful work very hard and are very competitive,” says Pfeffer. “When you’re talking about Larry Ellison or Bill Gates … it’s not their most attractive quality, but it contributes to their success. They’re persistent, resilient, and hard-charging.”



Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook cofounder and CEO and No. 35 of the Forbes 400, Zuckerberg list was recently portrayed in an unflattering light in the movie The Social Network. People can miss the lessons they could learn from studying successful individuals if they give into the temptation to oversimplify their characters. “If you overly idealize people, you miss their flaws. If you overly demonize, you cut people off from examples that could be helpful,” says Pfeffer.

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