For the past couple of months, I have been following the reviews of Prof. Jeffrey Pfeffer’s new book, titled: Power: Why Some People Have It—and Others Don’t (disclaimer: Prof. Pfeffer interviewed me for one of the individual case studies listed in the book).
The book is quite controversial (with a heavy dosage of Machiavellianism) as it describes what it takes to succeed in the corporate world, and many of the qualities he lists have nothing to do with actual performance. Some of the more notable ones are self-promotion, ability to manage upwards, building relationships, cultivating a reputation for control and authority, and perfecting a powerful demeanor. My favorite quote from the book is:
As long as you keep your boss or bosses happy, performance really does not matter that much and, by contrast, if you upset them, performance won’t save you.
For someone that has been brought up in a utopian environment where first and foremost performance matters, Prof. Pfeffer’s findings have been bothering me quite a bit. I tried to draw on my own personal experiences based on my years as a consultant and employee of early-stage and large corporations, and have distilled these ‘symptoms’ to one word: accountability (or lack thereof).
Over the past 20 years, I have seen many individuals rise to the top (and a few fall off not so gracefully) simply because they were masterful in managing upwards. They were extremely adept in convincingly promising things they knew could not deliver and then timing their moves to even bigger roles before they had a chance to fail.
What gives me a glimmer of hope are the numerous studies I have been seeing recently on the increasing CEO turnover. A 2007 study on this subject by Booz found that overall CEO turnover increased by 59% between 1995-2006, and performance-related turnover increased by 318%. More recent statistics seem to indicate that CEO turnover may have even nudged a bit higher in the past 3-4 years.
What do you believe? Does this resonate based on your own personal experiences? To paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi, do you wish to ‘be the change you want to see in the world’?