The One Thing You Need to Get Ahead; Debunked

by Lisa Petrilli

This post is serving as the platform from which Steve Woodruff and I will launch #LeadershipChat on Tuesday evening, October 12th at 8:00 pm Eastern Time.  As co-conspirators on this epic (we hope!) adventure we talked about how we wanted to launch this chat – the topic of which is vitally important to both of us for reasons you’ll come to understand as we all spend time together on Tuesday evenings – in a powerful way.  What better way than to discuss, well, you guessed it…power.

The backdrop for this post is an article entitled, “The One Thing You Need to Get Ahead,” which was written by Christine Lee and published in BNET, in which Christine interviews Stanford Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer.  You’ll want to at least peruse this article if you’re planning on participating in Tuesday evening’s chat.

In the article Jeffrey argues that “what you need to succeed in the workplace is, above all, power.” 

One of the challenges in talking about power is agreeing on how to define it.  It has only five letters and yet 32 extraordinarily different definitions at Why do I say “extraordinarily” different? Because of the feeling I get when reading them. 

Some leave me feeling “empowered” – which to me is an uplifting, exalting and enlarging feeling.  Such as:

  • definition 23: to inspire; spur; sustain: “A strong faith in divine goodness powers his life,”
  • definition 3: great or marked ability to do or act; strength; might; force
  • and certainly definition 12:  Often, powers. a deity; divinity: “the heavenly powers.” One might even say should extend this definition to include, with a twist of goddess power…” but, alas, I digress…


Other definitions leave me feeling belittled, irate and in some cases sufficiently hopeless, such as:

  • definition 4.the possession of control or command over others; authority; ascendancy: “power over men’s minds”
  • and definition 32. the powers that be, those in supreme command; the authorities: “The decision is in the hands of the powers that be.”


Can you feel the difference?

So, when I read the article I asked myself, “from which lens should I view this article?” Because, the truth is, it’s all in how you define – and how you apply – your power that determines the height of your success.

If the former, using a very broad definition of this uplifting power that includes empowering, inspiring, motivating, acting with purpose, faith in our vision and in each other, and respecting – genuinely respecting – the divinity of each of us as equal humans, then there are some points Jeffrey makes on which I can agree with him. For example, he states that, “awareness, being tuned in to what’s going on, and looking behind what you see” can help you improve your power at work.  I think this is true.

For example, in my own experience leading teams and motivating direct reports, I discovered that my awareness of their unique strengths, what ignited their passion, and how best to motivate them did enable me to empower them in such a way that they were “aligned for success.” When they were successful, our team was successful, we met our objectives and my value and the team’s value in the organization increased.  This gave us further opportunities to move forward…a cycle of forward movement/power that increased with each rotation.

I also agree with Jeffrey that “will” as he defined it – drive, energy and ambition – along with sensitivity to others and awareness of what their motivations are, are indeed forms of positive power that can be of vital importance to your ability to “get ahead” and be successful. “Will” could be considered the engine powering the train and sensitivity/awareness enables the train to stay on track, avoid unnecessary and diversionary friction, and be eagerly awaited at the station.

Now, whereas in my experience in the corporate world “will” is an absolute necessity for success, sensitivity and awareness are not always found in top executives.  What am I implying? 

In my opinion many executives lack a fundamental ability to be sensitive to – which I view as respectful of – their employees and even their customers, and they balance this lack of positive power with an overabundance of the negative sort (command, force)… You’ve all met these people too.  In some cases they will “get ahead” but I’ll argue profusely that they’re rarely successful. In the end they crash and burn in their careers and I suspect their personal lives are usually devoid of fulfilling relationships.

Other areas of agreement between myself and Jeffrey: the importance of networking as a way to advance in a large organization, which I wrote about in my “Introvert’s Guide to Getting Promoted – Step One” blog post, and the magic of simply asking, which I strongly supported from a corporate perspective in “The Introvert’s Guide to Getting Promoted – the Most Important Step” and from my own personal perspective in, “What I Learned About Networking When I Asked a Stranger for a Kidney.”

But, alas, this is where our paths diverge. 

You see Jeffrey has an entirely different view of networking than I do.  In reading the article my perception is that he sees it as a means to an end.  I see it as a way of life.  I didn’t understand the importance of networking as a young executive, but over time I’ve come to understand that the power of networking lies in the power of genuine, authentic, selfless relationships that are forged over time out of a desire to truly help others succeed.

What fired-up my goddess sensibilities in reading this article is the assertion that,“you are not responsible for your own success. Your burning ambitions, or even your hard work, won’t make you successful. What will make you successful are those people higher up who have power over your career. Your job is to make them want to make you successful. And part of that is hard work and good performance, but part of that are the relationships that you build with them. That’s why hard work isn’t enough.”

If you’ve been reading for a while you’ve watch me share insights from my own transformational journey as I work to own my own personal power after years of mistakenly believing I was earning it from others.  That could not have been further from the truth.

I am the only one responsible for my own success – in my career and in life – and you are the only one responsible for yours.  I am the only one capable of owning my own, enormous personal power and you are the only one capable of owning yours.

Imagine if every free person who subscribes to the theory that people higher up control their careers as well as their destiny, at work and in life, were to own their own power and lay claim to their career destiny.  What could we all create together if we joined together, tapped into our unique and transformational selves, and stopped waiting for those on the “rungs” above us to want to make us successful?

I’m not sure, but I think it would be something incredibly powerful…

What do you think…?

Please share your thoughts in the comments – I cherish the ability to connect with you there!  And remember to stop by Steve’s house tomorrow for his video “counterpoint” which will also be a backdrop for tomorrow night’s #LeadershipChat!

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Photo is Thoroughbred Horse Race by Rennett Stowe.

Why You Must Rethink Your Marketing

How would your marketing change if your goal was to create advocates and not sales?

My brain cells began to ignite when I heard Steve Knox ask that question in the Brains on Fire FIRE Sessions last week.

Really stop and ask yourself that question: How would your marketing change if your goal was to create advocates and not sales? 

It’s not blasphemy – it’s brilliance. As Steve went on to explain, “advocates beget advocates,” (they capture the hearts and minds of others and the truth within your brand), and advocacy decreases acquisition costs and increases loyalty. Increased sales and profitability would be the natural result.

According to Steve, advocacy marketing is the new dimension of marketing that will transform how companies do business. No longer will brands advocate on their own behalf, as they have for the past 100 years.  People will be increasingly enabled to advocate on a brand’s behalf, and those people who we know and trust will become the most powerful advocates of all. 

What will be required for companies to be successful? Real relationships with people…people who will, in turn, become trusted advocates.  But it will all start with relationships with people.

We don’t talk about people much in marketing.  Instead, we talk about consumers and customers and shoppers and clients.  As Steve shared, we are on the verge of these words transforming to “people.”  Because if we want to create advocates we must first create relationships with people, which means we must treat them as people and talk about them as people and yes, alas, we must converse with them as people.

Kathy Sierra wrote a blog post five years ago detailing the results of a study in the Journal of Educational Psychology that showed when the brain thinks it’s in a conversation it will pay more attention and “hold up its end.”  She went on to explain that when you are reading something that is written in a conversational format your brain will register that it’s not in a face-to-face conversation but, because of the conversational tone, it will pay much more attention.  I suspect it will also – dare I imply it – be more likely to become engaged.

She ended her post with a truly brilliant line, “If your brain had a bumper sticker, it would say: I heart conversation.”

How many marketers are putting 2 and 2 together and recognizing that the most obvious and direct route to sales and profitability starts with conversations with individuals – who, at their core, love to converse – that lead to relationships that lead to advocacy?  And how many feel truly fortunate to be working in marketing today when it’s never been easier to start those conversations?

What’s even more exciting? Going a step beyond, as Brains on Fire is doing, and enabling advocates to amplify their passion and ignite movements. 

In an era of price pressures, private label products, global competition and rapid technological improvements to product features, a movement stands apart and cannot be replicated.  It is the competitive advantage that can’t be usurped…

I can think of a number of things I’d encourage my clients to do differently if they courageously asked themselves how they could refocus their energies on creating advocates rather than driving sales.

How about you?  Will you rethink your marketing?

Please share with me in the comments…

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Photo is Heart by Seyed Mostafa Zamani