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Q&A With Stanford Business School Professor and Harvard Business School Visiting Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer


Pfeffer discusses his seven rules for power.

Jeffrey Pfeffer, PhD

Jeffrey Pfeffer, PhD

In this installment of the Harvard Business School Healthcare Alumni Association (HBSHAA) Q&A series, Stanford Business School Professor and Harvard Business School Visiting Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer talks to Pharmaceutical Executive contributor Michael Wong about how to apply his seven rules of power to gain control of one’s career journey.

Wong:For employees whose roles are at the intersection of technology and biopharma, recurring rescinded tech job offers and restructurings like Novartis’ 8% downsizing have created an additional layer of stress for employees. In your new book, 7 Rules of Power, your provocative research points to a potential blueprint that workers might use to regain control of their careers and increase their happiness. Still, with this playbook based upon power—a topic which HBS professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter stated makes people feel uncomfortable—should readers perhaps instead double down on their efforts to be a well-liked team member at work?

Pfeffer: As I shared last year at the Stanford CEO Summit1, most people worry excessively about being liked by others, and they agonize about what others think about them. The reality is that most other people are thinking about their favorite topic, which is, of course, themselves. They are not thinking about you. Instead, people are going to evaluate you not so much on whether you are likable, but rather if you are able to get things done. And so, it is crucial to make sure that leaders, who have the power and matter in your career progression, notice that job performance and advocate for your advancement.

As they are focused on themselves though, you need to network and have a personal brand so that these advocates can understand the value that you bring not only to the organization but to their own personal career agendas. Remember, if your continued sales quota attainments reflect well upon an advocate’s personal brand of being a leader who develops rainmakers for the company, it is logical that they will support your career goals. But given today’s popular corporate culture of modesty and work-from-home environments, do not assume that current and prospective powerful advocates understand your personal brand and value.

Wong: With the continued uncertainty of workforce and workplace dynamics, what is a path forward?

Pfeffer: First, even if you are currently happy at your present employer, carve out time each month to build career options for yourself. As I have shared with my Stanford students and professionals2, even if you are employed by Apple, which earlier this year was recognized on Fortune’s Most Admired Companies’ list for a record 15th year in a row3, employment is at will4. So, identify forums, such as in-person alumni events and online content creation like LinkedIn posts, to connect with powerful people who can become your advocates.

Second, be visible—that means in-person engagement. Think about all of your advocates over time; from applying to college, to applying to your first job, to applying for graduate school. Of them, how many people did you engage with in person vs. online? As we have learned during the pandemic, body language5 often gets lost during conference calls, and it is so important to be able to connect effectively with those in power, who are being asked by [rising talent] how they stack up against their peers for the selective schools and employers that most people crave.

Finally, consider my 7 Rules of Power, as it provides a playbook for increasing your ability to get things done, including increasing the positive effects of your job performance6. Rooted firmly in social science research, the seven rules are:
1) Get out of your own way.
2) Break the rules.
3) Show up in powerful fashion.
4) Create a powerful brand.
5) Network relentlessly.
6) Use your power.
7) Understand that once you have acquired power, what you did to get it will be forgiven, forgotten, or both.

These principles go beyond tech and the biopharma sector; they are relevant from startups to Fortune 500 companies, regardless of industry. By embracing these ideas, positive change can take place as early as eight to 10 weeks from commencement.

Jeffrey Pfeffer, PhD, is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University, where he has taught since 1979. He received his BS and MS degrees from Carnegie-Mellon University and his PhD from Stanford. Pfeffer has been a visiting professor at the Harvard Business School, Singapore Management University, London Business School, and Copenhagen Business School, and for the past 14 years a visitor at IESE in Barcelona.

Michael Wong is an emeritus board member of the Harvard Business School Healthcare Alumni Association.


  1. Stanford CEO Summit, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xqPJ4dW6660
  2. Leadership BS, Jeffrey Pfeffer, Google Talks, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFXcqSUi3EI
  3. https://appleinsider.com/articles/22/02/02/apple-tops-most-admired-companies-list-for-15th-year-in-a-row
  4. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/employment-at-will_doctrine
  5. Rimbey, Beth, “If you want to change the world, you need power,” Stanford Graduate School of Business, Oct. 13, 2020
  6. https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/faculty-research/books/7-rules-power-surprising-true-advice-how-get-things-done-advance-your-career
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