Leadership Hints From Jeff Pfeffer

Jeff Pfeffer recently shared some very powerful extracts from his most recent book with McKinsey & Co and today we’ll be having a look at how some of his insights could radically improve your own leadership skills. 

If you haven’t already come across Jeff Pfeffer you will probably recognize titles such as Power: Why Some People Have it And Others Don’t and The Human Equation: Building Profits By Putting People First. These are titles that will ring bells for those with even the scantest knowledge of business literature — or anyone who has ever browsed an airport bookshop. 

And there’s a good reason why people sit up and take notice when Pfeffer talks. As the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford, Jeff Pfeffer can lay claim to being one of the most influential business leadership theorists around. Here we will be digging into a few of the ideas he has shared about how to maximize your value as a leader.

Power comes from power-bases

This is perhaps the key truth that natural leaders intuitively grasp. Luckily for the rest of we can learn much of what it takes to leverage this idea. At its heart, this simple truth harnesses the idea that in order to create power it is necessary to make yourself as useful as possible to as many people as possible. This is not the same as making everybody like you. Build around yourself a network of people who value your efficacy and you’ll be amazed at the influence you can build out of thin air.


You can only be influential in so far as you are relevant to your situation. If you do not tailor yourself to your circumstances you may find yourself being ignored. Times change and it is a vital quality that all great leaders have that they can adapt their skill-sets to the evolving reality.

Learn how to influence

As Pfeffer points out, everyone is susceptible to the same methods of interpersonal influence: ”tactics that depend on the norm of reciprocity, accepting and obeying authority (or its symbols), the power of liking, the value created by scarcity, and the tendency to escalate levels of commitment, even in the face of negative outcomes”. Each one of these simple ideas has the potential for tremendous results in your interpersonal relationships.

Pick your battles

Something that Pfeffer repeats over and over again is the idea that in order to achieve your ultimate aims you may have to sacrifice subordinate ones. In the real world it is not always possible to have your cake and eat it. Sometimes it is necessary to choose one thing over another. Pick your battles to ensure that you always give priority to your key goals.


Leadership is about so much more than popularity or being good at tasks. It’s about building power structures and networks that make you an invaluable asset to all those around you.