Boris Johnson, How the Powerful Escape Consequences and Jeff Pfeffer’s Fantastic Book

Rita McGrath
6 min readJul 13, 2022

One of Pfeffer’s 7 rules of power is that “Success Excuses (almost) Everything: Why This is the Most Important Rule of All. Which perhaps explains why Britain’s Boris Johnson was able to hang onto power for so long…. And perhaps why he finally lost it.

Jeffrey Pfeffer is a dear colleague and a long-time faculty member at Stanford University, where he teaches its most popular MBA elective, all about power. He has a great new book out — “7 Rules of Power: Surprising — but true — Advice on How to Get Things Done and Advance Your Career.” I very much enjoyed our LinkedIn Live conversation on the topic. If you missed it, you can watch the replay at this link.

What is both enlightening (and a little disturbing) about the book is how clearly it lays out that the world we would like to think we live in — one in which authenticity, transparency, honesty and so on prevail — is not the world we live in. As he points out, to win at any game you need to understand the rules. There’s no point complaining that you don’t like the rules of baseball if your ambition is to play in the World Series. Similarly, it’s a waste of breath to complain that you don’t like the rules of human social order if you want to triumph in that game. As he points out, if you want to change the world for the better, you need to have power. That’s because those who have power today create systems to keep it that way!

The Seven Rules

Rule 1: Get Out of Your Own Way

This rule basically says that if you think going for power is unethical, unpleasant or not for you, you are highly unlikely to succeed at getting it. Of note is the “imposter syndrome,” that uneasy feeling that many extremely accomplished people have that they don’t deserve the accolades they’ve received or don’t belong amongst a group of other distinguished people. Jeff suggests, start there — if you don’t believe you deserve to be in a powerful position, nobody else is likely to either.

Rule 2: Break the rules

Most of us conform to accepted social norms. After all, in an organized society, you can’t have everybody just doing their own thing. The paradox, however…

Rita McGrath

Columbia Business School Professor. Thinkers50 top 10 & #1 in strategy. Bestselling author of The End of Competitive Advantage & Seeing Around Corners.