The 48 Laws of Power aka The Dark Side of Leadership

Laws of “Power”

Law 3: Conceal your intentions

“Use false sincerity and misleading signals.” Hold your cards so close to your chest that no one ever knows what to expect. Off to a rolicking start here and a great way to get everyone to immediately distrust you.

Law 4: Say less than necessary

This is one I can get behind. Too many times we use loose language to fill the air when making a point, but in most cases, we can be more succinct and direct. Greene wants you to say less in order to manipulate people into trying to please you even further, by filling the silence for you by guessing what you’re thinking. One of my favorite things to pass on from other books (especially for 1:1s) is “never miss an opportunity to shut your mouth.” Taking this law into consideration as active listening instead of subtle manipulation is a better way to go.

Law 6: Get others to do the work for you but always take the credit

WHAT AM I READING?! I’m trying to think about two things on this law. The first is around how I would feel if I found out someone was taking credit for my work. It’s happened before. Back in school, someone stole my entire source code from a portfolio site, changed a few things and turned it in as their own. I was livid. I confronted the person and never trusted them again. I assume the same would happen now if someone took credit for an initiative or major project we were running. The second thought is how gross I would feel taking credit for my team’s work. No easier way to stifle collaboration than taking credit for something someone else did.

Law 9: Win through your actions, never through argument

Okay, I can get behind this one, but again, with a twist. For me, it’s more about “actions speak louder than words” or the “show, don’t tell” aspect of getting folks aligned when you feel you’re at a standstill. Greene would prefer you to crush your enemies thoroughly and not waste words. Essentially he wants you to embarrass them through dominance.

Law 11: Learn to keep people dependent on you

Do you like vacation? Do you want your teams to falter any time you look away? Then follow this law. When you stifle growth by forcing people to be dependent on you, you limit both them and yourself. If everything falls apart when you are gone, you will never be looked at for promotion or stretch goals. Learn to delegate and challenge your teams, otherwise, you’ll end up stagnating pretty quick.

Law 18: Do not build fortresses to protect yourself

Isolation is dangerous. Again, Greene takes a bizzaro approach to this, but it’s something we should strive for. Collaboration on all levels makes our work better.

Law 26: Conceal your mistakes, have a scapegoat around to take the blame

Also referred to by Greene as “The fall of the favorite,” or “let someone else be the executioner,” this law makes sure you are never seen as unreliable or unable to be trusted. It also means no one will ever want to work for you in fear they will be the next to be thrown under the blame bus.

Law 28: Enter Action With Boldness

Starts off great with “Timidity is dangerous” then rapidly U-turns to “Boldness strikes fear. Fear creates authority.” Yikes. I know that’s 100% how I like to operate. By making everyone fear me (heavy sarcasm). Fear is a leadership lever that once pulled is hard to undo and folks will learn to avoid you.

Law 33: Discover each man’s thumbscrew

“Determine the weaknesses of those around you. Always seem interested to get people to let their guard down. BREAK THEM. Feed on uncontrolled emotion.” Oof. Should you want to know weaknesses of your team and peers? Yes, but more for knowing where you can fill those gaps or help make the team stronger. Not to crush folks into a fine powder.

Just a photo of a happy Corgi to break things up a bit.

Law 35: Master the art of timing

“Learn to stand back when the time is not yet ripe. Anticipate the twists and turns. Hurriers may get there quicker, but they leave behind them a flurry of paper.” I can actually get behind this one. Not every project is going to be a “must do it now” project, and understanding the benefits of stepping back to get a better view of everything can be beneficial. I’ve come to appreciate this one quite a bit as we start enacting our work in 2021.

Law 39: Stir up waters to catch fish

Haven’t had any issues in a while? Greene argues that you should stir up trouble to re-assert dominance. Facepalm. Sure, sure, let’s just cause more problems for our already dependent-on-everything-we-do teams (if you accidentally followed Law 11).

Other talking points presented by Greene:

  • Better to be slandered and attacked than ignored
  • Ask indirect questions to get people to reveal their weaknesses.
  • Keep other people in suspense; keep them off-balance and they will wear themselves out
  • Do not commit to any side or cause
  • Become wizards in the accumulation of influence
  • Bring only good news to your superior, have others bring bad news
  • Do not be the court cynic
  • How to create a cult in 5 easy steps (yes, this is a real section of this book)
  • Avoid the temptation of showing how clever you are
  • The way you carry yourself will often determine how you are treated

Other Titles For This Book:

  • Rise fast, fall faster: The Icarus Secret
  • How to guarantee no one will ever want to work for you
  • Abuse Your Employees: How Mental Manipulation Leads To You Feeling Good About Yourself

Conclusion

It’s hard for me to recommend this book without a lot of caveats, but again, if you’re a new leader or new manager, it may be worth reading through with a skeptical eye to understand where your values lie. What do you think, am I being too hard on Greene? Am I super off base? Would be curious to know how others have read and thought about this book.

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John Hartley

John Hartley

Engineering leader with a passion for building and growing teams. Writing mostly about leadership and management in the tech industry. Mentor @ Plato.