Jeffrey Pfeffer

Why do traditional power structures have such staying power? One reason is that hierarchies still work. Jeffrey Pfeffer writes that “relationships with bosses still matter for people’s job tenure and opportunities, as do networking skills.” He notes that research shows hierarchies also deliver practical and psychological value, in part by fulfilling deep-seated needs for order and security. Another is that individuals who believe in their own competence and above-average qualities are more likely to take action at work, says Pfeffer. Taking action on the job provides opportunities for success, and success means advancement at the company — including more power and control over others — perpetuating a hierarchical structure.

The hierarchical organizational structure is also rooted in workers’ need to bask in reflected glory and be with the winners. That desire, Pfeffer says, may help explain why people will not only work within the constraints of a traditional power structure but also voluntarily work for difficult bosses.

Finally, the hierarchical power structure allows workers to manage the cognitive discord that results from trying to reconcile two incompatible ideas at the same time — that a person is successful and powerful yet may also be fundamentally flawed in some ways, like a bad manager. When it comes to power and leadership, we generally presume someone successful has many positive traits, writes Pfeffer, “regardless of whether they actually possess these characteristics.” Accordingly, we “reevaluate the powerful in ways that create or infer positive traits, even if such traits are not real.”

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