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Why MBAs Should Take Acting Classes

October 1, 2010, 10:23 AM

People are going to look at you and they’re going to ask you know a very interesting question, ‘Why should I follow you?’,” says Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University.  In his Big Think interview, the expert on the dynamics of power talked about how power is often portrayed as negative and corrupting—but is nonetheless essential. 

One way of gaining power, according to Pfeffer, is to exhibit confidence, even if you aren't confident.  “If you go to a doctor and the doctor comes to you and says you know by the way you have a serious disease and you know I don’t know what to do about it, you’re probably not going to stay in that doctor’s office very long,” Pfeffer says.

With presentation so important to gaining power in the world of business, should MBAs take acting class? “Absolutely,” says Pfeffer.  Those wishing to gain power must learn how to express emotions that they may not feel, he says. “The people in your workplace aren’t necessarily that interested in the bad things that have happened to you," he says.  "They want for you to demonstrate to them that you care about them, that the organization is in great shape and that we have all these wonderful things to achieve."

Another key to power according to Pfeffer is meeting a lot of people, which should take priority over spending time with close friends. “If you spend all your time with people that you already know well and who already like you, how are you going to make new friends and meet new people,” says Pfeffer. “There is an argument that talks about the strength of weak ties,” he adds, “that you actually are more likely to find a job from someone who you are very loosely and tangentially connected to than from somebody who you’re really close to.”

“It’s very important for you to meet people in a diverse set of industries and a diverse set of companies and a diverse set of geographies,” says Pfeffer. “It’s the same idea as in a financial market,” he says, “Just as you would not want to put all your financial eggs in one undiversified basket you would not want to put all your human capital eggs in a relatively undiversified basket of just your close friends and family.”

Pfeffer says the current generation isn't ready for the work force in some ways because they have been shielded from the dynamics of competition. “I think the Millennials are actually amazingly unprepared for today’s world of power,” he says.  This generation has been raised in a world of stifled competition: high schools with multiple valedictorians, contests where everyone get s a ribbon.  Such examples have lead Pfeffer to conclude, “Many of the young generation are not really used to the competitive environment.”

“There is only one school superintendent. There is only one congressional representative from each district,” Pfeffer says, “so competition still exists and I think a lot of the current generation has become woefully unprepared for competition.”

Pfeffer also talks about what someone can do now to raise up on the rungs of power. “You can start today to figure out who are the 10 people I don’t know who if I knew it would be helpful for my career,” he says. “How am I going to get out of my comfort zone to meet people in diverse geographies and industries and different positions?”


Why MBAs Should Take Acting...

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