I read in Harvard Business Review that power is gained by those willing to circumvent office rules to get what they want. I bet you can name someone in your office (just off the top of your head!) who is very, very good at this.
The skill is in knowing just how far to push it and when to reel it in. According to the research, this push and pull method works well. A skilled ladder climber knows how to keep it under the bar - delivering success (or the appearance of success) that seems related to their disregard for the people and procedures described in the employee manual. According to research, capriciousness actually creates power.
The problem according to the Jeffrey Pfeffer is that such methods are the source of the unhappiness of the rule-following employees. You know, the employees who show up on time.The employees that prepare thoughtful work in anticipation of client meetings. The employee you can count on. The employee everyone enjoys talking to. The one that works with diligence, patience, and an even-tempered approach.
You've probably seen it happen at your work. The questionably accomplished ladder-climber creates office havoc but gets promoted and earns more and more and more while the diligent, thoughtful employee achieves cost-of-living salary increases and more moderate promotions over a long period of time. Motivation declines. Learning and innovation suffers. It's wrong. It also happens all the time.
The conclusion of this very interesting article was that this conflict -- present in almost every work environment -- is a significant source of career unhappiness. And it is almost never addressed in any way, shape, or form. Not by management and not by the field of organizational behavior research.
Jeffrey Pfeffer's article, Power, Capriciousness, and Consequences was published in the April, 2013 issue of Harvard Business Review. Read the full text here and visit Pfeffer's website for more information on his research.
Now tell me about the climbers in your office...