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The Elements of Power: Lessons on Leadership and Influence

The Elements of Power: Lessons on Leadership and Influence

by Terry R. Bacon

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What do a person’s knowledge, expressiveness, history, character, and attraction have in common? Or his or her role resources, information, network, and reputation? Each is a key to either personal or organizational power, and together they open the complex combination lock on the door of true leadership and irresistible influence.

The Elements of Power<


What do a person’s knowledge, expressiveness, history, character, and attraction have in common? Or his or her role resources, information, network, and reputation? Each is a key to either personal or organizational power, and together they open the complex combination lock on the door of true leadership and irresistible influence.

The Elements of Power combines the latest research on the nature of power all over the world with a handy self-assessment and invaluable insight into:

• How power works in organizations

• How people use and lose power

• The relationship between power and leadership

• What makes famous people powerful—or what diminishes their power

• Sources of power and how to build each one

• Leading and influencing others more effectively

Complete with “Portraits in Power” examining key business figures and world leaders alike, the full effect is an accessible and unprecedented pipeline to the many sources and types of internal and external power, including the most valuable of all: the power of will.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
The Elements of Power is a banquet of ideas on the use of power for the price of an inexpensive dinner for two. It even has the added advantage of being both tasty and healthful.” – Inland Empire Business Journal

"Filled with insights into strengthening each power source, Bacon presents an energizing model for business leaders at all levels who want to increase their voltage." - Niche magazine

Product Details

Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

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Copyright © 2011 Terry R. Bacon
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8144-1511-5

Chapter One

SHAKESPEARE ATE BACON The Power of Knowledge

IN THE 1960s, WHEN I WAS A SENIOR IN COLLEGE, SOME LITERARY SLEUTHS were debating whether William Shakespeare could actually have written the plays and poetry of, well, William Shakespeare. Called the Baconians, these sleuths had amassed some rather convoluted evidence that the real author of Shakespeare's works was Sir Francis Bacon. On the night of my twenty-second birthday, a group of undergraduates rushed into my dorm room and carried me off to the showers, where they threw me under a stream of cold water, fully clothed. Along with a cold shower, their birthday gift to me was a button that read, "Shakespeare Ate Bacon." I am telling this story because it was Bacon, my namesake if not my ancestor, who wrote in 1597 that "knowledge is power" (from Meditationes Sacrae). In 1620, in Novum Organum, Francis Bacon presented an empirical method for determining the causes of natural phenomena. A scientist, as well as a statesman, philosopher, and author, he devoted much of his life to the study of knowledge and was instrumental in the development of the scientific method.

However, the idea that knowledge is power predates Francis Bacon. Proverbs 24:3–5 (Revised Standard Version) says, "By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches. A wise man is mightier than a strong man, and a man of knowledge than he who has strength." These verses reflect the commonsense belief that knowledge is a platform for advancement, and that being well educated increases one's potential in work as well as life. People who are skilled, learned, and wise can open more doors and accomplish more than those who are simply strong. There must have come a time in human history, as our brains developed and we diverged from the beasts, when human beings recognized that what distinguishes us most from other creatures—our intelligence—enables us to defeat animals that are bigger, faster, and stronger than we are and allows us to master our environment. From that moment of collective self-discovery, we have understood that knowledge is power, enhancing not only our capacity to shape our environment and control other living things, but also our ability to lead and influence other people.

Knowledge is one of the most important of the personal power sources because it is classless and democratic. Although there are some areas of special knowledge only a select group of people can acquire (the combination for opening a vault in a particular bank, for instance), by and large, knowledge is available to virtually anyone with average mental abilities who has the desire to acquire it and/or access to teachers, mentors, libraries, the Internet, or some other source of knowledge. Most societies consider knowledge so important to the preservation and advancement of civilization that they require their children to devote years of their lives to education, and usually the more years of education people have, the more knowledgeable they are—and the more influence they can wield in society.

In this book, I am using the term knowledge power to refer not only to what people know but also to their skills—that is, what they can do. Broadly speaking, knowledge power includes people's skills, talents, and abilities, as well as their learning, wisdom, and accomplishments. Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts may have considerable knowledge of American football, but it's his skill as a quarterback that gives him power. Yo-Yo Ma may know a great deal about the cello, but admirers don't go to hear him lecture on the cello; they go to hear him play. Master chef Joël Robuchon may be an expert on French cuisine, but what attracts people to him—and gives him power—are such delights as his cauliflower cream with caviar and potato puree. You build knowledge power as you gain knowledge but also as you acquire skills, develop your talents, and demonstrate your capabilities by enabling others to experience the fruits of your accomplishments.

This last point is important because knowledge in a vacuum is impotent. Skills no one else knows you have might be self-satisfying, but they don't make you more powerful among others. Knowledge can give you power only when others recognize and value what you know and can do, and only if it differentiates you from other people, which implies that knowledge becomes power only when you use it—especially when you know something others don't. We can imagine a reclusive genius with a photographic memory who speed-reads thousands of books and has total recall of everything in them. But because she remains in self-imposed exile, never communicating with others, never sharing or using what she knows, she might as well know nothing. Her potential knowledge power is negated because others don't recognize it. Or we might imagine a more outgoing person who memorizes tens of thousands of arcane facts, like the average rainfall in regions around the world for the past fifty years. Wanting to share what he knows, he tells strangers on the subway that the average rainfall in March in Cayo, Belize, is two inches. Although he is using his knowledge, it's doubtful many people will value what he knows, so the knowledge gives him very little power (unless he happens to be speaking to someone who is about to travel to Cayo in March).

People generally admire others who are highly knowledgeable or skilled, but they won't give them knowledge power unless the knowledge or skill is relevant. Take the case of a sales representative for Xerox. She has in-depth knowledge of the product line she represents. She also knows the market in Ottawa, Ontario, which is her region. I am sitting next to her on a flight from Chicago to Toronto, and she tells me about Xerox's latest copiers. However, I don't buy copiers or use them in my business, and I don't care about her products. I may admire the fact that she knows so much about copiers, but she has less knowledge power in my eyes because what she knows is not relevant to me. On the other hand, if I work in a company that needs copiers, if we are unhappy with our current copiers, and if I will participate in the buying decision for new copiers, I may not only admire what she knows but recognize its value to me in potentially solving an immediate business problem. Her knowledge power increases substantially in my eyes because I value it highly and it is relevant to my work.

In another case, imagine ten software engineers competing for a single management position. They know their knowledge and performance matter, so they all study diligently, learn the same amount of information, develop the same skills, and accomplish the same amount in their current positions. Their knowledge may give them power when they are compared to new software engineers (who lack their knowledge and skills) or to others in their company (who can't do what they do), but among themselves they are undifferentiated. None of them has greater knowledge power than the others, so their employer has to use some criterion other than knowledge to make the promotion decision. Of course, in most software engineering groups, most of the engineers have special areas of expertise and accomplishment that give them differentiated degrees of knowledge power, even among their peers.

Finally, consider the 1973 film The Paper Chase or the subsequent television series based on it. It tells the story of a first-year student, James T. Hart, at Harvard Law School and focuses particularly on his classes with scholarly and intimidating Professor Charles Kingsfield Jr. Kingsfield has considerable role power, both as the professor leading the class and as the person who will judge the students' performance and give them grades. But Kingsfield's greatest source of power is his imposing knowledge of the law. Like any great teacher, he knows much more than his students, and he leads principally through the Socratic method, which reveals the depth of his knowledge and the relative lack of theirs. Hart's admiration of (and ultimately obsession with) his professor stems from his recognition that Kingsfield is an expert in contracts, a field of study Hart values because it is highly relevant to his studies. The knowledge differential between them is palpable, which gives Kingsfield a substantial amount of knowledge power in his domain.

Knowledge power is based on what you know or can do. The more you know, the greater your knowledge power—if others recognize it, if they value it, and if it differentiates you from them.



Time magazine called him one of the most influential people of the twentieth century as well as one of the 100 most influential people in 2004, 2005, and 2006. Chief Executive Officer magazine cited him as CEO of the Year in 1994. He has received numerous honorary degrees, been made an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and received numerous other accolades as an entrepreneur, business magnate, and philanthropist. To top it all, he has been cited as the wealthiest person in America for the past sixteen years, as well as one of the wealthiest in the world, according to Forbes. His accomplishments are the result of a combination of luck (being in the right place at the right time), an astute understanding of business, aggressive (some would say illegal) business practices, and a phenomenal amount of knowledge power.

William Henry Gates III was born in Seattle in 1955 to William H. Gates Sr. and Mary Maxwell Gates, upper-middle-class professionals who wanted their son to become a lawyer. As a child, he was a gifted student, a voracious reader, and intensely competitive. When he was thirteen, his parents enrolled him in Lakeside School, an exclusive prep school in Seattle, where he and fellow students, including Paul Allen, were given access to an ASR-33 teletype terminal and a block of time on a General Electric mainframe computer. Gates was immediately fascinated with the machine and devoted much of his free time exploring its possibilities. After learning the BASIC computer language, he created a program that played tic-tac-toe. Then he and three other students lost their computer privileges after they exploited bugs in the operating system to give themselves free computer time. They bartered their way back onto the system when they offered to find other bugs in the operating system. Now in stride, Gates wrote a payroll program for the company whose computer he had hacked and then a class scheduling program for his school. In 1970, when he was fifteen, Gates and Allen developed a program called Traf-O-Data that analyzed traffic patterns in Seattle, for which they earned $20,000.

Gates graduated from Lakeside in 1973 after scoring 1590 out of 1600 on the SAT. At his parents' urging, he enrolled in Harvard University on a path toward a law degree, but his passion had been and would always be computer programming. He got passable grades in his classes by cramming while he spent most of his time in the university's computer lab. His friend Paul Allen had gone to Washington State University but dropped out after two years and went to work for Honeywell in Boston. In 1975, Allen showed Gates an issue of Popular Electronics with a feature on the world's first personal computer, the Altair 8800 minicomputer. Gates marveled at the possibilities of personal computing and saw the business opportunity in creating software for PCs. They contacted the maker of the Altair (a company called Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems, or MITS), and said they were creating a BASIC program that could run on the 8800. This was not true. They didn't have an Altair 8800 and hadn't done any programming for it in BASIC, but the company was intrigued and asked for a demonstration. So Gates and Allen worked day and night for two months writing the software and testing it in Harvard's computer lab. When they demonstrated it for MITS, it worked as well as they had promised it would. It was a case of chutzpah meeting genius and opportunity. Gates soon dropped out of Harvard and formed a company with Allen called Microsoft.

In those early days of personal computing, the ethic among computer hobbyists and early adopters was to freely trade programs and share code with each other, which Bill Gates the businessman felt was wrong because it did not reward programmers for the investment they made in creating the software. If people freely shared software, then there was no incentive for innovation. Although Gates's position rankled hobbyists, it paved the way for the prevailing business model in software today. Gates was also innovative in licensing software rather than selling the source code, and licensing the Microsoft Disk Operating System (MS-DOS) for PCs to IBM was the most important early move he made. More than anything else, that decision made Microsoft the software giant it is today.

You know the rest. Microsoft became and remains a software giant worldwide. Its Windows operating system and Microsoft Office suite are installed on the majority of personal computers around the world. The company has faced numerous antitrust battles and defended itself against allegations of unfair business practices on many occasions. But it remains the dominant force in PC software and has an installed base that would be the envy of any company in any industry. All this began with a very smart, competitive boy with the right friends at the right school at the right time in the history of personal computing. He was fortunate to have been enrolled in a forward-looking school that could afford to give eighth-graders access to a computer. He was curious and talented enough to learn about operating systems and computer languages. He was driven to take his fascination with the machines to its logical conclusion. And he was savvy enough about business to turn his thirst for knowledge into a viable enterprise in an industry that was still in its infancy.

Today, Bill Gates is one of the most influential people in the world. As the cofounder and chairman of Microsoft and as the wealthiest person in the United States, he has extraordinary role and resource power. He has unparalleled access to information in his domain, a broad network of contacts inside and outside his organization, and a reputation as a shrewd and highly successful businessman. But it was his early mastery of computers, and the knowledge power that gave him, that propelled him to his later successes. He is an exemplar of how knowledge can catapult a gifted but otherwise unremarkable fellow into a position of exceptional power. To his credit, he is using his great wealth for philanthropy, and he has a sense of humor about himself. In 2007, while receiving an honorary degree from Harvard University and speaking at the graduation ceremony, Gates said, "I applaud the graduates today for taking a much more direct route to your degrees. For my part, I'm just happy that the Crimson [Harvard's daily student newspaper] has called me 'Harvard's most successful dropout.' I guess that makes me valedictorian of my own special class.... I did the best of everyone who failed."

What We Can Learn from Bill Gates

1. Applied knowledge has value. Gates was fortunate to have developed special knowledge during the infancy of his industry, but there were other smart young people doing the same. He was driven, though, to apply his knowledge in ways other people valued. It was the practical application of his knowledge that built his knowledge power. Lesson number one: It isn't enough to know a lot about something. You have to apply that knowledge in valuable ways.

2. Nothing builds knowledge power more than using it to get results. His early attempts to demonstrate his knowledge—the tic-tac-toe program, the class scheduling program, the payroll program, Traf-O-Data, and BASIC for the Altair 8800—were all successful. Those early successes gave Gates the confidence and the track record to persuade others that he knew what he was doing. The lesson is a familiar one but worth repeating: Get results. Take the time, devote the energy, do what it takes to ensure that your efforts succeed.


Excerpted from The ELEMENTS of POWER by TERRY R. BACON Copyright © 2011 by Terry R. Bacon. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

TERRY R. BACON is the founder of Lore International Institute, a widely respected executive development firm recently acquired by Korn/Ferry International. He is now a senior partner in that firm and is the author of many books including What People Want and Powerful Proposals (978-0-8144-7232-3).

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