Power is usually discussed in the context of a person’s capacity and desire to influence other people while taking the role of a leader. In his book The 48 Laws of Power, Robert Greene provides a list of laws or principles which can be followed by leaders and persons who want to obtain more power in their professional and personal life. However, these laws are presented in a manner which is usually unsupported by the public because of provocativeness of the proposed principles.
The author does not provide well-known and accepted rules for developing leadership skills, but he accentuates the most controversial laws which can influence the development of relationships in those fields where it is possible to speak about power: business and politics (Greene, 2000). Therefore, according to Jones and York (2016), “Greene’s step-by-step instructions on how to obtain power are inherently repugnant” (p. 9). In this context, it is important to focus on analyzing Law 4 and Law 41. Although Greene’s laws can be discussed as controversial to be followed directly, Law 4 and Law 41 are appropriate to be applied to practice because they do not induce people to violate the norms of morality, and they provide guidelines on how to become more successful.
Law 4: Saying Less Than Necessary
Greene’s (2000) Law 4 states, “Always say less than necessary” (p. 31). On the one hand, this principle can be viewed as incorrect because, if it is necessary to provide some information, it should be provided. Furthermore, according to Greene (2000), this law is explained in the context of mysteries which should be supported regarding a powerful person in order to avoid revealing some information that could prevent an individual from preserving his or her influence.
On the other hand, this law can be interpreted from the perspective according to which a person does not try to conceal one’s “foolishness”, as it is noted by the author, but this individual accentuates his or her wisdom. Thus, this person can be focused on following rules of effective leaders, and he or she tries to formulate messages in a concise and appropriate manner while pointing out only the most important aspects without developing unnecessary debates on irrelevant topics (Jones & York, 2016). From this viewpoint, the ability to say less than necessary is a skill that needs to be developed by those individuals who want to become more successful or “powerful” as leaders.
Therefore, it is possible to agree with Law 4 formulated by Greene (2000) to some extent, but it is important to interpret and apply it according to the needs of a person who studies the ways of using power in his or her interactions. According to Greene (2000), “power is in many ways a game of appearances, and when you say less than necessary, you inevitably appear greater and more powerful than you are” (p. 34). These words cannot be supported because, in many cases, silence can have an opposite effect on people, and there are many situations when more explanations are important to address the target audience and receive the desired result.
However, the following principle stated by the author can be viewed as important to discuss and follow: “Once the words are out, you cannot take them back. Keep them under control” (Greene, 2000, p. 35). Those persons who work with many people and who aim at influencing the public need to pay much attention to their words because they need to be meaningful, unbiased, and supported by arguments and facts. Therefore, Law 4 can be discussed as appropriate to be followed on the path to success.
Law 41: Avoiding the Other Great Man’s Way
Law 41 in the book by Greene (2000) states, “Avoid stepping into a great man’s shoes” (p. 348). The further elaboration on this law indicates that the author is focused on the complex relationships between a successful father and his son who wants to become powerful, but he needs to do something impressive in order to declare his position (Greene, 2000). While considering this law from this single perspective, it is almost impossible to agree with this principle in spite of the fact that the author provides a lot of evidence and historical anecdotes to support his ideas.
One of the author’s arguments is that “only after the father figure has been properly done away with will you have the necessary space to create and establish a new order” (Greene, 2000, p. 353). However, this vision cannot be discussed as reasonable or applicable to any situation related to leaders or persons who have some power. The problem related to a person’s failures as a leader can be associated with many different aspects of his or her life and behavior (Jones & York, 2016). According to Pullman (2013), this position and the focus on the figure of a father can be associated with the Machiavellian rhetoric.
In his work The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli discussed amoral and violent ways of obtaining and preserving power. As it is stated by Pullman (2013), “Everything from religion to warfare is performed in service to the maintenance of the prince’s power. There is neither right nor wrong except insofar as it increases or decreases the prince’s security” (p. 306). From this specific viewpoint, Greene’s (2000) law seems to be based on the idea of preserving a son’s power in contrast to his father’s influence. When a prince aims at obtaining power and his influence on the public, the previous actions of his father can be discussed as affecting a son’s image. Still, this particular law can be viewed from another perspective, and it is important to discuss the issue without concentrating on the figure of a father.
While ignoring Greene’s (2000) discussion of relationships between fathers and sons, it is possible to concentrate on the important idea that is hidden in Law 41: each person has his or her own path to success, and the focus on imitating somebody’s actions can be viewed as a wrong direction. It is possible to agree with this law and pay attention to the idea that, following examples of other people, individuals can fail to become successful if the focus is only on persons who significantly influenced the public and changed the world around. However, people can achieve their goals and become powerful if they choose their own and unique paths to success.
Greene (2000) states in his book, “Establish your own name and identity by changing course” (p. 348). Furthermore, he also proposes leaders “to re-create themselves” (Greene, 2000, p. 355). These views seem to be reasonable in the context of changing conditions, trends, and environments. If that person who is oriented to success follows his or her own path, risks can be minimized because of the focus on an individual approach. Therefore, those people who want to become powerful should not imitate other leaders’ behaviors, but they should rely on these figures as examples of the idea of success.
The book by Robert Greene attracts the readers’ attention because of debatable ideas declared by the author on its pages. It is possible to state that the author discusses the problem of obtaining a leadership position and gaining power from the perspective of those immoral decisions which are made by people in their life. However, while focusing on interpreting the presented laws from several angles, it is possible to note that some of them seem to be working in modern contexts of business and politics. In spite of the fact that Greene’s ideas are often supported by irrelevant or controversial examples, they can be analyzed with the focus on other instances and people’s real-life experiences.
Therefore, Law 4 and Law 41 are interpreted in this paper from the perspective of their usefulness and importance for leaders. According to Law 4, to be perceived as more powerful, people need to speak less. It is possible to state that this principle is appropriate, but the associated outcome is more related to the aspect of a speaker’s wisdom than to the aspect of power. According to Law 41, people do not need to follow other people’s roles in situations when they can act independently. This principle is effective for individuals who want to become more powerful and take higher positions in society.
Greene, R. (2000). The 48 laws of power. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
Jones, A. M., & York, S. L. (2016). The fragile balance of power and leadership. The Journal of Values-Based Leadership, 9(2), 1-15.
Pullman, G. (2013). Persuasion: History, theory, practice. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing.