'The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means,' observes Miss Prism in The Importance of Being Earnest. Jeffrey Pfeffer not only gets the joke, he agrees with it. His challenging book urges us, for our own and society's sake, to get real about power.
We should not be squeamish, he says. Self-promotion works. Flattery works, too. Just doing a good job and waiting to be noticed is not enough: the world is not fair. You need to understand what matters to your boss and then deliver it, whether or not you think it makes sense.
Power is not wicked. If you want to change things and exert a positive influence you have to navigate your way through a system. So effective networking matters, as does projecting a positive image of yourself. This is partly about behaving well at the right times, being engaged and showing concern for others.
Not every reader will be comfortable with Pfeffer's advice. It might not feel entirely 'British' to plot and calculate one's career in this way. But if you don't other people will. They might end up being your boss. 'The message is that you need to master the knowledge and skills necessary to wield power effectively,' Pfeffer writes. 'In some circumstances, this may be good for the organisation, but in virtually all circumstances, it is going to be good for you.'
Stefan Stern is visiting professor at Cass Business School. Follow him on Twitter:@StefanStern
Power: Why Some People Have It - and Others Don't by Jeffrey Pfeffer is published by Harper Business, 2010