Frank Underwood’s got giant balls. Figuratively. He’s got giant figurative balls. And he’s a case study on power. It’s hard to tell if he got his power as a result of his big balls, or if his big balls are a byproduct of his power. Regardless, I call him Mega Millions because he’s got power balls.
We studied power in my MBA program. The main thing I remember about studying power is that we studied power. I also remember that we read a bunch of HBR articles. So I went to HBR.org, searched for power, and bought their best-selling article “Power Play.” Didn’t ring a bell.
Regardless, the non-bell-ringing article said a lot of interesting stuff about power. Mega Millions also says a lot of interesting stuff about power.
Here are some highlights from each:
“Whenever you have discretionary control over resources important to others—things like money, equipment, space, and information—you can use them to build your power.” (HBR)
“Generosity is its own form of power.” (FU)
“Reward those who help you and punish those who stand in your way.” (HBR)
“The road to power is paved with hypocrisy, and casualties.” (FU)
“You simply have to make critical relationships work. Your feelings, or others’ feelings about you, don’t matter. Put aside anything that might hinder you from getting the job done.” (HBR)
”Power is a lot like real estate. It’s all about location, location, location. The closer you are to the source, the higher your property value.” (FU)
“Remove rivals—nicely, if possible. Show opponents the door gracefully. All the better if you can achieve a ‘strategic outplacement,” getting a rival a more attractive job somewhere else.” (HBR)
“For those of us climbing to the top of the food chain, there can be no mercy. There is but one rule: hunt or be hunted.” (FU)
“Win over opponents by making them part of your team. You might be surprised at how thoroughly you can redirect their energies.” (HBR)
“Of all the things I hold in high regard, rules are not one of them.” (FU)
“Persist. Your opponents will eventually make mistakes or take new jobs or retire. When the environment changes, so will the balance of power.” (HBR)
“Patience, Monty … climb the ladder.” (CMB¹)
I have a non-traditional relationship with Frank Underwood. A couple months ago I decided to watch one episode of House of Cards. Exactly one episode. I did it so I could fake my way through a conversation about it.² But at the end of first episode I was really ticked off because it was so good I knew I’d have to carve out 25 hours of my life to watch the entire series.
But my luck turned by Episode 9. That’s when I lost interest in studying Frank Underwood’s accumulation and use of power. At first it seemed like his power was a result of shrewdness, strategy, networking, positioning, and hard work, but by Episode 9, it was clear that he was powerful because he was a dick.
I’ve never felt so let down by a fake person. And it made me wrestle with my own relationship with power because being powerful is admirable, but seeking power is kind of douchey. Specifically, I struggled with the question: Can you intentionally pursue power and not be a dick?
The answer to that question depends on the answer to another question: Is power instrumentally good, or is it intrinsically good? In other words, do you view power as a means to an end, or do you see power as an end in itself? Do you want power for personal gain, or do you want power to achieve something external to yourself?
Being persuasive is enviable; being manipulative sucks. Leadership is good; simply wanting followers is lame.³ Amassing power in order to accomplish great things is great; amassing power simply to prove your dad wrong is wrong.
¹C. Montgomery Burns, No. 29 of the Stonecutters secret society
³Follow me on Twitter at @gregkyte.
Greg was born in Akron, Ohio, in the shadow of the Firestone tire factory. He began to swim competitively when he was eight, swimming for the Mountlake Terrace Lemmings. He graduated in 1995 from the University of Washington with a math degree. He chose math for the ladies. After serving ten-years as an 8th grade math teacher, he decided it was time for a career change, mainly because he “couldn’t stand those little bastards.” He began his accounting career with a local CPA firm in Orem, Utah, where he consistently failed the QuickBooks ProAdvisor advanced certification exam. Greg currently works as the Controller for the Utah Valley Physicians Plaza. He lives in Provo, Utah, with his wife and two kids. He enjoys eating maple bars, drinking Diet Pepsi, and swearing.