Understanding ‘The 48 Laws Of Power’: Law 1: Never Outshine The Master

In your quest for power, you will encounter many who are more powerful than you. Whether they are teachers, bosses, influencers within a social circle, or those that command the biggest market share in your industry, these people have the greatest ability to thwart your rise to power, and they also have the greatest ability to help you in it.

The first law of Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power begins the discussion on one of the biggest errors people make.

LAW ONE: NEVER OUTSHINE THE MASTER.

“Always make those above you feel comfortably superior.  In your desire to please or impress them, do not go too far in displaying your talents or you might accomplish the opposite – inspire fear and insecurity.  Make your masters appear more brilliant than they are and you will attain the heights of power.”

People are insecure. Those with power tend to be even more susceptible to insecurity because they have more to lose.

Many people mistakenly believe that the key to winning the favor of their superiors and rising in the ranks is to be awesome. They fail to consider that all people, to one degree or another, in one form or another, are at heart motivated by self-interest. And if they believe you to be in a position to make them look like less than others perceive them to be, then you pose a threat to their ability to hold onto the power they’ve succeeded in carving out for themselves.

Two things you must know:

1. Simply by being yourself, your charm, grace, and talents may outshine those above you. This can be real or imagined by these masters — it matters not, for either way it may cause them to take measures to check your growth or eliminate you altogether.

2. Being the favorite is not a permanent state. Don’t assume that because the master regards you above others that you can do anything and get away with it. People’s memories are short. Good things you do are remembered not half as long as bad, and bad things inspire action far more often than good. This is true when we talk about public perception of you, and it is equally true when talking about your relationships with the masters of your milieu.

What you must do:

1.  If the masters in your business or life are particularly vain, you must either find a way to avoid them or find a way to be LESS extraordinary than you are capable of being.

* Remember that your greatest success in attaining power will almost always come INDIRECTLY. You may have to take a step backward to take two forward. You may have to lose to win. You may have to do just an okay job to be most favorably regarded.

2.  Never take your position for granted, and never allow arrogance to guide your actions.

* Remember that masters can either help or hurt you. If you properly strategize, their contributions to your success will be mapped out. Respect what they have done and continue to do for you, and far more important, respect what they can do to you if they feel like you are undermining or disrespecting their authority.

3.  Use your talents to make your master outshine all others.

* Remember that attaining power is a social game. You cannot do it yourself. Identify those masters who are in the best position to help you, and do everything you can to make them appear to others as more than what they are — they will reward you. You must ensure, however, that your actions appear entirely genuine, otherwise the master or the others on your level may recognize your true intentions of trying to amass more power for yourself and take measures to ensure that you don’t succeed.

4.  Discreetly flatter the master.

5.  Make both the master and others believe that the master is more intelligent than you are.

6.  Act naive.

7.  Ask for the master’s help even when you don’t need it.

8.  Commit harmless mistakes that will give the master a reason to rescue you. Your appreciation of his help and the feeling of being needed will inspire feelings of love within him for you, like a parent and a child, and will make him want to protect you.

9.  When you give advice and make suggestions, make it appear to all that your ideas are merely a reflection of the master’s.

10. Do not universally apply these prescriptions.

* You must assess each person in your life’s potential to help you. That means you must assess their own power and the direction they are heading. Then be ruthless in how you use each person, with your endgame always in mind.

“If your superior is a falling star, there is nothing to fear from outshining him. Do not be merciful — your master had no such scruples in his own cold-blooded climb to the top. Gauge his strength. If he is weak, discreetly hasten his downfall: Outdo, outcharm, outsmart him at key moments. If he is very weak and ready to fall, let nature take its course. Do not risk outshining a feeble superior — it might appear cruel or spiteful. But if your master is firm in his position, yet you know yourself to be the more capable, bide your time and be patient. It is the natural course of things that power eventually fades and weakens. Your master will fall someday, and if you play it right, you will outlive and someday outshine him.”

All this holds true whether we’re talking about gaining power, influence, or market share. The company in your sector and its leaders are the masters. Instead of launching marketing campaigns aimed at portraying your company as a superior option to theirs and risking them using their connections and brand trust to shut you out of the market completely, consider things you can offer them in the spirit of cooperation and minimize their perception of the things you do that are in direct competition with them. In this way they will help create brand awareness for you and generate the revenue you need to grow, until you either become a much more formidable competitor or are able to capitalize on an opportunity to wrest a large chunk of market share from them.