The 48 Laws of Power – Law 1: Never outshine the master

The 48 Laws of Power is considered one of the best guides to power dynamics since Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince. I have read Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power several times and always walk away with something new. It is a particularly interesting read and I love how it ties back all the lessons to real life examples. I will be rereading this book and explaining how the different laws of power can best be applied to advancing your career.

Never Outshine the Master

This first law discusses the importance of knowing your role and remembering to respect the authority others may have over you. Displaying your talents at max volume can get you a lot of positive attention; however you run the risk of superiors feeling insecure or having the image that you are too eager. Making your superiors feel less important then you is a great way to lose your position or to be effectively frozen where you are without upward mobility. This law discusses how to slow down and better present yourself to ensure continued success. Patience and humility go a long way.

This rule is especially important to those who are new to the industry, company, or position. While I despise a ‘pay your dues’ mentality that doesn’t mean I can act like it doesn’t exist. While often new blood to an organization can bring in new ideas with new enthusiasm some people can react negatively to change and ambition. People tend to resist new ideas, at least at first, so you can’t come across as jarring to the status quo. You need your superior as an ally, not a rival. For true long term success this must be a genuine ally.


This first rule is sub divided further into two additional points that further clarify the idea. One is you can outshine accidentally. This can be done fairly easily with a very weak boss or supervisor. If your manager doesn’t know a lot about how things are done at work and others often come to you where they, under a different boss, would be going to them this can turn into a negative. Overtime this can build up jealousy in someone with authority over you. This can best be avoided by feigning ignorance from time to time and asking your boss for help, publicly if possible. Especially if it’s a topic you know they should be able to answer correctly. This ensures their ego remains healthy and you stay under their radar.

The second point is to never imagine that because the master loves you, you can do anything you want (Master is the book’s general term for a person with authority over you). Basically, keep your ego in check. Your boss should always think you are successful because of him and by extension, indebted to her/him. If you start taking that for granted by abusing privileges and good will, both will rapidly disappear. Always be grateful for any favoritism bestowed upon you and limit its use as to not appear greedy. Always be sure to thank and flatter when possible. However, obvious flattery should be avoided as much as possible since most people get uncomfortable with this and can turn others against you. Talking up your leader to others within the company can often lead to them indirectly hearing you praising them, because everyone gossips, which make it all the more impact when they do hear it.

Greene made this the first rule due to while being a simpler rule, if not done correctly it can ruin everything else you will learn in the book. Making sure your boss is not threatened by you and being openly grateful for their knowledge can keep you on the track for success. Just keep your ego under control and you can rise higher then if you remain short sighted and brash.

Next: 48 Laws of Power – #2 Never Put Too Much Trust in Friends, Learn How To Use Enemies

Let me know what you think of this chapter analysis in the comments! You can read along with me with the book which you can get here.

If you liked this article check out one of my other articles such as 5 must have words on your resume –


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