This week I will be continuing my exploration into one of my favorite books, Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power and the lessons that it teaches. Check out Law #1 if you haven’t yet! We will continue to go chapter by chapter and see the lessons that are being taught as well as how they can be applied to your real life. Let’s begin.
Never Put Too Much Trust in Friends, Learn How to Use Enemies
This admittedly will be one of the more controversial laws of power that we will discuss. This chapter takes a long hard look at the realities of working with your friends. There are risks and pitfalls you should be on the lookout for and can’t afford to ignore. It will require some emotional detachment from your feelings to get through this. At the same time it discusses enemies and how best to use them. There is the belief that enemies make far better allies. The viewing of enemies and more importantly friends as elements of power can be difficult for some to accept but as the chapter shows whether you like it or not it is a reality you need to accept.
The first major example is that of Emperor Michael III of the Byzantine Empire and his close friend Basilius. Michael gave everything to his friend Basilius. Money, education, and power were all gifted to him as one would do to a brother. Basilius while friendly with the Emperor he had no experience in politics or military. Michael passed over several more competent and capable people in favor of his friend. His dear friend Basilius did use his new found power and money to win over many in the military and senate. However when the time came for Michael to ask of a big favor of Basilius he refused! His power and ambition had grown beyond that of the emperor himself. Shortly thereafter the Emperor was killed in his bed by a group of soldiers planned out by his once dear friend.
What Michael fell prey to was that of an over reliance on friendship to keep power. Friends might feel like a safe bet to put your trust into it can easily backfire. When it comes to work and power there is a benefit in there being some distance between people. You need to be able to make hard decisions and if you have to factor in how it will affect your friendship you are hamstringing your own power. While in power a friendship is expensive to maintain. There is also the issue that people who are given everything can eventually forget the favors they have been given. Basilius grew to believe he had earned his money and privilege himself and not through his favor with the emperor. He finally got to the point where he didn’t even see the need to maintain that relationship.
On the other hand we have Emperor Sung in China who had seen years of a viscous cycle of coups led by the generals of his land. He knew if he didn’t take a drastic change he would be murdered shortly. What would a new Emperor who was surrounded by would be traitors, murders and spies? Have a giant feast in their honor of course! He had all the generals over and hosted them and treated them all kindly. Near the end of the feast he announced to them that he had no intention of living in fear all his life. The crowd of generals quickly became uncomfortable and expected a mass slaughter but what followed surprised them all. He offered anyone who desired to be gifted elegant homes to retire to that would be filled with servants and women. He won them all over and had many of his would be conspirators bought and removed from their sources of power. Using generosity on his enemies led him to a long reign.
Following this belief throughout his life he also found of documentation of would be assassination attempt against him. He had the-would-be conspirator over and hosted him with generosity and kindness. The emperor gifted him a present to be opened on the way home. While on the way home he opened the gift to realize the emperor know of his intentions but spared his life and treated him with generosity. This act of compassion turned an enemy into one of his closest allies. Kindness and charm, not brutality or even friendship, was used to turn his enemies and ensure a long reign.
There is a common saying that goes “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” No one took this to heart more than Emperor Sung. There is more value in turning an enemy into an ally. If all you do is surround yourself with friends you will never truly know your weaknesses. They will feed you praise as friends are often the last ones to be critical of your weaknesses. A friend will expect a lot from you and can grow angry if they don’t receive it, but an enemy will expect nothing so they will be surprised by what you give them.
As you climb the corporate ladder you will gain friendships along the way. It is important to be careful with these. If you let people get too close to you at work you will be chaining an anchor to you as you climb. You must be wary who you surround yourself with as well. While it may be tempting to put your golfing buddy in charge of the big project maybe instead put a rival climber in charge of it. It would help endear them to you and they will be less likely to get in your way as you climb, in fact they may be the ones to help push you the hardest. Friendships can cause one to become soft and let their guard down. Having a former rival in your corner will keep you focused and sharp with the task at hand. You will make each other better. Remember to not give too much or too freely to anyone as they will grow to expect and demand that treatment consistently. Be careful as you climb.
Coming up next is Law #3 Conceal Your Intentions! If you want to read along with me check out the book 48 Laws of Power and subscribe to be notified of when the next one comes out!