Inside the Beltway is a microcosm for how power games get played. Law firms are another. In both environments, rules broken - and the rules are rigid - result in the inept player being driven out. With Kurt Bardella, Darrell Issa's staff member, the fall has been very public. Some bet he could have a comeback. I"m not so sure since his power fumble happened with reporters, an unforgiving group with deep memory banks.
In law firms, aside from the insiders who are aware of every development, the fall is more invisible. After eight years of superior performance, there is that tap on the shoulder. No, they won't make partner. For years, they ruminate about what went wrong. Only one non-partner I have bumped into in my coaching and writing about careers [Download NYSBAtalkinVITALSPEECHESOFDAY] made peace with that seemingly tragic development. She went on to a successful career in legal journalism.
Many things can and do "go wrong." But what they have in common is a a failure to understand power. Because the early exposure to law, as in law school, frames the discipline as analytical, there is the mistaken assumption that cognitive will win the day.
Wrong. Succeeding as a lawyer requires the ability to read accurately and quickly the power implications embedded in every activity, be it the appropriate way of deference to the right enemies to make. Those from power families such as the Kennedys are fortunate. They come of age understanding most of the moves. Those without a pedigree have to invest the time to learn.
One way is through careful observation of the winners and losers. From that can be inferred general rules. Then there's the more formal study, ranging from Machiavelli's "The Prince" to Hedrick Smith's "The Power Game." It could also be useful to gather with smart ambitious people who can be trusted and sketch out scenarios. Top sports teams do this regularly.
However, some are simply more talented than others in getting and growing power. Those who don't make it in the arena itself have plenty of career runway guiding others through documentaries, the lecture circuit, or creating PowerUniversity.com.