In the very first chapter of "The 48 Laws of Power," author Robert Greene suggests that this may be the most important law of them all: 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." – Robert Greene
Example of Breaking the Law To Never Outshine the Master
Greene uses King Louis XIV as an example to make his point that we should be careful of how much we show off. King Louis’ longtime financial advisor was afraid that he had lost favor with the king when he didn’t get a promotion. To get back into the king’s good graces, Galileo hosted the most phenomenal party at his new fancy chateaux. The party was a hit, and although King Louis was the guest of honor, he was, unfortunately, not impressed.
No matter how much you're loved or admired by your superiors, don’t outperform them.
After the party, the king had his advisor charged with treason and banished him to a prison far, far away (true story.) King Louis was insecure and didn’t like his advisor showing him up. If anyone was going to throw the most lavish parties, it was going to be the king (it didn’t matter that the advisor was his friend). King Louis XIV reminded everyone who’s boss; he threw an even more extravagant party and built an even more impressive pad, the Palace of Versailles (maybe you’ve heard of it?).
Example of Observing the Law To Never Outshine the Master
In another example, Galileo played according to the rule. Every discovery he made, he attributed to the greatness of a wealthy family. He continuously boosted their affluence and, in doing so, earned himself a posh, salaried job. He didn’t show off and got exactly what he wanted.
Greene implied that while much has changed in the last four centuries, human nature is the same. We’re all insecure, we don’t like to feel inferior, and we like it when people make us look good. Egos have always been fragile. We're self-serving by nature; virtue requires practice. A smart person can balance when to shine and when to “fade into the sky.”
There can only be one sun at a time. Never obscure the sunlight or rival the sun’s brilliance; rather fade into the sky and find ways to heighten the master star’s intensity.
Praising people and using our talents to promote the success of others may not come naturally. We must learn when to be humble, as it’s one of the greatest skills we can master.
Humility is a strength.
Being humble doesn’t signify weakness; you can still be confident and self-assured. In fact, the most confident people don’t need reassurance or applause. Professionally, there will always be a pecking order. Treating your elders and superiors with respect goes a long way (even if they’re jerks.) There's always something to learn and having the attitude that you're eager to be taught shows your boss that you seek professional growth (no one likes a know-it-all). Climbing the corporate ladder can be tedious; chances are your boss knows all too well.
Treating your elders and superiors with respect goes a long way.
Collaboration is the future of the workplace, and it requires humility to work effectively with others. A team's success has become the marker of a great organization, rather than the work of individuals. We think we understand humility, but do we? For example, how often are you distracted by your phone in the middle of a conversation? At dinner with friends? Or while on a date? We are all guilty of this, but it communicates that a notification is more significant than the person in front of us. It implies that we are consumed with self-importance (and we are). It’s these common behaviors that suggest we really don’t know how to be humble at all.
Egos have become increasingly fragile.
How many Instagram followers do we have? How many likes did we get on a post? We have become obsessed with external validation. In your career, you can’t expect a pat on the back for everything you do. You can’t allow yourself to take things too personally. The adage, “it's not personal, it’s business,” is true. There isn’t room for fragile egos in the corporate world.
Remember, humility always defeats pride. Don’t let your ego get in the way of your success; wait for your turn to be the sun.
When we allow ourselves to get too personal, we put ourselves at risk of making decisions and acting out for the wrong reasons. It’s difficult to bite your tongue when ridiculed or to allow others to take credit for your hard work. But patience and a lack of self-importance will inspire your leaders more than a quick temper or a selfish attitude.
Remember, the first law of power is to never outshine the master.