Always make those above you feel comfortably superior. In your desire to please and 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.
Example of the mistake in action
Nicolas Fouquet was the finance minister of the King of France, Louis XIV. Fouquet constructed himself a chateau (castle), and to impress the king of his wealth and connections, he threw a grand party where the king was the honored guest.
The party was extremely extravagant, with many influential people as guests, and many different cuisines and luxuries. Fouquet was trying to demonstrate to the king that all of his connections, popularity, and loyalty would make him an excellent candidate for becoming the prime minister of the kingdom.
It had the opposite effect. The king felt insecure that his finance minister was more popular, connected, and lavish than him. Instead of being charmed by Fouquet, the king felt threatened in his position.
He had Fouquet arrested the very next day. Fouquet spent the last 20 years of his life in solitary confinement. The king then built a palace even grander than Fouquet’s.
Everyone wants to appear more brilliant than they are.
Nobody likes feeling inferior to other people, especially if that other person is junior to them.
If you have a “master,” i.e., your boss or anyone who has power over your future (kings, teachers, etc.) – do not outshine them.
“Everyone has insecurities. When you show yourself in the world and display your talents, you naturally stir up all kinds of resentment, envy, and other manifestations of insecurity. This is to be expected. You cannot spend your life worrying about the petty feelings of others. With those above you, however, you must take a different approach: when it comes to power, outshining the master is perhaps the worst mistake of all.”
Crabs in a bucket is a real thing, and every one you leave behind wants to pull you back in “your place.” In most cases, these crabs can and should be ignored. They become irrelevant as you keep rising.
However, for people who are above you, be it a boss or king or teacher, you must not trigger their insecurities. They must always feel comfortable with their sense of superiority.
Make them feel that they are more brilliant than they really are, and they will help you rise to the top, make you their trusted advisors, and teach you everything they know.
Even when you are showing your brilliance, present it as if your brilliance emanated from your master. Make your master appear more intelligent and creative than you. Ascribe your creativity and intelligence to him.
Make them shine – discreetly flatter them by publicly advocating that your brilliance is just a result of them being brilliant.
“Make it clear that your advice is merely an echo of his advice.”
Make them feel superior to you.
Act naive about something (that’s not too obvious) and ask them for help. Let them offer their expertise to you. Let them feel the helper’s high.
When they feel superior to you and they think that you respect them and like them, they will be favorable towards you. When you being around increases their status and makes them shine brighter – they will want you around.
You will rise faster and you will enjoy more power and access to new opportunities.
Here’s a rather interesting story from Poor Charlie’s Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charlie Munger (India, UK, USA):
One of my colleagues, who graduated as number one in his class in law school and clerked at the U.S. Supreme Court, tended as a young lawyer to show that he knew a lot. One day the senior partner he was working under called him in and said:
“Listen, Chuck, I want to explain something to you. Your duty is to behave in such a way that the client thinks he’s the smartest person in the room. If you have any energy or insight available after that, use it to make your senior partner look like the second smartest person in the room. And only after you’ve satisfied those two obligations, do you want your light to shine at all.”
Well, that was a good system for rising in many a large law firm.
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Hope this helps.
The 48 Laws of Power Series
Law 1: Never Outshine The Master
Law 2: Never Put Too Much Trust In Friends, Learn How To Use Enemies