As a self-confessed “power geek”, the events of the last 48 hours which saw a prime minister removed by some of the same people who put her in the position three years ago, couldn’t be more relevant to Rose Herceg.
Nor could they be timelier: the entrepreneur, strategist and author has just released The Power Book exploring the uses and abuses of power.
The book presents 200 lessons on the good uses of power and the ultimate responsibilities that come with holding it. At its launch Thursday night, her publisher joked that they should send a few dozen copies to the Labor party.
But Herceg’s book is more concerned with the politics of business and everyday life than the key men pulling the levers of our current government. Much of it stems from rejecting old-school Machiavellian power tactics to instead encouraging people to be more graceful, benevolent and mindful of the influence they have. Her lessons advise readers to do things like say what must be said, never be a cheapskate, be ageless in how you treat others, and avoid heckling.
“I’ve seen, sadly, so many examples of people doing the wrong thing while holding power over others,” Herceg tells Women’s Agenda. “You may have power, but you also have power to be kind and generous … I think everyone can learn to be more mindful and thoughtful.”
Herceg herself has held significant power throughout her career, although you wouldn’t know it Googling her name. Conceding she’s had plenty of “lucky breaks”, she’s not one for self-promotion (you won’t find her on social media) and says publishing this book is the first time she’s put her head above the radar in a number of years.
“I don’t have a business card,” she says. “You have to know somebody to know somebody to have my mobile number which is odd these days. But then I know if somebody’s coming to me, then they’ve really tried to get to me.”
Herceg’s limited public profile could be traced back to lessons she learnt at a young age: having too much, too soon. Landing a job in the mailroom of an advertising agency fresh from studying communications at university, she worked her way up to planner, producer and strategic positions within a number of months. “I was green, naïve, and I just assumed you win. It never occurred to me that I would lose … It wasn’t out of intellect or bravery; it was out of stupidity. Stupidity is a terrific ally in business.”
She ended up in New York on a six-figure salary before giving it all up to launch her own social forecasting and youth consulting business, Pophouse. A number of years later she sold Pophouse to STW for “enough money to take a good few years off” – which saw her travelling aimlessly around the world not sure where she was supposed to be. “I think you’ve got to be tethered, or old enough to self-manage. I think it’s harmful to not have some place to be.”
It took a few years and some advice from mentors, but Herceg reevaluated how she could use her money and time, later working as Strategy Director for STW’s 70 businesses.
These days she sits on boards, consults as a strategist, and works with a number of start-ups. But her real passion is writing. She’s recently completed a script called Burnout that’s been shopped around Hollywood and is currently in pre-production – although she’s tight-lipped on the details, saying the film industry’s a tough business where you don’t want to push your luck.
All of the above has provided enough inspiration to find examples of people using their power carefully and wisely.
Herceg’s been writing about power for sister publications of Women’s Agenda including The Power Index and LeadingCompany for a number of years. She collects her lessons and anecdotes (they’re always presented with a real-life example) by mixing with influential business leaders and observing their power.
It might be something she sees in a business meeting, during a presentation, over lunch or in an airport lounge. Anything she can write on a scrap of paper to store in her shoebox of great power examples. Finding 200 examples for the book, each with their own parable, wasn’t hard, she says. Plenty of Herceg’s friends, colleagues and acquaintances will recognise themselves in the stories written.
Although such people remain unnamed, Herceg’s proud that those she most admires appear in examples throughout the book. She sees it as a way of giving back and saying ‘thank you’ for the help she’s received during her career.
“I like nice behaviour. There’s something honourable about the option to do the right or the wrong thing, and then picking the right one,” says Herceg.
“There’s great power in kindness, but we don’t see enough of that. People huff and puff and they pontificate and get all hissy, but really they should just take a breather. There’s something especially to be said for being a CEO and treating people well.”
And Herceg believes women, particularly, can benefit from the lessons in her book – especially by learning to be more comfortable with the power they have. “I think women worry that if they’re too powerful they’re somehow unfeminine. But I look at somebody like Cate Blanchett and think she’s incredibly powerful and incredibly feminine at the same time,” says Herceg.
“Quiet, feminine, elegant power is 21st Century power – no more buying into the shoulder pads of the 1980s!”