Power Intelligence (PI): What Is it, How to Increase It

conceptualization of power intelligence

Power Intelligence is the cognitive skill needed to understand, assess, and influence power dynamics.

This article gives you an overview of power intelligence, including how to develop power intelligence.

lucio buffalmano on a blackboard with "power intelligence" title

What’s Power Intelligence

Let’s start with a definition of power intelligence:

Power intelligence (PI), or power quotient (PQ), is the individual’s capability to recognize and influence patterns of power dynamics in order to achieve goals and acquire life-relevant resources such as status, influence, authority, allies, and partner.

The definition includes both the “awareness” of power dynamics and the “competence” to influence power dynamics to achieve life-relevant goals.

The measure of power intelligence is Power Quotient (PQ).
So when we say that someone has a high “power quotient”, we refer to people who have a good grasp of power dynamics, and/or the skills and attitudes to influence power dynamics (the two overlap of course).
And when we say someone has little or no power intelligence, we refer to people who have either little or no grasp of power dynamics, or little or no ability to influence power dynamics.

Components of Power Intelligence

As we saw from the definition, there are two major sub-components of power intelligence: awareness, and competence.

To better understand power intelligence, we can further break down these two major categories:

  • Awareness: the ability to “see” and recognize power dynamics in interpersonal relationships, social exchanges, and life circumstances. It includes the ability to recognize status within hierarchies, who is acquiring or losing power, and who has leverage. Awareness also allows to assess individuals’ character.
    • Feeling: the often unconscious “feel” for power dynamics. It has the highest overlap with emotional intelligence.
    • Analytical: the conscious side of awareness, including the more rational analysis of social and power dynamics. The analytical approach can be applied to both people, groups, or general life situations. People with a low “feel” can rely on more analytical analysis to reach goals.
    • Systemic: it’s the higher and strategic level. With a chess analogy, systemic PI is the ability to consider each move as part of the bigger game. It includes the ability to think about second-order effects (“second order thining). If the “feel” overlaps most with EQ, the “systemic” aspect overlaps most with IQ.
  • Competence: the ability to change, shape, and influence power dynamics in order to achieve goals. It includes the drive, and attitudes that fuel action, and the skills that make those actions effective
    • Attitudes: the mindsets, the willingness and, when required, the courage to take action. It includes personal drive, motivation, grit. Inhibitor of actions on the opposite end includes such fear, self-doubt, low self-esteem, exaggerated conflict-avoidance, “doormat syndrome“, etc.
    • Skills: the ability to use and effectively execute appropriate techniques to influence power dynamics and achieve goals

There is overlap between awareness and competence, as well as among all of the above sub-categories.
It’s unlikely to have much competence without good awareness, and it’s unlikely to have competence without any awareness -at least on an unconscious level-.

However, competence and skills are also two different dimensions, and it’s possible to be higher in one, than in another.
The social power intelligence quadrant plots both dimensions:

the power intelligence quadrant
This quadrant is for social exchanges, keep in mind power dynamics goes beyond social interactions

Let’s take the two interesting intersections:

High Competence, Low Awareness: The Robotic Operator

It’s possible to be generally power competent without the “feel”.

The feel mostly concerns interpersonal relationships.
So people without the feel can still have an outsized drive for power, as well as be great schemers and strategists with an acute awareness for leverage.

Highly competent people can also eventually become more effective with interpersonal relationships.
The way to do it is by training certain behavior, and studying and memorizing a set of rules to apply to common social circumstances.
For example, “when someone says X, answer Y”.

However, there are some social limitations to lacking the “feel”, including:

  1. You lack adaptability: circumstances always change, and calibration is crucial when you want to become more advanced, and “smoother”.
  2. You come across as fake: the “feel” helps to come across as “natural”, while not having the “feel” can make people come across as robotic, “fake”, “clueless”, or even as inhuman/psychopathic.
  3. You’re poorer at maintaining relationships: the longer the relationship, the more important the “feel” becomes. People without a good feel might manage to be the “life of the party” for a night, but they struggle to maintain win-win, mutually satisfactory long-term relationships.

Interestingly, there are many intelligent and highly driven men in this category.
The intelligence allows them to deploy the analytical side of their brain to strategize and gain power, while the drive to win and dominate gives them the will to take action.
Men also tend to have less “feel” for social dynamics than women.
At the extreme, men outnumber women in the autistic spectrum disorder by at least 2:1–3:1 (Halladay, 2015).

Some pick-up artists -or at least, many men learning pick-up- belong to this group.
The lack of social success brings a lot of socially poor men into the more analytical PUA study.
Some of them can eventually steel through and reach success, albeit it’s best to also address the emotional intelligence part, or they will come across as overly “gamey”. And that is often an issue with the highest quality women who have -and demand- good social intelligence and refinement.

Mark Zuckerberg is an interesting case for this quadrant.

meme of mark zuckerberg as a robot with no social skills
The “robot” memes might be semi-accurate depictions of a man with low EI

Mark Zuckerberg probably lacks the “feel” for interpersonal relationships.

Without the “feel”, Zuckerberg probably struggles -or struggled in the past, because he improved a lot– with friendships, dating, and relationships.

But from a power dynamics point of view, Zuckerberg had the general IQ, the attitude for power and (business) domination, and the analytical skills to manage the company’s growth while maintaining full control.

The digital revolution has been great news for men with lower EI as it decreased what used to be a “condicion sine qua non” for success and high-income: social effectiveness.

High Awareness, Low Competence: The Sensitive Guy

The flip side of the robotic man is the sensitive man.

From a power dynamics perspective, this individual “feels it” when he’s put down, demeaned, dominated, or one-upped.
He feels he’s losing power.
But he either doesn’t know what to do about it, or he doesn’t have the courage, attitude, or character to do something about it.

picture of man crying

Unluckily, without the attitudes and skills for power dynamics, the sensitive guy is likely to languish at the bottom of most social groups he belongs to -at least until he stumbles on this website-.

High-Drive, Low Competence: The Spin-Your-Wheels “Social Marketer”

The quadrant above is for social exchanges.

And this is an interesting category reminding us that power dynamics extend beyond social interactions, and that power intelligence also applies to any other competitive environment.

The “sping your wheels” guy has high drive, a good attitude for power, takes lots of action, and he might even be socially OK.
But he is clueless about general power dynamics and leverage, with no competence to craft effective strategies to achieve goals and gain power.

Want an example of this personality?

Walk into any multilevel marketing convention, and you’ll be surrounded by them.

Many of those guys have big plans to make billions and achieve great things.
They talk about visions, law of attraction, self-development, reading a book a week, getting rich… But they don’t realize that the power dynamics of selling other people’s cheap products is probably not very conducive to becoming billionaires.

I have met several of these guys.
One approached me in the street saying he was looking for “men to join his team”, and I looked like a cool guy well-suited for the part.
Little did he realize that cool guys who go places aren’t going to join random guys’ teams. This is also about power intelligence. Specifically, it’s about personal value power dynamics and what in leadership is referred to as the “law of the lid”: you cannot lead people who consider you to be below them.

And it’s about social dynamics intelligence: power-aware folks are not going to pester their Facebook connections to buy the overpriced miracle creams that social entrepreneurs love to peddle.
That’s a sucker’s trade: you ruin your status and reputation and harm your network and connection for pocket change.
Read more here.

Power Intelligence VS Other Intelligences

simplified overview of power intelligence intersecting with other types of intelligence
Adapted from Geoffrey Miller, 2015. Note: this is for a quick idea, but not scientifically rigorous

There is a certain overlap among all intelligences.

Very low IQ people who are also great schemers (high PQ) and total life successes are rare.
And intelligent folks (high IQ) who are clueless about power dynamics (low PQ) are rare (albeit less rare than the former).

However, as we shall see, exceptions exist.
Before we review some, let’s analyze the difference between power quotient, and emotional quotient.

The Difference Between PQ & EQ

As we’ve seen the “feel” for power dynamics is related to emotional intelligence.

The overlap between general power intelligence and emotional intelligence changes depending on how people define “emotional intelligence”.
There seem to be two ways to look at emotional intelligence:

  • EI supporting thought: emotional awareness, and how it enables or supports thought, but without social skills (Mayer et al., 2008)
  • EI together with social skills: emotional intelligence as a subset and integral part of general social skills (Goleman, 1995, Bar-On, 2006)

From now on, we will discuss EI in its larger form, including social skills.

If we accept the largest view of emotional intelligence, then there is a major overlap between the two constructs, and we might consider power intelligence as a subset of emotional intelligence.

So why the need for power intelligence, when we have a strong overlap with emotional/social intelligence?

Why We Need This New Sub-Type of Intelligence?


Why do we need to describe and conceptualize a new sub-type of intelligence, when there are already “emotional intelligence” and “social skills”?

And for the more practically minded folks:

Why do we need to address and increase our power intelligence?

This is why:

1. PI is More Goal-Oriented

Emotional intelligence and social skills seem to offer little coverage for the more goal-oriented side of socialization, and for socialization within competitive environments.

To achieve goals you need strategies, and to execute those strategies with effective techniques.

2. PI Covers Competitive Environments

Competitive environments behave differently than already established relationships or general socialization.

It’s within competitive environments for scarce resources that people strive to reach most of their goals. And it’s also there that people need the most help.
Competition is often hidden, sometimes even outright denied, so many people don’t always realize they are in competitive environments.
But competitive environments are everywhere, and include:

3. PI Covers the “Dark” Side of Socialization

This is one and the previous entry are two of the main reasons I started this website.

Neither academic research nor most social skills resources seemed to provide proper guidance on social competition and the darker side of socialization.

The darker side of socialization includes manipulation, coercion, dominance, frame control, and social climbing, as well as the mindsets, attitudes, and skills for amoral strategic planning and execution of strategies to reach goals -including selfish goals-.

Competition and darker side are correlated.
Whenever competition increases, people look for a shortcut or an edge, they switch off empaty, find more justification for value-taking behavior, and become more ruthless.

If we lived in a world of full cooperation, and wholly selfless creatures, there wouldn’t be any need for power intelligence.
Obviously, we don’t live in such a world.

This website believes that the “darker” side of socialization is not a “nice to have”.
Awareness and competence of the darker side of socialization is fundamental to any species that compete for acquiring scarce resources.
As a matter of fact, emotional intelligence without power intelligence is what we call here the “naive self-development” approach.

These reasons make power intelligence the most cognitive ability in people’s lives, and in society in general.
It’s power intelligence that matters the most when it comes to personal success, achieving goals, and acquiring scarce resources such as status, power, leadership positions, mates, and riches.

Also read:

4. Power Intelligence Is Simply Its Own, Discrete Function

The previous three entries make studying power intelligence a priority for any driven individual.

But, per se, are not enough to justify a new term and a new scientific construct.

The final reason why why we need a new construct for power intelligence is that, albeit there is a major overlap between emotional/social skills and power intelligence, power intelligence is ultimately different.

We can have emotionally intelligent individuals as well socially adept individuals, who nonetheless lack in power intelligence.
These individuals are pleasant to be around and easily make friends, but by lacking power intelligence, they struggle to reach top positions of power and authority.

The Components of Power Intelligence


What are the components of power intelligence, that mostly differentiate it from other types of intelligence?

And to be even more practical:

What do you actually need to learn to increase your power quotient, and to boost your odds of life success?

Here is what a list of power-related competencies look like:

1. Social-accounting

The ability to see and understand human relationships as part of a big social exchange.

It includes things such as:

  1. What currencies, traits or behaviors people generally appreciate
  2. Who is high-value, who is low-value
  3. Who gives and who takes
  4. What types of behaviors make you a giver or a taker
  5. What are you getting back for your giving, if anything

Those are the basics.
Then, based on that understanding, the next level of sophistication includes:

  1. Marketing and showcasing your traits and values
  2. Phrasing, presenting and framing your requests to showcase your added value
  3. How to swiftly cutting out the takers, ideally without making enemies
  4. Strategies to initiate and maintain more win-win relationships
  5. How to sustain predatory, win-lose relationships (a highly value-taker approach, not endorsed or condoned on this website, but nonetheless important to power intelligence and power dynamics)

Social accounting also overlaps with general social skills.
Listening and talking, for example, are part of giving/taking accounting. Some talkative people are very social, but they often fail to develop stronger relationships, alliances, and deeper bonds.
That’s because they don’t realize that talking too much is taking, and not listening well to others prevents them from giving back.
Chatterboxes are social… But power-clueless chatterboxes are also social burdens.

Similar principles apply to job markets and sexual marketplaces.

2. Power-accounting

This includes items and diagnostic questions such as:

  • Who has power, who doesn’t
  • Who has power in society, outside this specific environment
  • Who is giving you power and who is taking it
  • Who is using whom as a social-peg for social climbing
  • Who is one-upping, and who instead is lifting others up
chart to account for power dynamics

2.1. Status Accounting

Similar as above, but more tailored to status within groups.

3. Investment & Returns Accounting

This is another advanced level of social accounting.

Including items and diagnostic questions such as:

  • Is investing in this person or cause worth it?
  • Should you give to this person or that person?
  • Am I exposing or devaluing myself by giving too much?
  • How can I increase the odds of getting a fair or good deal?

Power-unaware people spend time, money, and effort randomly. And that means they often spend time and effort for little returns.
That includes wasting time and effort on people who just take.

Power-aware people instead are more strategic, spending time and effort on what -and who- gives them the biggest return.

4. Interest-Accounting: Alignments VS Conflicts

Interests can be very difficult to spot because people rarelydisclose them openly.

As a matter of fact, people evolved to hide their own interests, sometimes even to themselves (see virtue-signaling, for example).
Add to the mix the shrewd manipulator who proactively flip their selfish interests, and you get why most people are clueless about interest-accounting.

Power intelligent people more than others think in terms of:

  • Are our interests aligned or misaligned?
  • If they’re mostly aligned, where do they diverge?
    • Can I mitigate those risks?
    • Can I protect against those risks -and worst-case scenarios-?
  • If they’re misaligned, can we do something to align them?
  • How are interests likely to change over time?
  • Are they aligning or misaligning over time?
    • What can I do to increase alignment?
    • What can I do to mitigate the risks over time?
    • What can I do to cover the worst-case scenarios?

These questions are central to most interpersonal relationships as well as group relationships.

Naive Approach: The Lamb Hoping There’s no Wolf

Naive people have no sense for interest-accounting.

They enter relationships and social exchanges without foreseeing the possibility for betrayal, or the ubiquitousness of manipulation when interests diverge.

Fearful Approach: Misses Out on Collaboration Opportunities

Fearful people overblow the risks and miss out on collaboration.

They focus too much on misaligned interests, defect first because of their hair-trigger defenses, and themselves turn the relationship into lose-lose (Braiker, 2013).
Or out of fear they might never enter a win-win relationship, or lack the skills to even make one happen.
Thus, they lose opportunities for win-win, as well as for life satisfaction.

Power-Intelligent Approach

Power intelligent people know that most social exchanges are a mix of aligned and dis-aligned interests.
And they strategize accordingly.
They are positive cynics, and the best of them are “enlightened collaborators“.

Power intelligent people also know that different environments and different relationships call for more or less alertness.
Workplaces, for example, tend to be sugar-coated with fake and manipulative alignment of interests.
On the other hand, long-term friendships tend to be “safer” partnerships, followed by relationships.

Also see:

5. Leverage Accounting

Including items and diagnostic questions such as:

  • Who stands to gain the most if we go ahead? How much do they gain?
  • Who stands to lose the most if we don’t go ahead? How much do they lose?
  • Who can walk away with the smallest loss?
  • Who can escalate and win?
    • Do they have the power to obliterate the other?
    • Can the party likely to lose still harm or cause losses?
  • Could they exact revenge? If so, how likely are they to do so, and how can I mitigate the risk?

Power aware people ask these types of questions as second nature, often unconsciously, as a way of quickly mapping the power dynamics.
And then strategize accordingly.

The advanced level in leverage thinking includes items and questions such as:

  • How much do they think they need me, VS truly needing me?
  • How can I make them need me more?
  • Bluffing / turning the tables
  • Can I make them lose leverage?

And of course, likely, there is also plenty of win-win strategizing:

  • Collaborative frames to stave off lose-lose & increase odds of win-win
  • Using leverage to discourage defection

6. Reputation Accounting & Management

These days it’s fashion to say one shouldn’t care about what others think.

Obviously, that’s shallow advice.

Here’s a feel-good quote on reputation:

quote from albert enstein

Albeit it might be true in some cases, “encountering violent opposition” doesn’t exactly sound like a worthy goal, does it.

Sure you shouldn’t over-care about what others think, and you should not let others clip your wings.
But what others think can have major repercussions on your ability to achieve goals, as well as on your life satisfaction.
Power-aware folks seek to achieve goals without tarnishing -or while improving- their reputation, and while picking more friends and allies -rather than enemies-.

This is how Machiavelli would turn that quote, by the way:

quote from Machiavelli

Reputation management indeed can overlap with manipulation.
But as we shall see, the smartest power player is not overly Machiavellian, as that could ruin his reputation. He is strategically Machiavellian.

Luckily, smart reputation management can also be very honest and value-adding.
This website indeed believes that one of the best ways to address reputation is to become an individual who, when behaving at his most natural when nobody’s looking, would still improve his reputation if it were in public.
That way, you don’t even need to waste time strategizing.

7. Second-Order Consequences Accounting

Remember the “systemic” component of power intelligence?

Well, second-order thinking is part and parcel of systemic thinking.
While power unaware folks focus on the here and now, the power intelligent folks think more in strategic terms, including:

  • How will others react
    • How could I react to their reaction
  • What other options will I have if it fails
  • What taking this or that action does to my status and reputation

Second order thinking can be used for gaining a competitive advantage and coming out on top, of course.
As a rule of thumb, second-order thinkers tend to out-smart, out-play, and out-succeed first-order thinkers over the long run. And better second order thinkers tend to out-smart, out-play, and out-succeed poorer second order thinkers.

When some people refer to Machiavellianism as a way of looking at life as it were a chessboard, they’re in good part referring to leverage accounting, and second-order thinking.

8. Human Psychology

It’s rare to be power-intelligent, or even very socially skilled, and have no knowledge whatsoever of human psychology.

Persuasion and influence are power, and both of them are grounded in human psychology.

That knowledge doesn’t have to be book-smarts or university-based, of course.
Some people are born with a natural intuition for human psychology, while some others are able to develop it over time with experience, personal observation, and intuitive analytical processes.
People with the “feel” for social and power dynamics often also have a good grasp of psychology, even when they’ve never opened a psychology text.

There are good books to expedite that psychology learning process, and you can further cut the learning curve by focusing on practical and applied psychology, as on this website.

9. Character Assessment

This might be considered a subset of psychology.

But rather than looking at humanity, it’s more focused on the individual and it includes the peculiarities and exceptions to the general rules.

Beyond all PC-whitewashing, all power-intelligent people know that people do differ. Both in their personality, in how their personality interacts with others, and in how they interact with you.
The variance among characters is huge, and that means that character assessment is crucial to both personal success and life satisfaction, and it’s the backbone to some of the foundational strategies of power.

Character accounting involves keeping track of people and behavior over time.
Characters tend to be “sticky”, but some people do change over time. Also, as the circumstances change, people’s behavior will also show different shades, so you’ll get to see different faces. This is especially important to catch manipulators as easily as possible.
If you observe well, you get glimpses of people’s true faces in the smaller things. And that’s why on this website we often repeat that the “small red flags aren’t really small after all”.

10. Machiavellian Intelligence / Manipulation

Machiavellians are amoral, self-interested, and goal-oriented.

So “Machiavellian intelligence” refers to the more predatory and manipulative aspects of power intelligence.

But Machiavellian intelligence also rests on all the aspects of power intelligence that we are highlighting here.
Spotting, tackling, and even executing effective manipulation requires a higher power quotient.

Manipulation, and especially effective manipulation, is often more subtle than many other types of power moves.

Knowing at least the basics of manipulation is very important to lead an empowered life.
Being clueless about manipulation can also obliterate individual personal choice, fostering upon us values that we haven’t chosen, and exacting from us big sacrifices that we haven’t consciously chosen -one for all: fightng for a flag, or for the ideal of “motherland”-.

This website makes the case that manipulation is so pervasive that it’s not the exception, but the norm.

Again, character-assessment here is crucial. Albeit manipulation is ubiquitous, some people manipulate (far) more than others, and some people’s manipulation is (far) more harmful and value-taking.

Also see:

10.2. Machiavellian Intelligence as Personal Defense

Machiavellian intelligence is a great defense tool against manipulation and various life con artists.

And, indirectly, intelligent and educated people who lack Machiavellian intelligence also prove that IQ and PQ are different.

Take the de Vedrines, an aristocratic family that got conned out of most of their fortune.
It’s an example from “The Confidence Game”, a book in which psychologist Maria Konnikova analyzes con artists, con victims, and the psychology of cons:

When the story came to light, the public was shocked.

How could an intelligent, educated, successful family fall, one after the other, for a story that more resembled fiction than fact?

How could they, day by day and year by year, impoverish themselves for a vision with no proof, a fantastical creation that looked like it wouldn’t pass muster in even the most accommodating of circumstances?

Konnikova, 2016

Yes, how could they fall for it?
For one, they believed in their own greatness and didn’t have an antifragile ego
And second, of course, they weren’t Machiavellian enough to consider that some people might be out to rob them of their fortune.

Power Intelligent People: 4 Examples

Now let’s get to the fun part.

We are going to analyze three successful individuals -and later one more-, and how power dynamics and power intelligence contributed to their success.
Keep this in mind: the first two are negative examples, and I discourage readers here from following in their footsteps.

Freud: The (Dark) Power of Authority

Freud was a genius, in many ways.

And he was at least as much a psychology genius, as he was a (darker) genius of power dynamics.

Today, a good chunk of Freud’s theories have been disproven.
Nothing bad there.
But what’s most astonishing to me is how incredible Freud’s intellectual sway had grown in spite of the fact that his approach was deeply unscientific.
That is astonishing because we’re not talking about the Middle Ages here. Einstein considers Galileo Galilei the father of the scientific method -and Galileo died in 1642-.
That’s more than two hundred years of scientific method by the time we get to Freud.

Luckily, I’m not the only one to reach this conclusion.
Martin Seligman, famed psychologist, founder of “positive psychology“, and former president of the American Psychology Association says that Freud’s approach was to go “way beyond the evidence” (Seligman’s words).
Says Seligman:

Freud’s speculations were built on very little observation and a very free use of imagination.

Martin Seligman, 1991

In the sometimes stuffy world of academia, Seligman’s words are the equivalent of saying “Freud was a bullshitter”.

Seligman, who has much more data to draw from, says that Freud’s childhood theory is so lacking in data that it’s “worthless” -Seligman’s own adjective-.

So, how did Freud come to dominate psychology and start a huge new movement, together with faithful disciples, with so little science, rigor, and evidence?
Well, in part, it’s because Freud did have some groundbreaking intuitions.
And in good part, it’s because Freud knew how to acquire and maintain power, status, and authority.

Seligman clearly backs up the point I’m making here:

going back at least to Freud, research psychiatry has been dominated by a handful of despots who treat dissenters like invading barbarians usurping their domain. One critical word from a young disciple and he was banished.

Martin Seligman, 1991

Does the above sound like the description of a scientist searching for truth, or like a despot searching for power?

Freud had:

  • Dark charisma: charisma of the darker kind says “I’m always right, believe me and follow me blindly”. And many did.
  • Dark leadership: Freud broke off with his best students Adler and Jung when the two developed alternative theories -read: when they began to be independent of Freud-
  • Power alliances: Freud’s disciples started a “Secret Committee” to “safeguard” the original psychoanalytical school -read “ensuring Freud’s control was maintained”-. Members of the committee pledged not to make any public departure from Freud’s psychoanalytic theory before discussing with the others. We can speculate that Freud either orchestrated, supported, or encouraged the “Secret Committee” to protect his power.
  • Drive to dominance: read again Seligman’s quote from above. Freud didn’t seem (only) interested in truth and in advancing science. He was interested in dominating his field

Machiavelli famously said that it’s better to be feared than loved.
Now look at this Freud’s picture:

pictrue of angry looking sigmun freud

And now imagine you’re a young student learning psychoanalysis.
Would you feel encouraged to disagree with him, maybe dare to criticize his method as unsound? If you did, congratulations. Because thousands of others don’t.

Freud was a genius.
Whether he put that intelligence more to the service of science, or to achieve his (unconscious -ah, the irony-) power goals, is a moot point.

Jho Low: The (Dark) Power of Networks

picture of jho low
Stuart Ramson/Invision for the United Nations Foundation, via Associated Press

Some people says that your network is your net worth.

And some other power-intelligent folks added that your network’s net worth is probably even more correlated to your own net worth.

The amendament makes sense, and Jho Low is the perfect example.

I purposefully use this example because Jho Low also shows us that power intelligence isn’t just or necessarily about acting or looking aggressive, dominant, loud, or even high-power.
Power intelligence is about thinking strategically about how to achieve a certain goal, and sometimes you can best achieve your goal(s) while (strategically) staying in the shadows, and while looking -or posing- as demure and self-effacing.

As per Hope & Wright investigative work, Jho Low’s main power tool of choice were:

  1. Networking: he networked his way up to the prime minister, got a top job in spite of little no track record, and mediocre skills and knowledge as an investor
  2. Strategic “beta” power position: sometimes the biggest power position is propping up power. If the leader is dependent on you to stay in power, you have at least equal power. And the more desperate the leader/alpha becomes, the more power you accrue
  3. Manipulation: some of his leverage, especially in the beginning, was a bluff. He lived lavishly before he was rich to seem richer, played up his connections, and introduced failed and semi-broke “Saudi princes” to lead the Malaysian prime minister to believe he had connections to deep-pocket money (notice the Saudi princes had the same selfish interest in appearing richer and powerful: a great way of aligning interest)
  4. Ruthless attitude: not in the sense of violence, and not even much social ruthlessness. But the ruthlessness of doing whatever was needed to reach his goal of stealing as much as possible, and consume as much as possible

Jho Low wasn’t the brightest student, financier, or investor.
But his drive and power intelligence took up the slack, and got him to the top faster tahn anyone else.
He was a shrewd networker, effective self-effacing social climber, and an unsuspectingly bold white-collar criminal.

And before you thnk that “he eventually paid”, well… Not really. Not yet, at least. To this day, he is still at large, and with plenty of stolen money.

Obama: The (Value-Adding) Power of Charisma

Now a positive example.

The last thing I’d want is for anyone to think that “power intelligent” means a scumbag.

And luckily, power-intelligence is equally helpful for value-adding leaders.
As a matter of fact, as we shall see, power intelligence is even more helpful to value-adding leaders.

Let me preface this by saying first that this isn’t about politics, and I invite you to look beyond politics as well.
Personally, not too fond of Obama. We’ve already described some of his social-climbing games here.
BUT…. Let’s not confuse some instances of not exemplary behavior, with overall personality. Nobody’s perfect, and Obama is an otherwise cool, high-value, and even high-quality guy.
I’m not an expert of politics and neither I want to be, but I also think Obama’s leadership was ultimately value-adding (again, looking at it beyond political ideology).

Still, to get to the top, implement his agenda, and add value, Obama had to be power aware.
And boy, he was.

Just a couple of examples here.

Obama against Romney:

Romney: (wants to frame Obama as weak on foreign policy) On the day after the attack he said that this was an attack of terror (looks at Obama expectantly, trying to have him to confirm)

(If Obama confirms, he follows Romney’s lead, and obeys to a non-verbal command. Power-aware Obama knows that’s not high-power and leader-like, so he ignores it)

Romney: (now Romney has to expend verbal effort to make Obama comment) it was not what you said?

Obama: (only now he replies. BUT, he also realized that he can trap Romney, and he wants to make that trap even bigger by letting Romeny go in even deeper) Please proceed governor (tasks him back with high power and pushes Romney deeper into the trap)

The governor goes on, digs himself into a bigger hole, and Obama then waltzes to own the stage like the victorious leader he was going to be.

To Hillary Clinton, he said, “you’re likable enough”.
That’s a great covert power move. On the surface, it seemed supportive. But one, he frames Hillary as barely likable -just enough-. Plus, it calls into question the whole issue of whether Hillary is likable enough or not.
All the while, he looks like he’s cool and has no issue with Hillary, so he can’t be accused of any nastiness -or bias against driven women-.

Even when stacked against extremists from his own party, he knew how to lay down the law in full dominance, while still have everyone else side with him:

Obama: It’s not respectful when you get invited by somebody (self-frames himself as kind and generous to invite the heckler). Shame on you, you shouldn’t be doing this (bringsdown the verbal hammer, frames the heckler as abusing of his kindness). You can either stay, and be quiet… (reminds everyone that he has no personal animosity against, but is only addressing the behavior, like a good leader should)

This other video analysis also confirms Obama has a high sensitivity and “feel” for power, and does not want to be the one power-down. Especially not while he’s the president.
He probably went overboard there but it shows the guy knows and “feels” power, and wants to be on top.

Obama isn’t perfect.
But perfection is never required. It’s more something we aspire to, and work towards.
And overall, Obama is a good example to follow.
And a great example of power intelligence: putting that power quotient to the service value-adding goals that improve your own life, while also adding value to other people’s lives -the definition of a value-adding leader-.

Overall, this website aims at making more leaders, more similar to Obama -just without the social-climbing :)-.

Power Intelligence Is A MUST for Leaders

In brief:

If you want to make it to the top, you need power intelligence.

Including the dark side.
And now we go back to a central tenet of this website:

To be good, you must learn how to be bad.

And the “good” people, the ones who are naturally not as manipulative and power-craving need power intelligence even more.
As Machiavelli said:

A good man is ruined among the great numbers who are not good.


That was true hundreds of years ago, as it is true today, as it will be true hundreds of years from now.

And on average, the higher you go, the more people you will meet that are happy to do anything it takes to reach even higher.
To protect yourself, to compete, and to win, you need power intelligence.
And the world will only gain when more generally good people increase their power intelligence.

How to Develop Power Intelligence

Big question:

How do you develop PI?

Let’s save us some space on an already long article:

  1. Study this website
  2. Go through Power University

Developing the “Feel”

The most difficult part to develop are probably the drive for power, and the “feel”.

The “feel” can be particularly challenging for people higher up in the autism spectrum disorder.

However, I believe that most people can improve.
The author here certainly wasn’t particularly well-endowed with either emotional intelligence, or social skills. He had a higher than average “feel” for power dynamics, but without much innate competence to influence those power dynamics.

At the time of writing, there is no great resource, place, or even coach (that I’m aware of) to learn emotional intelligence -the practical one at least, the one that allows you to be socially effective-.
This website might eventually develop a program targeting the more practical, social skills-related aspects of EI. But for now, both the forum and the PU quizzes are good resources.

The Academic Case For PI


Pedantic theory ahead.
Skip this section if you’re only interested in the more practical stuff.

“Intelligence” might be one of the thorniest topic in science and research.

For our discussion, the question is:

Can we really talk about “power intelligence”?
Does “power intelligence” exist as a discrete, measurable construct, with real-world predictive power of attitudes and behavior?

Please allow me a very quick introduction on the general topic of “intelligence” here.

To begin with, researchers and psychologists have been debating for a long time on whether or not there are even different types of intelligence.

And there isn’t even much consensus yet on whether there is a single general intelligence -as in the model below-.

three stratume theory of intelligence
The “Three Stratum Theory”, adapted from Tracey Ramsey’s work, released under CC BY-SA 4.0

However, we can reach a larger consensus with more accurate terminology.
Much of the contention indeed centers around the term “intelligence” itself.
So if instead of intelligence we refer to “ability”, “aptitudes”, or “modalities”, then a stronger consensus emerges among psychologists and researchers.
And that consensus might be summed as: “we can test and measure many different “specific abilities” for which people’s effectiveness and performance varies, and we can group similar specific abilities into higher-level cognitive abilities (“broad abilities”).

One of the most widely accepted theory of intelligence is the Cattell–Horn–Carroll theory.
There are currently 16 “broad cognitive abilities”, with more than 80 “narrow abilities” listed and recognized in the model (Flanagan and Dixon, 2014).

Many of these abilities are part of cognitive processes that are easier to measure. For example, “auditory processing” and “processing speed” for broad abilities and “simple reaction time”, and “semantic processing speed”, for narrow abilities.
There isn’t nearly as much consensus when it comes to combining or leveraging those abilities to achieve more complex social and life-relevant goals.
To use a tree/forest analogy, research has focused more on measuring the leaves, and less on how those leaves help the tree survive and reproduce while interacting with the ecosystem around.

However, albeit consensus is still not there, something has been moving.
Despite (deservingly) famed psychologist Jordan Peterson vehemently spoke up against emotional quotient, there seems to be growing acceptance for the EI construct.
EI tests that have been proven to correlate with work-performance (Schlegel, & Mortillaro, 2019), and EI in groups is a better predictor of team-based performance than group’s IQ (Woolley et al., 2010).
There is also evidence for “emotional intelligence” to be a second-stratum factor of intelligence (MacCann et al., 2014), and it’s been listed as a “tentative broad ability”.

So, things are looking good-ish for “emotional intelligence”.

And what about power intelligence?

“Power Intelligence” hasn’t yet been addressed as it own “higher level”, “broad ability” form of intelligence.
But there are plenty of studies to show that:

  1. Different people have different degrees of personal drive to acquire power and dominate
  2. Different people deploy different approaches and strategies to acquire power (or status/money/sex)
  3. Different strategies have different levels of success
  4. Different personalities tend to have different and time-consistent mindsets and values

The above tells us that different traits, either inborn or learned, lead to different strategies and different levels of effectiveness when it comes to acquiring power-related resources such as status, resources, rank, mates, etc. etc.

The studies below are just a small sample:

  • Machiavellianism can be measured and predicts real-life behavior (manipulation): Christie and Geis studied Machiavellianism and devised a quiz and scale. The scale predicts (manipulative) behavior and a strategic approach to social relations focused on obtaining higher personal returns (Johnes and Paulhus, 2009)
  • Dark triad individuals have a higher drive for power, money (Lee et al., 2013), and dominance (Bradlee and Emmons, 1992)
  • Narcissism and Machiavellianism positively predict salary and power, respectively (Spurk et al., 2015 and Wille et al., 2012 for narcissism)
  • Machiavellian managers who spend more time networking and less time managing lead poorer teams, but get promoted more (Luthans, 1988). Luthans call them “successful” managers, but as you can see, it’s more about being strategically Machiavellian, and good at politics
  • Dark triad men have more sexual partners, and tend to seek more short-term sex (Jonason et al., 2008). The search for short-term partners can include a higher propensity for manipulation
  • Narcissists strategically mimic high-power people to be liked by them, and form alliances (Ashton-James & Levordashka, 2013). Again, we see that some individuals present a higher propensity to concoct and deploy social strategies that are more likely to lead to personal success
  • Dark triad predicts selfishness and lack of morality in experiments simulating cooperation or betrayal with moral frames (Deutchman and Sullivan, 2018). Harriet Braiker says Machiavellians, particularly, are opportunistic, and capitalize on ambiguity around the rules
  • Social dominance theory says that racism is the byproduct of people’s drive to maintain their group privileges (Sidanius and Pratto,1993). The Social Dominance Orientation scale also predicts behavior. People high in SDO support meritocracy and racism, seek hierarchy-enhancing professional roles, and are less empathic, tolerant, and altruistic (Pratto et al., 1994)

The above studies show that:

  1. People differ in their drive to acquire power (or status/money/sex)
  2. People differ in their ability to acquire power (or status/money/sex)

That ability to acquire power is partly explained by skills, work ethics, and work output. But when it comes to strategies, then it’s something else that makes the difference. That something else, is power intelligence.

Good Power Intelligence Restrains Itself

By reading the above, it seems like “the more of a SOB you are, the more likely to be successful you are”.

That might not be the case.
Several studies, as well as more popular scientific literature (Dutton, 2012), point out that too much or unrestrained dark-triad traits are negatively correlated with personal success measures such as income, positions of authority, and even life satisfaction.

But it’s not to say that goody-good people win.
Indeed, more moderate doses of dark triad traits seem to be beneficial for personal success.

That is likely because too much scheming becomes too obvious and jarring, and high-levels of psychopathy over-weigh the short-term gratification while dooming people in the long-run.

As former mafioso Salvatore “the Bull” Gravano said to a wannabe associate in his entourage:

This will be the best two hundred thousand I’ll ever spend because people will say not only is Sammy qualified to do the job, but he’ll stay with you, win or lose.’ “’That’s important to businesspeople, Eddie,’ I said. ‘That’s why you were never successful in business. Because you scheme too fucking much.

Underboss, 1999

Power intelligence then is also about moderating and hiding our darker drives, goals, and strategies, as well as negotiating between short-term interests that might be served by more predatory strategies, and long-term goals that might instead more benefit by more pro-social, honest, and win-win approaches.

The ultimate high-PQ Machiavellian is strategically selfish, strategically Machiavellian, while maintaining a spotless reputation.
So the most Machiavellian power-intelligent folks might not even come across as major Machiavellians at all.

Luckily, again, there are ways to integrate this information within a more honestly straight-shooting life.
That’s what this website supports which also good for self-esteem and congruence.

Donald Trump Proves Power Intelligence

How does Donald Trump “prove” power intelligence?

Well, allow me a quick introduction to explain.

The “theory of multiple intelligences” lists eight types of intelligence.
Today, the theory is still a hit in pop-psychology, but it’s mostly discredited among researchers.

However, there are still some merits to it. And the original criteria to define a sub-modality of general intelligence were ingenious.
One of them is “the existence of savants, prodigies and other exceptional people” (Gilman, 2001).
The idea is that you can isolate a sub-modality of intelligence by looking at someone who is off-the-charts in a sub-modality when compared to either everyone else and/or compared to other average abilities he possesses.
If you can find such a guy, then you’re probably in the presence of a discrete, independent “type” of intelligence.

This is a valid approach of supplementing scientific research with real-world observation and analytical skills (see the “3 pillars of knowledge“).

Indeed, with a similar approach, we can confirm that IQ is different from EQ.

Similarly, to prove the existence of power intelligence as a discrete construct, you need to find a guy with low general intelligence but with high power intelligence.

And for circumstantial evidence that power intelligence matters the most in life’s achievements, then we’d need to find someone who is around average in general intelligence, but very high in power intelligence, and who used that power intelligence to achieve great success in life.

Enter: Donald Trump.

To be clear: I don’t think for a second Trump is “stupid”.
But neither was he spectacularly intelligent.

Just as an example, this is what Trump said during an official press briefing on how his administration was working to cure Covid:

Trump: I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets in the lungs, and it does a tremendous number on the lungs.

The idea of injecting disinfectant, per se, might not even be labeled “stupid” for a non-doctor. But it certainly wasn’t the hallmark of high intelligence to go on live TV, as the president, and start guessing about out of left-field, made-up cures.

meme of donald trump curing Covid with disinfectant
Photo Illustration: Trent Joaquin

And it’s not a one-off case: Trump has a multitude of those.

But when it comes to achievements, Trump is up there in the Olympus.
Before he even became president he was also a multibillionaire, real estate magnate, best-selling author, sought-after media personality, and a successful ladies’ man.

If IQ isn’t the main ingredienet of Trump’s success, what is it, then?

How did he do it?

What Trump did have, is:

  1. Hyper-sensitive feel for power dynamics, a strong sense for who’s power-up and who’s power down
  2. 10/10 power attitude, endless thirst for power, dominance, and victory, with an iron will to do all it takes to win and dominate
  3. Above-average power skills

Trump’s attitude to act and attack is in 50% fueled by his hatred for losing and being power-down, and 50% by his addiction to power and victory.

Interviewer: (…) He said I think Donald Trump is an artful liar, I think he’s a greedy, vicious, and arrogant man

Trump: Well, I don’t know is that supposed to be a compliment or not, I’m not sure

In terms of actual skills, Trump is far above average, albeit he lacked somewhat sophistication.
He was great in the skills needed to win the battles, and he lacked in the systemic component of power intelligence -which probably draws the most for IQ, and which is most helpful in the long game-.
Like in our fictional Scarface fictional character analysis, Trump’s short-term “win-right now” attitude is far better for climbing up and getting power, rather than staying up there and keeping power.
Once on top, he clung to the fighter attitude rather than switching to more socially refined strategies.
He made too many enemies, and his self-serving attitude was too blatant. His focus on what it looks like, rather than what it is, became too obvious to too many people, and badly backfired.
In brief: Trump wasn’t good at strategic long-term thinking.
At crucial junctures in his presidency, he struggled to realize that a small apparent loss today -for example, admitting that covid was a big issue to tackle- was going to be great for him longer-term -boosting his status and reputation as a great leader for the people-.

But let’s go back to the power intelligence that allowed Trump to climb to the top.

In terms of attitudes, Trump presents the typical dog-eat-dog mindset of the callous competitor.
For example, he says in his book “The Art of The Deal“:

I hate law suits and depositions. But the fact is that if you’re right, you gotta take a stand. Or people will walk all over you.

Trump, 1987

That’s the attitude of the man who is in constant competition.

Trump carried that attitude on a good chunk of his interpersonal exchanges.
Most of his run to the presidential election was built on an unrelenting quest for frame control, and a series of power moves.
Just a some examples:

Most of his political opponents were unprepared to meet Trump at his level of cunning and Machiavellianism.
As we discussed in “verbal dominance“, his political foes carried knives to the gunfight. Jeb Bush looked overpowered -or outright submissive– against Trump. And nobody votes the submissive guy for the leader position.
In simpler terms, Trump’s opponents lacked the skills and attitudes to compete with him.

Unwavering frame control is something Trump excelled at, and something he is very conscious about.
As he grew more powerful he used often, and probably over-used, frame-imposing as a frame control technique.
But as a younger gun, he was strategic and subtle.
He writes in his book “The Art of The Deal”:

When a reporter asks me a tough question, I try to frame a positive answer, even if that means shifting the ground.

For example, if someone asks me what negative effects the world’s tallest building might have on the West Side, I turn the tables and talk about how New Yorkers deserve the world’s tallest building, and what a boost it will give the city to have that honor again.

Trump, 1987

That’s some really intelligent frame control for PR and reputation.

(Media) manipulation was another Trump strength.
Always adept at getting free publicity, he intuitively understood how to play to people’s psychology.
He says:

I play to people’s fantasies.

People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular.

Trump, 1987

Looking for strong allies -or, he doesn’t say, weak preys-, Trump also expressly describes how he tested people to assess characters.
For example saying something off-color, or slightly offensive, and see how they will react.

All in all, we can probably convene that Trump is a good example of an individual with around average IQ, but above average PQ, and extremely above average drive for power.

A similar case if you want more examples:

Trump Proves That PI Differs From EI

Trump also shows that power intelligence differs from emotional intelligence and social skills.

The Donald didn’t always realize how his approach, including his use of power, turned many people against him (in Turner’s words, it was power over, VS power through).
And that included political allies, voters, as well as (probably) his own wife:

Melania rarely looked happy -or looking up to his husband-.
We can speculate that Trump had the power to acquire the attractive wife, but not the emotional intelligence to develop and keep a mutually satisfactory win-win relationship.

Trump also shows us that albeit power intelligence and emotional intelligence overlap, they’re also not the same.


Power Intelligence refers to the cognitive skills and abilities to understand and influence power dynamics.

The skills of power intelligence are particularly relevant in competition for scarce resources, including socially scarce resources.

Since there is inherent competition for almost everything that everyone else wants, power intelligence might be the most important type of intelligence to achieve goals, succeed in life, and successfully deal with others.

In this article, we explained what power intelligence is, and why it is its own discrete sub-modality of intelligence.
As its own discrete sub-modality of intelligence, people can also target power intelligence to increase their power quotient (PQ).

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