Aug 28, 2010

Philosophical Phun- Power :o)

Surveys of organizations find that the vast majority of rude and inappropriate behaviors, such as the shouting of profanities, come from the offices of those with the most authority.

Psychologists refer to this as the paradox of power. The very traits that helped leaders accumulate control in the first place all but disappear once they rise to power. Instead of being polite, honest and outgoing, they become impulsive, reckless and rude. In some cases, these new habits can help a leader be more decisive and single-minded, or more likely to make choices that will be profitable regardless of their popularity. One recent study found that overconfident CEOs were more likely to pursue innovation and take their companies in new technological directions. Unchecked, however, these instincts can lead to a big fall.

Recent research indicates it is reassuring to think that the surest way to accumulate power is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. A few years ago, Dacher Keltner, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, began interviewing freshmen at a large dorm on the Berkeley campus. He gave them free pizza and a survey, which asked them to provide their first impressions of every other student in the dorm. Mr. Keltner returned at the end of the school year with the same survey and more free pizza. According to the survey, the students at the top of the social hierarchy—they were the most “powerful” and respected—were also the most considerate and outgoing, and scored highest on measures of agreeableness and extroversion. In other words, the nice guys finished first.

Now for the bad news, which concerns what happens when all those nice guys actually get in power. While a little compassion might help us climb the social ladder, once we’re at the top we end up morphing into a very different kind of beast.  According to psychologists, one of the main problems with authority is that it makes us less sympathetic to the concerns and emotions of others. For instance, several studies have found that people in positions of authority are more likely to rely on stereotypes and generalizations when judging other people. 



  1. Too bad I cannot remember my quote about the dictates of having power. The powerful or those who posess power over something of someone feel emboldened to take risks because of that perception. Because they are percieved to have an access to something that others don't have, they feel entitled to the benefit that the access or whatever perception of power may grant them.

    At some point, the power changes not only how the person is perceived but how the person acts. As in the case with the CEO who engender risk, this sense of entitlement makes them feel that it is their 'right' because of their position. I like to think of it as 'do you know who I am?' kind of thinking, where a person's status should grant them a privilege.

    People in power believe that rules apply to them but only to a certain point. I think this can be seen in the sentences given to celebrities who are found guilty of a crime. Granted, most are not significant, but occasionally they are and their sentences are not the same as a 'regular person' would have been.

    It also applies to class as well. I think that people who consider themselves 'above' a group also are drawing on this 'power'. I do think that it is a natural state of being and that for it to be eliminated that there would have to be a 'evolution' in man's character.

  2. A guy who is "one of us" and who ascends to a position of power and authority has a problem. He may want to be "one of us" as he used to be but he can't so he assumes a different character and treatment of people. "Us" are now underlings and we take orders. He fears being disrepected because "us" know him too well so he inovates, sometimes bullies and gnereally falls into the trap of thinking he has to bark and be rude if he wants to be respected.

  3. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.


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