Why concentrated power at work is bad

For some time I’ve been meaning to share this neat little piece, “The Power Paradox,” by UC-Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner, which appeared in the Winter 2007/08 issue of Greater Good magazine (link here).  It’s about the corrupting influence of power, and it explains a lot of what we see at work. For example:

Perhaps more unsettling is the wealth of evidence that having power makes people more likely to act like sociopaths. High-power individuals are more likely to interrupt others, to speak out of turn, and to fail to look at others who are speaking. They are also more likely to tease friends and colleagues in hostile, humiliating fashion. Surveys of organizations find that most rude behaviors—shouting, profanities, bald critiques—emanate from the offices and cubicles of individuals in positions of power.

My own research has found that people with power tend to behave like patients who have damaged their brain’s orbitofrontal lobes (the region of the frontal lobes right behind the eye sockets), a condition that seems to cause overly impulsive and insensitive behavior. Thus the experience of power might be thought of as having someone open up your skull and take out that part of your brain so critical to empathy and socially-appropriate behavior.

Many of the magazine’s articles are freely accessible online.  A lot of good material there!

4 responses

  1. Pingback: Is Britain’s Prime Minister a Workplace Bully? « Minding the Workplace

  2. Pingback: Your Brain on Power | Alpha Insight Development

  3. In my years of being a manager and teaching management, I learned that your oncept of concentrated power is the most significant issue. It is also quickly dismissed. As individuals become managers, an “adjustment” period starts changing attitude and performance. When this is followed by a vacuum of shared responsibilities, power concepts expand. The result changes the manager and unless rectified may become irreversible, a complicated transition. When addressed as a reflection of of transparency, bolstered by awareness acknowledgement along with skill development a transformation can occur. This can be a beautiful development – a gift.

  4. Interesting view point but dismissed. The institution chooses managers who are willing participants who go along with their view of bullying. No matter what type of bullying it takes. Hospitals are a businesses and are more than willing to take what ever measures are necessary to quite those who have compassion and speak out for the patients. If they quite someone who is trying to be a patient advocate,what lengths do you think they will go to to stop you from trying to stop bullying in a hospital when people are under the assumption it is a compassionate workplace. It is a business about making money and nothing more. Managers are not chosen because they actually are qualified as managers but are willing to go along with the status quo of a bullying administration. It’s money that talks, Not compassion or ethics.

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