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!