Has Power Changed You For The Worst?

Leadership Power

Has Power Changed You?

In an article in the Wall Street Journal Jonah Lehrer wrote about an interesting phenomenon that has been observed in businesses. A recent survey noted that most of the inappropriate behaviors such as swearing and rudeness and flirting are exhibited by those with the most authority.

Leaders Acting Like Fools

Lehrer quotes Dacher Keltner, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who notes: ‘It’s an incredibly inconsistent effect. When you give people power they basically start acting like fools. They flirt inappropriately, tease in a hostile fashion and become totally impulsive.” He also noted that those with lots of authority act like they lack empathy.

Psychologists Call it the Paradox of Power.

Lehrer wrote that “The very traits that helped leaders accumulate power in the first place all but disappear once they rise to power…they become impulsive, reckless and rude.”

Interesting survey results. John Gottman, a relationship expert and best selling author, talks about four toxic behaviors that are lethal to relationships. One behavior that is the most poisonous of all four is Contempt because it conveys superiority, judgment, and condescension.

Before you dismiss this because of the strong word used, take a look at what is included under this umbrella. Contempt includes sarcasm, belittling, cynicism, name calling, eye rolling, and hostile humor. In its worse forms it can include belligerence and disgust.

Notice If It Is Present In Your Environment

Over the next few weeks notice when some one or even you displays one or more of the above Contempt characteristics.

Some examples are:

  • those zingers in staff meetings
  • the nick names that everyone laughs at and yet the receiving party may not really enjoy. But they say nothing because it would mean that they are not “with it” or part of the team. (unwritten rules of the office)
  • the stories that elevate the leader and reinforce the subordination of an employee
  • hostile or derogatory humor in response to a difference of opinion or action taken
  • seemingly harmless sexual connotations

Toxins Are Like A Virus That Spreads If Left Untreated

Toxins can creep into an organization and limit motivation and team work. It can grow and become part of the culture. It can affect who is hired and who leaves, who succeeds and who fails. It is insidious. Unless it is recognized and stopped you are letting it happen and you are contributing to a negative work environment that could be detrimental to future growth.

And by the way, saying that “we have an open environment where anyone knows they are free to speak up if they don’t agree” is a cop-out.

Most people display one or more of these toxins at times. It’s only human. It becomes an issue though if it is a regular mode of operating.

As a leader it may be wise to occasionally look in the mirror and ask yourself if some times you may appear to be acting inappropriately.

As the economy improves we will see more movement of good people who seek organizations that not only offer them professional growth but also provide a positive work environment.

Think about it.

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