Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Why Does Power Go To People's Heads?

It is strange that people who normally act with empathy and emotional intelligence then often start to misuse the role power they have been given, when promoted to a leadership position. Below are some of the factors that help explain this. In becoming aware of these factors, both as leaders and as those that help develop leaders in our organisations, we can strive to avoid pitfalls and help focus on the behaviours that have been proved time and again to be far more effective in delivering sustained benefits in this complex world.
1.     Those in a power role are often removed from the checks and balances of the feedback loop in which people tell each other about their impact, both positive and negative. When in low power role, it is often perceived to be too risky to offer negative feedback. Thus leaders don’t hear the negatives and lose their ability to check reality and as a result feel immune to the consequences of abuse of power. Without feedback, leaders can be insulated from the feelings associated with their impact, finding acting with empathy more difficult. In addition, leaders may become isolated and lonely leading to poorer judgment. 
2.     Our biologically inherent desire and capacity for empathy can easily be overridden by strong emotions such as anger, fear, and shame, because these strong emotions are responses to feeling threatened. When feeling danger our nervous systems revert from emotional intelligence to the less evolved nervous systems that are associated with fight, flight, or freeze. 
3.     We have all been wounded by misuses of power and there may be an unconscious tendency to treat others as we have been treated. Or we may in fact cause harm by overcompensating to avoid causing the same harm to others.
4.     People can over-identify with their role power. They see their enhanced power as entirely personal rather than simply the authority of the role. This can lead to feelings of grandness and an unrealistic sense of self. When a leader has power associated with their role, they forget or override the kinds of respectful and beneficial behaviours that were effective before. When they see their role power simply as increased personal power, they can also begin misusing power in revenge for past hurt or maybe because now they can get away with it. 
5.     People often link role power with control, and as a result tend to become motivated by the fear of losing it, and sometimes too by the greed for more.
6.     Many new leaders may feel insecure after being promoted to positions of authority, especially when they have had little training or preparation. This insecurity tends to make them feel alone with negative emotions that go along with this. 
7.     Leaders can also become part of their organisational systems and cultures and it becomes difficult to act alone. These systems may well support or even mandate particular behaviours that contribute to right or wrong uses of power.

8.     Most of the programmes and films we watch give rise to conditioned expectations about the use of power. We have become accustomed to thinking of power as manipulation, coercion and deception. We have come to understand that this is what power is and how it is effective. As a result we put up with this model of power and sanction it, even though it often causes harm. 

If would like to learn more about asking great questions, my new book 'Purple Monkeys' A Leader's Practical Guide To Unleashing The Power Of Questions To Deliver Great Results' will be available shortly. For More information go to my website www.pmpgenesis.net or simply click the HOME button on the right.

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