Thursday, August 19, 2010

An interesting article by Jonah Leher from the Wall Street Journal
Contrary to the Machiavellian cliche, nice people are more likely to rise to power.  Then something strange happens: Authority atrophies the very talents that got them there.

When CEO Mark Hurd resigned from Hewlett-Packard last week in light of ethics violations, many people expressed surprise. Mr. Hurd, after all, was known as an unusually effective and straight-laced executive.

But the public shouldn't have been so shocked. From prostitution scandals to corruption allegations to the steady drumbeat of charges against corporate executives and world-class athletes, it seems that the headlines are filled with the latest misstep of someone in a position of power. This isn't just anecdotal: 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.

So contrary to Machiavelli's advice to "The Prince"  being feared over being loved doesn't lead one to a place of power.  Power is rewarded on likable people who are diplomatic and successful in forging social relations or networks.
Sounds great doesn't it?
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.

"It's an incredibly consistent effect," Mr. Keltner says. "When you give people power, they basically start acting like fools. They flirt inappropriately, tease in a hostile fashion, and become totally impulsive." Mr. Keltner compares the feeling of power to brain damage, noting that people with lots of authority tend to behave like neurological patients with a damaged orbito-frontal lobe, a brain area that's crucial for empathy and decision-making. Even the most virtuous people can be undone by the corner office.

Now, as to why this happens you need to read the entire article because it is too much too long for me to quote here.
Besides, don't we already know power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
And for some reason all of this reminds me of a favorite song from my days as a young matron.

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