Earlier this week, Shankar Vedantam of the Washington Post wrote this piece about the psychology of power. Vedantam cites research challenging the traditional view that manipulative and ruthless people are the ones most likely to rise to positions of power. "These studies show," he writes, "that leaders often emerge from communities not because they are ruthless, but because they are skilled at managing social relationships."
But Vedantam also cites another key research findings: "Something happens to people once they acquire power … and the transformation appears to be psychological."
What happens is that people become more aggressive and less adept at seeing the world through other people's perspectives. The result is what my Greater Good co-editor Dacher Keltner calls a "power paradox." Vedantam spoke with Dacher for this Washington Post piece, and Dacher stressed the importance of social intelligence in helping people obtain and hold onto positions of power.
But once socially gifted people rise to power, Keltner added, the paradox is that "power simplifies our thinking. We tend to see things in terms of our own self-interest, and it makes us more impulsive. We forget our audience in service of gratifying our own impulses."
Dacher elaborates on the power paradox–and how to resolve it–in the next issue of Greater Good, which features several essays on the psychology of power. In addition to Dacher's piece–which does an excellent job of overturning some common myths and misconceptions about power, if I do say so myself–the issue will also include pieces by Robert Sutton, Stanford professor and author of The No Asshole Rule; Ethsix* editor Eve Ekman; and parent educators Sura Hart and Victoria Kindle Hodson.
Greater Good's Psychology of Power issue will be out next month.
About The Author
Jason Marsh is the editor in chief of Greater Good.