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How to Encourage Positive Power in Your Workplace

There are countless examples of dictators, despots, kings and queens who exemplify the dark aphorism “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

There are just as many CEOs, bosses, and managers who prove this saying. Perhaps you’ve even been subjected to a version of “power tends to corrupt” in your work history.

You probably swore you wouldn’t act like that when you got to the top.

A recent article by Matthew Hutson in the Business Section of the New York Times highlights a number of studies to help you (or a rising leader) to stick to that promise.

Hutson writes “power does not always lead to bad behavior — and can actually make leaders more sensitive to the needs of others. Several studies suggest ways to encourage positive power.”

  • Leaders who equate freedom to power are likely to use it selfishly.
  • Leaders who regard power as responsibility tend to be more selfless.
  • A study found that awareness of the good behavior of others can improve the behavior of those in power; that is, leaders behaved less selfishly when told that other leaders had been unselfish.
  • Likewise a “heightened sense of accountability can also keep power in check.” For example, when managers had to lay off an employee, having to explain their layoff approach to others increased attitudes of clarity and compassion.
  • When people in power feel a sense of belonging to a group, they tend to be concerned about the effects of their power on others. It’s a case of “we rather than I.”
  • Finally, studies find that when leaders feel their power is being threatened, they tend to behave more selfishly.From the New York Times article: “When leaders feel insecure in their positions, doubt their own competence or sense that they are not respected” they tend to lash out in order to maintain control. Choosing a leader with skills for their management task, and then treating them fairness and gratitude goes a long way to eliminating resentment, self-doubt, and abuses of power.

Read: When Power Makes Leaders More Sensitive in the New York Times

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