Power is a fact of corporate life. It also affects behaviour. Research suggests power makes people less likely to take the advice of others, even if those others are experts in their fields. It makes them more likely to gratify their physical needs. In a test conducted by Ana Guinote of University College London, powerful people were likelier than less powerful folk to choose tempting food, like chocolate, and ignore worthier snacks like radishes. In conversations, the powerful are bewitched by themselves: they rate their own stories as more inspiring than interlocutors’.
They struggle to see things from the perspective of others. In one famous experiment, some people were asked to recall a time they held power over someone else and others a time when another person was in a more powerful position than them; both groups were then asked to draw a capital “E” on their own foreheads. Subjects primed to think of themselves as powerful were three times more likely to draw the “E” as though they were looking at it themselves, making it appear backwards to anyone else.
Power even makes people think they are taller. In another experiment, those coaxed to think of themselves as powerful were more likely to overestimate their own height relative to a pole, and to pick a loftier avatar to represent them in a game, than less potent counterparts. Cause and effect are hard to unravel here: the dominant types who snaffle the chocolate and leave the radishes may also be more likely to climb the ladder. But possessing power seems itself to put a thumb on the scales, towards more entitled and self-serving behaviour.
Power is out of sync with the times. High-performing teams depend on collaboration and candour, not cringing and compliance. Humility is increasingly prized as an attribute of senior executives. In hiring processes some interviewers will look for use of the word “I” rather than “we” as a small marker of how egocentric people really are.
Entire industries are feted for the way they try to counteract the effects of power. The aviation industry is celebrated for a training technique called “crew resource management” that is designed to encourage a less hierarchical set of interactions in the cockpit. Similar kinds of thinking are visible in other workplaces that have especially clear chains of command, from the army to hospitals.
英/ ˈstrʌɡ(ə)l /美/ ˈstrʌɡ(ə)l /
英/ pəˈspektɪv /美/ pərˈspektɪv /
英/ ˈfɔːhed; ˈfɒrɪd /美/ ˈfɔːrhed /
英/ ˈbækwəd /美/ ˈbækwərd /