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Description: What happens, inevitably, when you give someone power over others? Baron Acton said it very succinctly, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Too true, right? Well no one, and especially psychological researchers and anyone interested in human behavior should be comfortable saying that a saying perfectly captures human behavior. The author of the article linked below reviews research into this general question of the effects of power on leaders and essentially is pointing out that like a LOT of human behavior, it depends. Before you read the article think little bit about what it might depend upon. What sorts of personal, situational and experiential variables will sort out how leaders react to having power? Once you have worked out your hypotheses have a rad through the article and see how your thoughts match up with those of Psychological, researchers interested in these questions.

Source: When Power Makes Leaders More Sensitive, Matthew Huston, New York Times, Job Market.

Date: May 19, 2017


Links:  Article Link —       

As you saw in the article there are a number of contextual factors that influence how people react to having power. Most interesting, some of those contextual factors are open to manipulation as are factors such as transparency and accountability, all things that companies and organizations can influence through training and rules and expectations for workplace performance. Essentially the culture of the workplace with regards to leadership and power expectations can create a very positive or a very negative context for leaders with power to act. Leaders that see power as freedom tend to behave selfishly when they have it whereas leaders who see power as a responsibility tend to behave in more supportive and empowering ways with their subordinates. Essentially, organizational structures can be built in ways that produce positively empowered leaders.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is the difference between a leaders seeing power as providing freedom and one that sees it as a responsibility?
  2. What are some of the contextual factors that can influence how leaders act when given power?
  3. What does the research suggest companies and organizations should do to ensure their leaders deploy their power positively and responsibly?

References (Read Further):

Hu, M., Rucker, D. D., & Galinsky, A. D. (2016). From the Immoral to the Incorruptible: How Prescriptive Expectations Turn the Powerful Into Paragons of Virtue. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 42(6), 826-837.

Rus, D., van Knippenberg, D., & Wisse, B. (2010). Leader self-definition and leader self-serving behavior. The Leadership Quarterly, 21(3), 509-529.

Galinsky, A. D., Magee, J. C., Rus, D., Rothman, N. B., & Todd, A. R. (2014). Acceleration with steering: The synergistic benefits of combining power and perspective-taking. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 5(6), 627-635.

Scholl, A., Sassenberg, K., Scheepers, D., Ellemers, N., & Wit, F. (2017). A matter of focus: Power‐holders feel more responsible after adopting a cognitive other‐focus, rather than a self‐focus. British Journal of Social Psychology, 56(1), 89-102.

Williams, M. J. (2014). Serving the self from the seat of power: Goals and threats predict leaders’ self-interested behavior. Journal of Management, 40(5), 1365-1395.