The Paradox of Power

by Zoe Pollock

Jonah Lehrer gives us both the good news and the bad news. We put people in power who we genuinely like. It's only then that the situation changes:

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. In some cases, these new habits can help a leader be more decisive and single-minded, or more likely to make choices that will be profitable regardless of their popularity. One recent study found that overconfident CEOs were more likely to pursue innovation and take their companies in new technological directions. Unchecked, however, these instincts can lead to a big fall.

Jesse Walker adds a grain of salt:

The scholars cited in the piece are most persuasive when they observe actual social hierarchies in action. They are least persuasive when they draw sweeping conclusions from dubious experiments. The article's most ridiculous moment comes when it describes a study whose subjects were asked "to either describe an experience in which they had lots of power or a time when they felt utterly powerless. Then the psychologists asked the subjects to draw the letter E on their foreheads. Those primed with feelings of power were much more likely to draw the letter backwards, at least when seen by another person. [Adam] Galinsky argues that this effect is triggered by the myopia of power, which makes it much harder to imagine the world from the perspective of someone else." That seems about as believable as palmistry.