Bob Sutton on how Power Turns People Into A_______
My colleague at the Stanford Business School Deborah Gurenfeld and her colleagues have been studying the effects of power on human beings for over years, and the findings are clear: power turns people into selfish and insensitive jerks, who act as if the the rules that the rest of us have to follow don’t apply to them.
Perhaps the best quick summary of this research is an article San Francisco Chronicle last Fall called on power and its evil effects, The article summarizes this large body of research — now hundreds of studies — as follows:
“Research documents the following characteristics of people with power: They tend to be more oblivious to what others think, more likely to pursue the satisfaction of their own appetites, poorer judges of other people’s reactions, more likely to hold stereotypes, overly optimistic and more likely to take risks.”
It quotes one of Gruenfeld’s main conclusions:
“Disinhibition is the very root of power,” said Stanford Professor Deborah Gruenfeld, a social psychologist who focuses on the study of power. “For most people, what we think of as ‘power plays’ aren’t calculated and Machiavellian — they happen at the subconscious level. Many of those internal regulators that hold most of us back from bold or bad behavior diminish or disappear. When people feel powerful, they stop trying to ‘control themselves.’ “
This explains a lot…at least to me.