Power Hungry Jerks – How To Make ‘Em

kinnon —  January 31, 2007 — 3 Comments

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.

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

3 responses to Power Hungry Jerks – How To Make ‘Em

  1. This is interesting, they are saying that power makes the jerk, but is it possible that the Jerk makes his own power. Does it take being a jerk to get to the positions of power?

  2. Liam –

    Your question made me think of this quote:

    “No man is really changed by success. What happens is that success works on the man’s personality like a truth drug, bringing him out of the closet and revealing what was always inside his head.”

    – Albert Goldman

  3. The danger is to make the assumption that power is now proven to be inherently bad for us and should be avoided. “Yeah! I knew it. Power corrupts! fight the power.”

    The church is quick to identify with the downtrodden and those without power, but we serve a God who is defined by his power. Also, we are instructed to be transformed into his image and to model him in our lives.

    How can one do that and avoid power?

    I would argue that man in his fallen state is not prepared to hold power without it having a negative effect on all involved. But, a regenerate man (or woman!) has the opportunity to display God’s glory by handling power in a way that is a blessing to all involved.

    Unfortunatly, we live in a world where people in power use it in God’s name, but they by no means display an understanding of his character and thus do damage to the idea of christians wielding power.


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