How Power Corrupts Even the Best of People

How Power Corrupts Even the Best of People

Power corrupts. True or false? Last month these words came to mind as I read Wikileaks’ intriguing “Podesta Emails.” Each new email showed the intertwining of relationships and conversations between powerful political operatives.

How does power corrupt?

The term “corrupt” does not necessarily mean graft or criminal behavior. As individuals move towards the pinnacles of their careers, they display behaviors that bring them success. Over time these characteristics diminish. Success erases qualities that spawned professional achievements.

Dr. Dacher Keltner in “Don’t Let Power Corrupt You” at explains how power corrupts. His proposition is: “people usually gain power through traits and actions that advance the interests of others, such as empathy, collaboration, openness, fairness, and sharing; when they start to feel powerful or enjoy certain privileges, those qualities fade.” The trappings of success replace the qualities that led us to success. He calls this the “power paradox.”

Don’t Let Power Corrupt You
A paradox of power is that people gain it through virtuous behaviors such as collaboration, openness, fairness, and sharing, but once they enjoy a position of privilege, those finer qualities start to fade. Research shows that the powerful are more likely to engage in rude, selfish, and unethical behavior. This tarnishes their reputations, undermining their influence, and creates stress and anxiety among their colleagues, dragging down their teams’ engagement and performance. Read more…

Dr. Keltner reassures us we can increase (or recover) our potential for empathy, gratitude, and generosity through simple actions. Below are a few of Dr. Keltner’s ideas on how to display these important three characteristics.

• Listen with enthusiasm. Orient your body and eyes toward the person speaking. Vocally convey interest and engagement.

• Before a meeting, take a moment to think about the person you’ll be with and what is happening in his or her life.

• Make thoughtful thank-you’s a part of how you communicate with others.

• Send colleagues specific and timely e-mails or notes of appreciation for jobs done well.

• Publicly acknowledge the value that each person contributes to your team, including the support staff.

• Look for occasions to spend a little one-on-one time with the people you lead.

• Delegate some important and high-profile responsibilities.

• Share the limelight. Give credit to all who contribute to the success of your team and your organization.

My Bottom Line Thoughts

As we climb the ladder of success, we can learn some behavioral habits that are non-productive. We can slip into feeling entitled. We seem to forget “where we came from”— our first entry-level job. Thankfully, my faith has kept me centered on the reality that my achievements are a gift from God. I can do nothing on my own—my accomplishments are God’s will.

My faith also teaches me that God chooses the lowly to achieve great things. Oh, yes, being treated with executive privileges can be impressive, but don’t believe your press clippings. Remember that your success continues to depend on the performance and contributions of other people. You are not a one-man show.

And, along your path to remarkable successes don’t neglect to say, “Please,” “Thank You,” “Good morning, and “Have a great weekend.”



Image Credit

Image via


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Protected by WP Anti Spam

This blog is kept spam free by WP-SpamFree.