One of the most popular classes at Harvard University today is a deep dive into the wisdom of the great Chinese philosophers, scholars who lived over 2,000 years ago.
We all know their names – Confucius, Mencius, Zhangzi and Lao Tzu – Eastern sages who devoted their lives to exploring what it takes to flourish in life, and who often landed on counter-intuitive conclusions that stand in stark contrast to traditional Western thinking.
“Your lives are about to be profoundly changed,” Michael Puett tells his students on the first day of class. The professor begins every new semester knowing that the time-tested and spiritually informed ideas of the Chinese scholars will likely fully transform how his students go on to operate in the world.
After taking Puett’s class as a Ph.D. student, Christine Gross-Loh astutely realized that far more people than Ivy League students needed an introduction to classical Chinese philosophy. And she urged Puett to collaborate with her on a book – and to effectively make his research available to us all.
Just recently, the pair published, “The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About The Good Life,“ and it’s become a New York Times best seller.
While nowhere is it clear in the title, many of the book’s most provocative ideas also have direct application to workplace leadership. After fully digesting The Path – and then spending considerable time discussing it with Gross-Loh, I’ve spotlighted three pieces of ancient wisdom that are not only likely to challenge your personal views on how best to excel in the world, they might just send your own life into a positive new trajectory:
In the late 19th Century, British historian, Lord Acton, famously asserted that “power corrupts.” And we surely needn’t look too deeply within business, politics and every day life to find examples that validate this timeless truth.
But new research from U.C. Berkeley social scientist, Dacher Keltner, confirms something few of us may ever have personally acknowledged with regard to Lord Acton’s insight: When we ourselves are given positions of power, we’re no less prone to abuse it.
In the American workplace today, over half of workers admit to quitting jobs in order to flee a power-abusing boss. And, of course, employee job satisfaction and engagement are mired in true crisis levels. What Keltner’s work reveals is that our common ways of applying power in managing people deserves much of the blame for these outcomes.
For the past two decades, Keltner has been studying human emotions and how they influence behavior. Tied to this work, he advised Pixar Studios in the making of their Academy Award-winning animated film, “Inside Out,” and guided Facebook executives in creating their new emoticons. And in his new book, The Power Paradox: How We Gain And Lose Influence, he explains why our traditional beliefs on leadership power must be tossed away if our goal is to succeed in motivating 21st Century workers.
I recently visited with Keltner and asked him to explain how our current beliefs about power were formed – and what new understanding must replace them. His conclusions have profound implications to the future of workplace leadership.
We’ve Held The Same Views On Power For 400 Years