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