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The Politics of Power

I recently came across this fascinating article about the how power affects us by one of my favorite science writers, Jonah Lehrer. It brought to mind something that happened at the Academy of Cnscious Change this summer.

In essence, the article tells us that contrary to the phrase “nice guys finish last”, science is finding is that nice guys actually finish first. But then, once they get that promotion, win the election or start that organization, they often lose all the nice-guy qualities that got them there to begin with.

“It’s an incredibly consistent effect,” Mr. Keltner says. “When you give people power, they basically start acting like fools. They flirt inappropriately, tease in a hostile fashion, and become totally impulsive.” Mr. Keltner compares the feeling of power to brain damage, noting that people with lots of authority tend to behave like neurological patients with a damaged orbito-frontal lobe, a brain area that’s crucial for empathy and decision-making.”

We’ve seen that idea play out over and over in everyone from Google to politicians to priests.

While the article presents a rather bleak picture, it got me thinking back to a day at the Academy where we did some role-play exercises around the idea of power. One thing that struck me was that our Rwandan participants had a very easy time describing what it felt like to be powerless, but when in the power position, seemed to be more concerned with how their powerless partner must be feeling.

However, as they start their organizations, they will increasingly find themselves in more powerful leadership positions within their community. It suddenly struck me as not only socially, but neurologically sound that the next part of the academy emphasized increased self-awareness and compassion as they rise in stature.

I wonder if the CEO’s of the world might like an Academy of their own….

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