Is Your Power Corrupting You?

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 to enjoy a position of privilege, however, those qualities begin to fade. The powerful are more likely than other people to engage in rude, selfish, and unethical behavior. My research has shown that the 19th-century historian and politician Lord Acton was right when he wrote that power corrupts. The challenge is that power’s corrupting influence is often insidious, first appearing in everyday interactions. But the consequences of even small incivilities and indiscretions at the top can be far-reaching. Abusing power tarnishes executives’ reputations, undermining their opportunities for influence. It also creates stress and anxiety among their colleagues, diminishing rigor and creativity in the group and dragging down team members’ engagement and performance.

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