When I wrote the blog, Make Mistakes In Business for my A-Z of Business series, I got so excited I made my own mistake! I forgot “P,” so to make up for forgetting, here it is…
I’ve been thinking lately about the idea of the Power Paradox. Dacher Keltner’s studies into how we gain and lose influence have been groundbreaking. But to me, the Power Paradox is slightly different. I think it can include exhibiting unnecessary external power and pressure over an individual or situation. I believe power can be a paradox for three reasons: 1) Because it is really just a tool to mask an individual’s internal weaknesses and insecurities; 2) Most powerful people never have to exert their power; and 3) Jerks and a@#$% behavior is a direct result of a gut reaction to #1 and #2.
Ok, just so you know, I am totally winging it here. I have no external consultancy precedent from McKinsey, Blaine, or PWC to use as an outline for my 1-2-3 of the Power Paradox. But personally, for my entire career I have deplored this exhibition of power whenever I see it. I’ve never understood why it seemed to be behind so many bad decisions. This makes the Power Paradox a really important concept for us all to get our heads around whether at home or in business. To me it is one of the most essential things to watch out for as we grow and build our career. The power drug in my opinion is one of our most important things to manage in our world.
In other words, if you understand that the root of the Power Paradox is in an individual’s insecurities and that real power is rarely ever shown, you can see that it could create incredible frustration in an individual wielding power. Possibly the only way that individual can deal with the frustration of someone like me (or even you) who might call them out on it is to act like a jerk and become an a@#$%.
Here’s an example: Recently, I was in a business negotiation with a southern hemisphere-based company, and there was one element that became very uncomfortable for me. I wasn’t sure why I felt uncomfortable or what was going on, so I chose to flush it out and confront the person who was causing the problem. I didn’t call them out on a personal level but on a very factual, professional level asking, “Why the unusual behavior? Why are you trying to rub me the wrong way?” The backlash from that simple exchange was pretty incredible.
When I tried to explain the situation to one of my colleagues later, he said, “Well Anthony, in his country he is used to being the Alpha.” I pondered this for a bit and oh my! The idea of the Power Paradox was staring right smack in my face.
The Atlantic had a fantastic read on power recently. Here is a sample––
“If power were a prescription drug, it would come with a long list of known side effects. It can intoxicate. It can corrupt. It can even make Henry Kissinger believe that he’s sexually magnetic. But can it cause brain damage?”
… Henry Adams called power “a tumor that ends by killing the victim’s sympathies.” But that’s not far from where Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor at UC Berkeley, ended up after years of lab and field experiments. Subjects under the influence of power, he found in studies spanning two decades, acted as if they had suffered a traumatic brain injury—becoming more impulsive, less risk-aware, and, crucially, less adept at seeing things from other people’s point of view.”
Exerting power over others is wrong on so many levels. It has a great impact on both sides of the equation. The unsympathetic and condescending jerky behavior that power creates, and ultimately the damage it does, are the greatest risk to the power-hungry person’s own brain.
Power is something we all need to be very careful with. The symptoms need to be recognized, confronted quickly, and we need to make sure the ultimate damage caused by it is as minimal as possible. So if you personally are exerting power over someone, stop it and recognize that it is only showing your own insecurities. Recognize that you are causing neural damage to your own brain. Realize, too, that real power never has to be exhibited.
Ok, you got this, but how about just one more fact––the Ultimate Paradox. If you think that you are powerful by your intelligence, that same power damages your brain which will cause you to have much less intelligence––and also less sympathy for your fellow colleagues and friends. It just might give you the ultimate “unintelligent-jerk title.”
Wow! Now that’s a scary paradox.