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8 Jan 2015

With More Power Less Empathy

This entry is part 11 of 14 in the series Leadership - The Secret

With more power less empathy sets in.

With more power less empathy comes too.

Leadership programs tend to paint a Pollyanna picture of leadership. When leaders go awry, they like to say, “That is not leadership,” “The leader did not earn trust,” “The leader was not honest,” plus many other retorts. They paint the dark side of leadership as not being leadership at all. They are teaching Luke Skywalker about the Force without warning him of its Dark Side. As a result, leadership blindsides leaders and causes them to fall.

With leadership power comes too. With more power less empathy does too. Empathy is a safeguard against authoritarianism and prejudice. This puts the leader at risk of hubris. Hubris makes leaders ill-prepared to adapt. Hubris makes leaders believe nothing will change. They will remain in control. Leaders come to fear change. Their organizations do not change. When things do change, the leaders and their people fall.

Money often begets power. At minimum, people feel powerful. As people acquire more money, they give less to charity as a percentage of income. Moreover, when they do give it is mainly to universities, colleges, arts, hospitals, and museums. The less money people have the more likely they are to give to religious and social-service organizations.

Another aspect with more power less empathy is homophily. Powerful people like to hang out with other powerful people. It is natural. This is the White House bubble about which Presidents complain. In business it is the “yes people,” the sycophants. They form an ego-massaging bubble that is hard to resist.

Leadership encourages leaders to be removed. That is part of its dark side. As they associate less with those less powerful than they are, their empathy wanes. They are out of sight and out of mind. It is why people who live in socioeconomically diverse communities give more to charity than those who live in more homogenous ones. Diversity protects our empathy. It secures our future.

As with Luke, we can learn to protect ourselves. Bad leadership is still leadership. Leadership’s dark side will corrupt good people. With more power less empathy is just one part of that dark side.


Additional reading: Power Robs the Brain of Empathy cites several more studies as well as looking at how power affects our brain waves as seen in EMG readings.

Series Navigation<< Leadership’s Secret Physical CharacteristicsWith More Power Less Thinking Occurs? >>

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