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11 Jul 2016

Navigating the Trappings of Power without Falling In

All things contain the seeds of their own demise. This completes the life cycle. We can’t live without breathing. Yet, breathing causes our bodies to wear out. Likewise, the trappings of power contain the seeds to undo that power. We can navigate them though.

In short, the trappings of power insulate people from reality. They insulate leaders from their groups. They insulate businesspeople from their markets, customers and employees. They insulate family members from family.

The Trappings of Power

People who ignore the trappings of power are doomed to fall for them.

Power contains the seeds of its demise in the form of the trappings of power.

People who fall into the trappings of power, see several changes:

These changes insulate those with power. They lose grip on reality. Bad decisions follow. Trust and money fade.

Navigating without Falling In

The phrase “drunk with power” expresses a way to navigate these trappings of power without falling for them. As with alcohol, power affects people chemically and hormonally. Both alcohol and power tap strong emotional triggers. These trappings are hard to resist.

As with alcohol, navigating these require discipline. We must work to offset their bad side-effects. That means:

  • Being aware that we are not immune to these trappings
  • Ensuring work perks exist to help our work and not to convey entitlement
  • Holding ourselves to the same rules that we expect others to follow
  • Asking, “Are they being negative or just passionate about another way?”
  • Putting us in spots where we see the pain of others and offer compassion
  • Establishing thought and decision-making guidelines and processes
  • Realizing that frequent agreeing and complimenting by others could be a cover for mediocre work
  • Knowing a room full of heads nodding, “yes,” likely means something is wrong

Power Can Undo the Powerful

Humans have a life cycle. They create and use power. They give power life. That gives it a cycle too. That cycle contains the seeds that undo power just as breathing wears out our bodies. The trappings of power waters those seeds. Don’t water them.


NOTE: I made several references to the transcript from this video. I recommend it for additional information.

PBS News Hour Video: Psychologist Dacher Keltner, University of California, Berkeley talking about his new book, The Power Paradox. Transcript.

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