Throughout history people have glorified being a leader. In ancient cultures, they deified leaders. Tell anyone he is a leader and it’s a compliment. Yet, as technology and research advance, it’s becoming more and more that saying someone is a leader is like saying he’s a mental health case.
How Being A Leader Harms Mental Health
Leadership though is not the problem. It’s the power that comes with it. Leaders think less. They empathize less. They fall more easily for sycophants and flatterers. In short, increasingly, research shows they lose their ability to relate to people. They become more reliant upon their “own powers.” Decision making becomes worse.
People magnify the problem. They think less. It’s easier to just follow a leader. They yield to authority. They mimic leaders’ behaviors. When leaders and facts differ, people believe the leader. Very simply, we, the people, reinforce a leader’s echo chamber. She hears what she wants to hear.
This reinforcement of the echo chamber even shows up in training for leaders. Since they often decide the training, who wants training that shows they might be endangering their mental health? So, the training doesn’t discuss it. It does not show up in business schools either.
The Evidence Of Power Harming Mental Health
In everyday work life, people often comment, “He has changed since becoming the boss.” While we often rationalize this as the “necessities” of being a leader, the body of evidence showing a change does occur grows rapidly..
Take Dacher Keltner, in an article in The Atlantic. He says the effect of power on brains is similar to suffering brain trauma. Another is Sukhvinder Obhi, a neuroscientist. In the same article, using a transcranial-magnetic-stimulation machine he found power impairs mirroring of others. That’s not all either. All the links above contain links to more.
How To Ward Off These Harms Of Being A Leader
Of course, solutions exist. The focus is not power though. It’s feeling powerful. That’s what harms the brain. That feeling produces the hubris and hubris-like effects above.
To ward them off, the leader must do mundane things, stay in touch with normal people. That means the people lower in the group’s or the society’s hierarchy. It means listening to and thinking about views the leader does not like. It means doing the chores at home.
Very simply, the more people cater to a leader’s every need, the worse his mental health gets. That means people should avoid glorifying leaders. That means leaders should not fall for flatterers. Otherwise, expect bad decisions. Expect too the leader’s downfall . . . but only after many suffer.