“There are just so many good examples of people with power who behave in ways that demand some kind of psychological explanation,” says the director of Stanford’s Center for Development and Research.
Here’s one of Gruenfeld’s findings:
- Powerful people show “disinhibition,” or acting on their desires without considering others. Disinhibited people also may be more action-oriented in pursuing a goal, and may use others to reach it.
Example: As portrayed in Bob Woodward’s book, Plan of Attack, President Bush gobbles up his generals’ peppermints during a meeting of the Joint Chiefs while Vice President Cheney nods off.
Gruenfeld sees Bush’s and Cheney’s behavior as disinhibition because when people gain power, they stop trying to control themselves, either because they forget there are social consequences to their behavior … or because there are no social consequences.
A plate of five cookies is brought into a room with three people. After the first round is consumed, not only do the more powerful people eat the remaining two cookies, but they eat with great gusto, crumbs flying.
Bottom line: To avoid alienating your team, be aware that power may erode your social inhibitions, ratchet up your self-interest and tempt you to use people as instruments.
—Adapted from “Behaving Badly May Be Natural at the Top,” Deborah Gruenfeld, Stanford Business.