Where Did All The Good People Go?

An article posted on The Wall Street Journal‘s website discusses how authority positions seem to be riddled with scandals and inappropriate behavior. The article, written by Jonah Lehrer, notes that surveys of organizations found that the majority of inappropriate behaviors, like shouting profanities, come from top authority offices. But how did these leaders rise to power? Being rude and reckless are not ways to rise in the ranks from basic employee to authority figure. What sets off the transformation?

Psychologists refer to this as the paradox of power. The very traits that helped leaders accumulate control in the first place all but disappear once they rise to power.

Several studies have been examined to see how people are appointed to powerful positions. It seems that people give power to other people that they actually like. So, maybe in this light, nice guys don’t always finish last – in fact, they come out on top. This goes against many age-old theories that it is better to be feared than loved, but maybe the times are a-changin’. In facet, another study of sorority sisters tested the idea that it is better to be feared than loved. By spreading rumors, the ‘feared’ sisters were quickly identified and isolated. They never rose to any position of power because no one liked them.

There is something deeply uplifting about this research. It’s reassuring to think that the surest way to accumulate power is to do unto others as you would have them to unto you.

But there’s also bad news: being nice might have gotten leaders into their authority roles, but something clicks at the top of the ladder and the metamorphosis into bigot begins. According to psychologists, one of the main problems with authority is that it makes us less sympathetic to the emotions and concerns of others. Another concern is that the thought processes set off by authority distorts the ability to evaluate information and make complex decisions.

There are numerous studies and experiments about how power affects individuals. This article is packed full of interesting studies that provide insight into the mindsets of people given positions of authority. To read more, click here.

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