One sure path to power is through such means as coercion, deception, force, and disregard for people. It is how many organizations operate, and, yes, they prove to be profitable. But we've entered a new era of power that demands attention.
Mark C. Crowley, leadership expert and author of Lead From the Heart, recently interviewed UC Berkeley social scientist Dacher Keltner, a foremost expert on human emotions and how they influence behavior.
Keltner's most recent book, The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence, brings people in positions of power face-to-face with a hard truth: They must swiftly dispose of traditional beliefs on leadership power if they are to successfully motivate and engage today's employees.
Crowley asked him to explain how our current beliefs about power were formed -- and what new understanding must replace them. Here's a summary of their intriguing exchange.
Old Power Model
As I would firmly agree with Crowley, the U.S. is suffering from a leadership crisis. In one leading study release by Gallup, about 50 percent of employees surveyed left a job "to get away from their manager" -- many managers abuse their power for their own selfish means.
In Crowley and Keltner's conversation, something caught my attention for the first time. Keltner suggests that this old, and still prevalent, power model has been ingrained in our psyches for more than 400 years. It comes from a source most of us remember from high school or college.
"Our cultural understanding of power has been deeply shaped by Niccolò Machiavelli and his 16th-century book The Prince," Keltner tells Crowley. "Hundreds of thousands of students read this every year, and it's a book that teaches that power -- in its essence -- is about force, deception, and disregard for people."
While research shows that most people gain power by enhancing the lives of others, when they exercise their power over time, it gets to their heads. "There's a pull that leads them to forfeiting the very skills that enabled them to gain power in the first place," Keltner tells Crowley.
By having a little taste of success, they stop doing the things that are foundational to good leadership, says Keltner. "Give any person a little feeling of power, and we become more focused on our own desires than on others'."
Consequently, people in power roles lose touch with how other people feel -- empathy, generosity, open-mindedness go missing in exchange for disregard, rudeness, and control.
New Power Model
With globalization and workplaces becoming increasingly freer and autonomous, more collaborative and engaging, and more diverse in every which way, Keltner says power must be expressed in "advocacy, compassion, respect, attentiveness to human feelings, and gratitude toward others."
"We have a deep cultural intuition that nice guys finish last," Keltner tells Crowley, "and that one must step on others to rise in the ranks. But nothing could be further from the truth."
And here's the clincher, from a scientific standpoint, to garner credibility for leaders everywhere. Keltner states that more than 70 studies have clearly demonstrated that people who rise in power at their respective organizations consistently embody these five qualities. From Crowley's blog:
They express interest in others, advocate on their behalf, and take joy in their achievements.
They cooperate, share, express appreciation, and dignify other people.
They establish shared goals and rules and a clear purpose, and keep people on task.
Through their actions and communication, they instill calm and perspective.
They display empathy and a disciplined process of listening attentively.
"And when individuals use their power to advance the greater good, the evidence is also clear that they and the people they empower prove to be happier, healthier, and sustainably more productive," Keltner tells Crowley.