In an article for the Harvard Business Review, psychologist Dacher Keltner describes what he calls the "power paradox:" a phenomenon in which people rise to the top of their companies because of virtues such as collaboration and openness, but soon lose those qualities once they settle in to their new place of power. Keltner details some of the behaviors people in power can acquire:
Studies show that people in positions of corporate power are three times as likely as those at the lower rungs of the ladder to interrupt coworkers, multitask during meetings, raise their voices, and say insulting things at the office. And people who’ve just moved into senior roles are particularly vulnerable to losing their virtues, my research and other studies indicate.
How can you avoid the power paradox? The first step is reflection. Keltner stresses that the first step to avoiding or recovering from the paradox is to reflect on recent behavior and recognize the toxic behaviors that lead to becoming a "mean" boss. "Studies in neuroscience find that by simply reflecting on those thoughts and emotions—“Hey, I’m feeling as if I should rule the world right now”—we can engage regions of our frontal lobes that help us keep our worst impulses in check," Keltner writes.
Next, Keltner suggests expressing both empathy and gratitude to employees to further combat the power paradox. By practicing empathy, such as listening well to employees' concerns and asking questions during every interaction, employees will feel cared for and heard, which will make them strive to work better to benefit the team. In addition, showing gratitude to employees, such as by writing thank you notes and genuinely celebrating employees' successes, can do wonders to help boost employee morale and make them feel appreciated.
For more of Keltner's insights, and to take a quiz to see if you have succumbed to the power paradox, follow the link below.