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Leadership and the psychology of power. (2005)

“…power is disinhibiting… to understand leadership behaviour it is important to consider the psychological effects of power on the leader”

Joe C. Magee, Deborah. H. Gruenfeld; Stanford University
Dacher J. Keltner; University of California Berkeley
Adam D. Galinsky; Northwestern University

In The Psychology of Leadership: New Perspectives and Research.
DM Messick, & RM Kramer (eds)
IB Publisher pp. 275-293.

“Leaders wield power in many different ways. From the heroism of Martin Luther King Jr. to the atrocities of Slobodan Milosevic – and the wide range of more mundane pro-social and anti-social behavior in between, many leaders’ actions share something in common: they reflect and disregard formal norms and demonstrate a reduced concern for certain kinds of social consequences in the name of pursuing personal goals and objectives. “

The authors review the effects of power on those who possess it. They document their central thesis – that power is disinhibiting – and explain the psychological mechanisms underlying he effect. They argue that “the experience of power increases a focus on goal implementation, changes self-regulation processes and alters attention to the self and others, thereby restoring a direct link between goals and acts that satisfy them.

“It might be helpful for leaders to know that their power can incite them to act, not only when action is necessary and the correct response is obvious, but also when action is unnecessary, when the correct response is not clear and when restraint is required. The knowledge that power can reduce perspective taking and lead to objectification might also be useful for leaders who want to maintain positive relationships with those who support them…. Leaders who recognise and learn to manage their own power are the most successful

“The way in which a leader acts is often taken as a reflection of a dispositionally determined leadership style. However a focus on leadership styles neglects the possibility that the leadership role is a strong situation, one that affects cognition and behavior in ways that are both consistent and inconsistent with effective leadership.

“Most leaders assume their positions with the noblest of intentions but …their power can get the better of them

“Our point is … that to understand leadership behaviour it is important to consider the psychological effects of power on the leader.”

Access the full paper here: Leadership and the psychology of power.

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