Leadership Research: How Power Affects Priorities

In order for any business to be successful, effective leadership is essential. However, every leader is human, and no human is perfect. Leaders are supposed to make all of their decisions based on what is best for the company as a whole. Unfortunately, any time a human being has power over others, the temptation to serve his or her own interests will always be part of the package.

This theory is supported by recent research. According to the Economist, researchers at Illinois’ Northwestern University and Tilburg University in the Netherlands explored this idea by conducting a study involving 61 college students. During the study, students were divided into two groups, and each group was made to feel either powerful or powerless. All participants then engaged in two types of activities: one designed to test their expectations for the morality of others and others designed to test their own morality.

The study found that participants who were made to feel powerful were more likely to compromise their own ethics for personal gain than those who were not made to feel powerful. The study also showed that “powerful” participants who compromised their own ethics for personal gain still expected the people around them to adhere to higher moral standards.

The results of this research are troubling. Not only are leaders more likely to behave immorally when it suits their interests, but they also tend to be hypocritical. However, as we discussed in a previous post, some leaders are less likely to be corrupted by power than others. Likewise, leaders who don’t have absolute power over their subordinates are less likely to put themselves ahead of the greater good than leaders who have unlimited power. Thus, you can protect your company from corrupt leadership by ensuring that you have the right people in leadership positions and that their power is never left unchecked.

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