Sunday, 11 September 2016

Perils of Power

I don’t know what happened  “ my brother was visibly worried , “My boss was not like this earlier … He has become so rude and inconsiderate …  Tell me , is it possible for a person to change so drastically  ?

Changed .. is that what you said ? “ I asked him.

Yeah !  Changed ! “ He reiterated. “He was so kind and understanding earlier !"

Hmm .. Tell me … was he promoted recently or have there been any other changes in his role  ?

Yes. He was promoted about a year back and  about three months back he has become the Project  Manager of  a very strategic assignment in our organization. I too am a part of that project. Initially I was so happy and excited to be under him as I had worked with him earlier. I had also told my peers about my boss and his demeanor , but …. I don’t know what happened to him … seems to be a different person


Well .. it happens ! “ I told him coolly “It can happen to you too …. Once you assume a position of power and you are not mindful  about it !

Actually, this is quite a common phenomenon.

Power tends to corrupt and people lose the very qualities which actually made them  great leaders and rise to that position.  

Qualities like openness, empathy, collaboration, fairness fade away and they engage in absolutely the opposite qualities like rudeness, favouritism  and sometimes in unethical behavior.

There have been several researches on this. I read in one Harvard Business review article about an interesting experiment.  Groups of 5 people – 4 team members and one supervisor, were invited for a training.  A plate of cookies was kept in front of them during the session. It had one cookie for each and one extra. 

It was found out that  95% of the times, it was the supervisor who ate the extra cookie, depriving the rest !

Most of the time, the organizational culture induces this effect.  

For example, you might have noticed that during any party or event, the seniors are offered food first. My husband works for the Railways and there the culture is even more pronounced.  The junior officers have to sweat it out in rooms which has basic facilities and the Senior officers have 4 ACs fitted in their huge offices !  

I have advocated to many CEO’s that during events, the leaders should eat the last . 

It helps in building a strong culture in the organization – at no cost !

So , I told my brother “ Yes,  It happens ! But remember that this might sound the death knell for his career and sometime or the other he might lose the power which he has now … So dear bro, it can happen to you too when you get power. So be careful !  “

So how can we avoid this ?

  • Be mindful  : Whenever you are feeling heady or very excited, take a deep breath and repeat in your mind that you have power and you should respect it .  Know your emotions and try to control it.

  • Practice empathetic body language : Whenever someone comes to talk to you, lean forward and smile.  Listen. Yes, I know you have lots of emails to respond to, your to do list is huge, but remember that to  the person who has come to you , this  moment is very important for him. Give your full attention, make notes.

  •  Small gestures :  Give your personal touch – both literally and figuratively.  A clap, a high five, a huge smile at the appropriate moment will bring out the best for you who are in power in the eyes of your subordinates.  A small  handwritten note of appreciation,  a token gift,  a thank you email  will make you look a big person with a big heart !

  • Self Checks : Do some self introspection and try to look for patterns to take corrective actions. For example, are you checking your whatsapp or messages on phone when someone is talking to you ? Are you ridiculing anyone publicly ? Are you spending too much money which you did not do earlier? Is your desk messy and you expect  the peon to clean it up for you?  Have you recently tried some daring adventure contrary to earlier times ?  These are some simple questions whose answer will help you in  evaluating yourself whether power is making you a mean person or not.  These are simply some indications .   So check yourself and mend ways before it is too late.

On the same note , I read a very  heartening news last week in the newspaper. The newly appointed Governor of Haryana was perturbed to find that there were long queues of cars on the road because a part of the road had been blocked for his security. The next day , he made it clear that there should be minimal arrangements for his security and that under no circumstances the public should be inconvenienced for his movement.  

That showed his humility, confidence, empathy and definitely his upbringing as a scion of an erstwhile Royal family.

So dear leaders, be aware that power can corrupt you. 

Be as you were before and empower others more !

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