Power Drunk Leadership

By: Edith Amegatcher

Power is a word that invokes a range of images and ideas. Some people see it as bad, while other people see it as magnetic and empowering.

Power of this nature is designed to help those around us. It provides the courage to take action when it’s needed. It comes from knowing oneself and being comfortable to share power, rather than focus on having power over others.

Dacher Keltner in his book, The Power Paradox, writes that power is something we acquire by improving the lives of other people in our social network. In this way, power is granted to us by others.

However, he notes that often our very experience of power destroys the skills that gave us the power in the first place.

His research has found that people who feel powerful are more likely to act impulsively. For example having affairs, driving aggressively, communicating in rude and disrespectful ways or lying. And by behaving in this way we actually lose power.

So what are the warning signs that one may be drunk on power?

It can be when an individual or group  think their rights and needs outweigh those of others, striving for outcomes that are all about their needs, when a leader stops listening to other people for advice, when leaders starts to think they are the smartest person in the room and they ignore feedback.

In political and diplomatic circles, the concept of a ‘balance of power’ is used and it proposes that outcomes are enhanced when no single nation is so powerful they are able to dominate world affairs.

Abraham Lincoln said: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power”. (Of course, I’m sure if he was writing that today he’d use gender neutral language).

When abuse of power comes easily, it also becomes an all-too-attractive end for pathological individuals who might try to seize it through any means. When they attain a position of control of an entire society, great tragedy can result. We shudder to consider the examples of Adolf Hitler’s Germany, Joseph Stalin’s Russia, Mao Zedong’s China, and Pol Pot’s Cambodia.

According to Padilla, Hogan, and Kaiser, the rise to power of pathological leaders results from what political scientists call a “toxic triangle”, which consists of dangerous leaders, vulnerable followers, and a society that provides the ripe ground for their collusion. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot all rose to power not as isolated individuals, but as members of pathological parties that facilitated their rise.

In each case, not only did many of those close to the pathological leader also suffer from dangerous defects, but they played key roles in securing the pathological group’s hold on power. Economic insecurity, social disintegration, and mass disaffection with existing structures of power often form the third crucial aspect of the toxic triangle—the ripe ground that allows these pathological leaders to come to power.

Power can be a consuming entity. The more that it is received, the more it is coveted.

Many have gone to great lengths to obtain a high position and some do not mind committing heinous activities for a taste of power.The by-product of leadership is power. The danger with power is that it is intoxicating. Like wine, the more you have, the more you desire. This is the reason why the term ‘power drunk’ is used to describe leaders who abuse their office or position.

In this part of the world where our leaders and others easily get power drunk could be attributed to the way we see our leaders. In recent times we see our police officers abuse his power by picking a fight with a civilian likewise our military men assaulting the civilians, this even goes on to our schools and offices we find ourselves.

We turn to believe when an individual get little power he or she thinks the world should bow down to them. One thing people tend to forget is that the power that is given to you can also be taken away easily.

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