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Mindful : February 2017
Power in Many Walks of Life Other social psychologists have studied who rises in power in different arenas. In financial firms, hospitals, and manufacturing plants, they track who is promoted to high-level manage- ment positions or is judged to be effective as a leader. In schools, they track those who serve on student council, those whom their peers regard as good leaders, and those who are popular. In the military, they track which recruits become officers. The samples are diverse with respect to social class, gender, and ethnicity. And across all 70 studies, those who rose to power were those who had all of the Big Five. Groups give us power when we are enthusias- tic, speak up, make bold assertions, and express an interest in others. Our capacity to influ- ence rises when we practice kindness, express appreciation, cooperate, and dignify what others say and do. We rise in power when we provide You might be wondering: Don’t totalitarian dictators and bullies successfully wield power for long periods of time and do a lot of damage? How does that line up with this notion of survival of the kindest? It’s true: The coercive, bullying, Machiavellian style can lead to gains in power. Although studies show that bullies are not respected by their peers, are often iso- lated, and don’t have much sustained influence, the sixth-grade bully can get a lot of attention and influence others, just as the Machia- vellian who rises to corporate or political power can make lives difficult and do much harm while they retain power. There are cer tain contexts, historical periods, and polit- ical moments where Machi- avellianism and fear-mon- gering seems to work particularly well. Research I’ve been doing recently suggests that when people feel they have little control in their lives and their economic lives have suffered, they are more likely to be drawn to a coercive leadership style. It also appears that more men than women are drawn to a coercive style. Research shows that this more coercive style tends to get a lot of attention initially, What About Dictators and Bullies? Excerpted from The Power Paradox by Dacher Keltner. Reprinted by arrangement with Peng uin Press, a member of Peng uin Group (USA) LLC, A Peng uin Random House Company. Copyright © Dacher Keltner, 2016. but it doesn’t retain much influence over the long run or garner the widespread, long- term support of colleagues and communities that leads to sustained successes. It leaves legacies of poor ethics and ill repute, such as happened with the Nixon administration. Studies also reveal that there is a common intuitive distrust, even repulsion, of coercive Machiavellians. And this manifests in social practices that constrain such Machiavellian power, includ- ing protest, dissent, mockery, and critical commentary. When these social practices are in place and pursued vigorously, communities can limit the damage bullies and coercers produce. Histor y is defined by this struggle between contrasting styles of power: a coercive, amoral, even violent one, and a collaborative, cooperative, compassionate one. Mar- tin Luther King, Jr. said he refused “to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless mid- night of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” Which form of power pre- vails is really up to us. calm and remind people of broader perspec- tives during times of stress, tell stories that calm during times of tension, and practice kind speech. Our opportunity for influence increases when we are open and ask great questions, listen to others with receptive minds, and offer playful ideas and novel perspectives. By contrast, exploitative, selfish, coercive behavior unravels the fabric of strong groups. Groups know this and also have histories with individuals who abuse power and act in greedy and impulsive ways. So groups choose to give power to people who are enthusiastic, kind, focused, calm, and open. They construct repu- tations that track an individual’s capacity to act on behalf of the group, and they rely on these reputations to collaborate, cooperate, and build alliances and strong ties. They elevate the status of those who share, and they tarnish the reputa- tions of the selfish and the Machiavellian. Power is not grabbed. It is given. ● By Dacher Keltner 56 mindful February 2017 emotions