It is easy to spot someone on a power
But is this a natural inevitability, a by-product,
of people with authority?
Unfortunately, the research says
The power trip is alive and well...in all of
us. We are after all, human. And with power,
people can exhibit power trip behaviors.
"Contrary to the Machiavellian cliché, nice
people are more likely to rise to power. Then
something strange happens: Authority atrophies
the very talents that got them there."
It does in fact pose a
Lehrer goes on to say that "According to
psychologists, one of the main problems with authority
is that it makes us less sympathetic to the
concerns and emotions of others. For instance,
several studies have found that people in positions of
authority are more likely to rely on stereotypes
and generalizations when judging other people.
They also spend much less time making eye
contact, at least when a person without power is
I guess this is why we have so many un-empathetic
bosses that think they are too important to bother with
the minions. But do you have to be a jerk
if you are in power?
I don't think so.
However, I know that it takes hard work to overcome
some of these natural tendencies. Take it
from a nice person who has been on a few power
trips in her day. I am a living
testament to this study.
I remember one time when I was on one of my power
trips. I had been travelling incessantly and my
itinerary got messed up and when they finally put me on
the right flight, I didn't get upgraded. I was
furious. I was furious at everyone and
anyone. I remember being rude to the airline folks
(I mean how could they not upgrade me? Didn't they
know I travelled every week with their airline?) and
then getting on the phone and giving my assistant
a piece of my mind. Looking back, I remember my
internal dialogue sounding a bit like "How dare
they? Don't they know how busy I am? Don't
they know who they are dealing with?" My ego was
I believe that power has a
way of engaging our egos and making us create an
illusion of superiority that comes with
authority. This is why
humility is one of the most powerful attributes that
leaders need to nourish.
A humble leader stays connected and
empathetic. A humble leader is never "above" the
standards set for the masses. A humble leader
can get the back seat of a flight (by the bathroom) and
feel grateful to be there. Humble leaders project
power but aren't on a power trip.
There is a fundamental difference of
projecting power and being overtaken by power.
Projecting power is critical to achieve a
degree of confidence by those following you, but being
humble and keeping your ego in check is critical for
long term success as a leader.
So how do you know when you're on a power
trip and have lost touch with humility?
1. You believe you are entitled to certain
standards and/or perks.
2. You hear your internal voice say things
like "don't they know who they are dealing with?"
3. You don't meet with just anybody: you
consider status first before ideas.
4. You get upset easily.
5. You constantly measure yourself against
If you can relate to any of these you may be
on a power trip. Don't fret, you're not
alone. But you can do something about it to become
a better leader. Take these important
steps to bring you back to humility:
- Reconnect with the "niceness" that got you into
that position of authority in the first place
- Watch your judgments of others
- Accept your own faults and admit blame
- Be curious about people and ideas, regardless of
- Get in touch with the reality of the masses
- Say no to the power trip and don't let your
ego derail you.
Remember to lead effectively,
you don't have to be a jerk. In
fact, succumbing to the power trip will not only
diminish your impact, it will rob you of long term
Laura Lopez is an award-winning author
Connected and Committed Leader.
She is also a consultant, and a Birkman Method
certified business and life coach who has been featured
on the Today Show and Fox News.
In addition, her accomplishments have been
highlighted in several business periodicals
including Personal Excellence, The Long Beach
Business Journal, The Houston Chronicle, Latina
Magazine, and Central Valley Business Times. Her
articles on management and leadership are regularly seen
in Leadership Excellence.