Power Does Not Corrupt…
Lately all the craziness in the world has been getting me down. I’ve been spiritually struggling a little bit to do my job.
As soon as I sit down with a patient, I’m good. I get into my groove and I give everything I have in that period of time to help my patient feel their best.
I am present.
Amy Cuddy is a psychology professor at Harvard and the author of the book Presence.
When I heard her speak in April, I wrote in my notes:
“Power does not corrupt.
Cuddy distinguishes personal power vs. social power.
She describes social power as being the power to “control others’ states and behaviors”, while personal power is the “ability to control our own states and behaviors.” Social power is a “zero-sum” game – if I have power over you then you don’t have power over me. Personal power, by contrast, is limitless, without bounds – I can have infinite personal power and so can you. There is no scarcity.
Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner, who the world lost recently, said, “Ultimately, the only power to which man should aspire is that which he exercises over himself.”
This “power problem” seems to be manifesting in the world as we know it these days.
Feelings of powerlessness in a person or group of people are leading to political frustration and acts of violence.
Cuddy discusses these points of “the paradox of powerlessness”:
• Feeling powerless impairs thought
• Powerlessness makes us self-absorbed
• Powerlessness prevents presence.
By contrast, she cited several studies that showed:
• Feeling powerful can protect us against negative self-talk and physical pain
• Feeling powerful can connect us by sometimes “[improving] our ability to read and relate to other people”
• [Personal] Power can liberate our thinking by improving cognitive function
• Power can synchronize us (harmonize our actions and feelings) and bring us closer to presence
• Power can incite action – study subjects were less likely to tolerate uncomfortable situations
• Power can make our actions more effective – this is the phenomenon of highly confident people actually performing better.
HORMONES AND POWER
Of course my favorite part of Amy Cuddy’s work is her look at the role of hormones and power – testosterone and cortisol in particular.
Today I am only going to give you the highlights of what her studies and research review have found.
As you probably are aware, cortisol is the hormone that is released by the adrenal glands under conditions of stress. It mobilizes sugar to be available to your body to “run away from the tiger”.
I have long referred to testosterone as “the confidence hormone”. Interestingly, it is found to be high both as a cause and a result of exerting power or already being powerful in a particular situation.
Here is the interesting punchline: the beneficial effect of testosterone in raising confidence and sense of efficacy (power) only occurs if cortisol (feeling stressed) is low. Fascinating.
I have a lot more to say about testosterone in women vs. men another time.
YES, BUT CAN POWER CORRUPT?
At the end of Cuddy’s discussion of power, she asks, “Does Power Corrupt?”
The answer is Yes, especially when it is not informed by concern for others. Research studies as well as history show this.
My little corner of the world is in helping people balance their hormones so they can feel their best, in order to go out and do their best for themselves and the people who matter to them. I hope and plan to work on a bigger scale someday.
Meanwhile, when I feel I’m not doing enough, or powerless to make a big enough difference in the world, I try to keep in mind what a dear friend reminded me of recently:
Question: How do you eat an elephant?
Answer: One bite at a time.