Research-backed behaviors that make powerful people prone to bad decis

The AFR Journal’s annual power issue, rating Australia’s most powerful people in politics, enterprise and professions, at all times makes for some fascinating discussions.

This yr, for the primary time because it started in 2000, the prime minister has been pushed out of prime spot. Thanks to the pandemic Scott Morrison is in second place, behind 4 state premiers (Daniel Andrews, Gladys Berejiklian, Mark McGowan and Annastacia Palaszczuk).

Third spot goes to Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, fourth to the nation’s chief well being officers, and fifth to Reserve Financial institution governor Philip Lowe. Former ministerial staffer Brittany Higgins locations sixth, adopted by deputy PM Barnaby Joyce, Commonwealth Financial institution chief Matt Comyn, Opposition chief Anthony Albanese, and protection minister Peter Dutton.


There are subsidiary lists for many covertly powerful, probably the most culturally powerful, probably the most powerful in enterprise, and in sectors resembling know-how, schooling, property, and consulting.

One factor the difficulty actually lacks is a complete evaluation of the downsides of energy. To place it merely, feeling powerful tends to inhibit an individual’s capability to make good choices.

Analysis reveals having a proper place of authority with affect over people, sources, and rewards is related to cognitive and behavioral prices. Individuals who really feel powerful (both within the second or constantly) make considerably decrease estimates of the chance of unfavourable outcomes. They’re more likely to take risks each to get hold of positive aspects and keep away from losses.

Feeling powerful makes us extra prone to three behavioral patterns that improve the chance of creating poor choices: overvaluing our personal perspective; dismissing the experience of others, and failing to acknowledge limitations.

Not seeing different views

Taking the attitude of others is essential in any management position. Those that really feel extra powerful have a tendency, nevertheless, to overvalue their very own perspective and low cost the views of others.

This has been demonstrated in behavioural experiments by social psychologist Adam Galinsky and colleagues.


The researchers evoked emotions of larger or lesser energy in individuals by asking them both to recall a time that they had energy over another person or a time another person had energy over them. Others, who had been requested to do neither, fashioned the management group.

Members had been then requested to carry out three totally different checks measuring their capability to see the attitude of different people. One check, for instance, required them to establish feelings expressed by others. These inspired to keep in mind feeling powerful had been, on common, 6% much less correct than the management group. They had been additionally much less probably to detect expressions of displeasure in emails in contrast to the group made to really feel much less powerful.

Dismissing professional recommendation

Feeling powerful makes us extra prone to dismiss professional recommendation. This impact has been measured by organizational behavioural researcher Leigh Tost and colleagues.

Of their experiments, they used the identical technique as Galinsky and colleagues to make individuals really feel roughly powerful. They then requested individuals to estimate the burden of three people or guess the sum of money in three jars of cash.

After the primary spherical of estimates, individuals got entry to recommendation from people who had carried out the duties earlier than. They had been advised if these advisers had been “specialists” (with a robust efficiency document) or novices (with estimates that had been simply common).

These inspired to really feel much less powerful had been extra inclined to hear to the recommendation of the specialists. Those that felt extra powerful had been extra probably to dismiss the professional and novice recommendation equally.

Members additionally accomplished a survey about their emotions through the activity. The outcomes from this aspect of the research present those that felt extra powerful had a larger sense of being in competitors with others. The authors conclude that dismissing recommendation from specialists is related to a want to “protect their social dominance”.

Not recognizing constraints

The extra powerful we really feel, the extra probably we’ll pursue objectives aggressively and fail to acknowledge constraints. It is because energy means we’re, the truth is, much less constrained. The powerful have extra sources to do what they like and to inform others what to do.

Organizational researcher Jennifer Whitson and colleagues measured this tendency in experiments by which individuals got 9 information that might hinder attaining a purpose — resembling “not a lot cash to make investments” — and 9 information that might assist, resembling “there’s excessive demand”.

These that felt powerful (once more established by the strategy utilized by Galinsky and colleagues) had been considerably much less in a position to recall the constraints. The authors conclude “the powerful are extra probably to act on their objectives as a result of the constraints that usually inhibit motion are much less psychologically current for them”.

Refusing to acknowledge constraints can generally be a helpful factor. Apple founder Steve Jobs, for instance, was infamous for ignoring his engineers’ complaints that they couldn’t do what he requested for. There’s a narrative of him tossing an iPod into a fish tank to reveal there was wasted house enabling air pockets.


However such stubbornness is extra probably to lead to bad outcomes, such the destiny of Elizabeth Holmes, who modelled herself on Jobs and refused to settle for her thought of compact medical blood-testing machine couldn’t be made to work. Now she’s on trial for fraud.

These downsides to energy are price remembering at a time when listening to totally different factors of view and heeding professional recommendation has by no means been extra essential. Our expertise from the pandemic is that energy is finest distributed. We want leaders who perceive that energy corrupts, and who’re humble sufficient to hear.