British historian Lord Acton famously wrote, “Power tends to corrupt.” But there’s some good news in recent power research. Here are four science-based tips for using power ethically.
For more science-based strategies for ethical leadership, visit ethicalleadership.nd.edu.
FOCUS ON THE RESPONSIBILITY THAT COMES WITH POWER
The way we focus our expectations shapes how we use power, according to recent studies. If we focus on how power holders ought to behave, we’ll use power more ethically. So set your expectations for yourself on the basis of your ideals and values, not on the status quo. Take a cue from The Amazing Spiderman: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
DEVELOP A STRONG MORAL IDENTITY
Researchers find that a person who sees attributes such as justice, caring and generosity as central components of his or her character is not likely to act out of self-interest at work, even when he or she receives power. In many cases, power does not corrupt your character; it reveals your character. If you want to use power well, start by building a strong moral foundation.
ENCOURAGE OTHERS TO SPEAK UP
Power researcher Dacher Keltner finds that powerlessness causes us to speak up less and hesitate in taking action when we see a problem. If you want to create a culture in which people feel free to speak up, you must empower others. Ask your followers to speak up and actively solicit their thoughts and opinions. When you empower them to share their concerns, you reduce the risks that come with silent, conflict-avoidant followers.
FIND MENTORS TO KEEP YOU HUMBLE
The more powerful you become, the less honest people will be about your shortcomings. By finding a mentor, you’ll invite someone to tell you the truth about yourself, no matter what. Honest feedback will keep you humble and help you avoid hubris.