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Don’t Let Power Corrupt You

By Dacher Keltner

In the behavioral research I’ve conducted over the past 20 years, I’ve uncovered a disturbing pattern: While people usually gain power through traits and actions that advance the interests of others, such as empathy, collaboration, openness, fairness, and sharing, when they start to feel powerful or enjoy a position of privilege, those qualities begin to fade. The powerful are more likely than other people to engage in rude, selfish, and unethical behavior. The 19th-century historian and politician Lord Acton got it right: Power does tend to corrupt.

I call this phenomenon “the power paradox,” and I’ve studied it in numerous settings: colleges, the U.S. Senate, pro sports teams, and a variety of ...

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