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The Benefits of Power

The Benefits of Power
Now that we have our definition of power, you’ve discussed with your classmates how you think about power, how you define power, what those key attributes are, those foundational core elements of power.
Now what I wanna do is turn to the benefits of power. We’re gonna talk about both the benefits and the risks. But let’s first talk about the benefits. I gonna share with you some of our latest thinking, some of our latest research that I think is really powerful for understanding why power helps us in our careers, helps our teams. And then I’m going to ask you to think about what you’ve seen in your own experiences about the benefits of power. Then we’ll turn to some of those costs, some of those risks. The danger, the dark side of power. But let’s first talk about the benefits. Here’s one study that I find absolutely fascinating.
Good friends of mine, Adam Golinsky, Joe McGee, and others have been doing some really powerful and interesting research around how power enables action and proactivity. And this is really important for us to understand as leaders in organizations. Even if we don’t have the formal authority per se, with power, what were finding in our work today is that it creates action. It creates pro-activity. Where a lot of us would wait for the boss to tell us what to do. What we really want on our team, what we really want in our organizations are people that will step up, take action, be proactive.
Think ahead, and what we’re finding with Adam’s research, Joe, and others, is that power actually enables that action and enables that proactivity. I’ll share with you a couple examples of research that we, as a collective, Adam and Joe and others have done. And, share with you the insights with you from that research that I find absolutely fascinating and amazing. So, here’s one. I don’t know how many of you play different card games, or black jack specifically. But, in one of these studies we used a black jack game. And, if you know anything about black jack, black jack happens on 21. And, the biggest uncertainty, or the big choice that you have is when you get into the mid teens.
That 15, 16 point level. And the question is whether or not you will hit, you will take another card, to see if you can get that 16 up to 21. Big risk, because at that point many of the cards that are in the deck will put you over 21 and you’ll lose, so big risk, and so you can think of this as risk taking, you can think of this is action when other people won’t take it. One of the most fascinating studies that I’ve seen done is the used of black jack example where people were playing cards and prior to the card game they primed people to be in a low power or high power position.
And they did that simply by asking people, we can do it a number of different ways. You can put people into situations where they are the highest ranking person through the manager, the supervisor as opposed to the subordinate. That’s one way we can prime that, censor that feeling, the psychology of power. Another way that’s often used is to have people write stories about times when they were powerful. They felt powerful. Where they had control over resources or other people. And simply writing and documenting that experience of having power has been shown to create the psychology, the feeling, of power. And that’s what we’re doing here in this research.
And so what you see here is people randomly assigned to two different conditions, where some people are primed with a low power. They are the subordinate, if you will, or they are writing about a time where they didn’t have power. Versus people who are the supervisor, the manager or people who are writing about times when they did have a lot of power over other people. So in their psychology, they’re the powerful person in this moment. And then they engage in this card game.
And what you’re seeing here is the percent of people who will actually take an additional card when they’re at 16 depending on, or conditional on whether they’re in that low power state or whether they’re in that high power state and the difference is staggering. Less than 60% of people in the Low Power condition, will take that extra card. Whereas over 90% of people, when in that High Power condition will take that card. So when you are primed to feel like you are powerful, you’re much more likely to take that action, to take that risk. And in this case, take that next card.
So, if you’re a card player, and you like to play cards maybe you can use this to your advantage next time. But it’s fascinating to understand the psychology of power and the risks taking that people will assume and the action, pro-activity that people will assume. They also did a very interesting study where they brought some students into rooms and the students were doing a task that was essentially irrelevant to the study. And in the room they had a fan, one of just the floor fans that creates the wind to cool you off. And the fan was made to be annoying. It made a lot of noise. And it was an annoying physical object in the room.
And what they did is, they disguised the study as they were focused on the task that the students were doing. But what they were really monitoring in this study was the percent of people that would actually take action. And get up and do something about this annoying fan, and fascinating results. For people that were primed to feel powerless, or low power situation, only slightly over 40% of those people actually got up and did anything about this really annoying fan that was in the room. But look at the high power condition.
I mean you’re looking at roughly about 70% of people in that high power condition who when primed to feel powerful actually got up, and either actually got up went and either unplugged the fan, turned it off, did something about the fan so that the annoyance would go away. Interesting, fascinating studies. And now what we’re seeing is in organizational settings, in teams, in organizations, we’re seeing that when people feel powerful, very similar to these studies, whether it’s blackjack or the annoying fan, what we’re finding is that people are much more proactive. They will take action when they feel powerful. So certainly a benefit of power is the action, the proactivity that comes as a result.
Another benefit that we’re seeing in our latest work, and this, again, the data I’m showing you here comes out of another study by Adam Golinski and his colleagues, where you’re more creative. You’re willing to think outside of the norm. You’re less susceptible to conformity, when you feel powerful. So in this study as an example, the participants in this study were given essentially false feedback on other people’s performance in a task. And, what Adam and his colleagues were really studying, was the extent to which the participants in the study would conform to that false feedback. And what they found is that relative to people who felt powerless, or without power low power, the people who really felt powerful.
They were much less likely to conform other people’s opinions because they felt powerful relative to people who felt powerless. This study has dramatic and important implications for creativity and innovation in organizations. In your team, in order to be creative, you need people to think outside the box, to not conform to the status quo and how things are traditionally done. Power is one mechanism that you can use to enable your team members to develop new ideas, new concepts, think outside the box. So the conclusion, when people feel powerful, they’re less affected by other’s opinions, others information when making their own decisions or developing those new ideas and concepts. Extremely important for your team when the goal is creativity and innovation.
Then the question is how can you empower? How can you enable people to feel powerful. And that’s something we’ll talk later on about this week. Another benefit of power that we found and this is a fascinating study that was just recently published, is it actually reduces our feelings of what we call burden in life. So, feel about the weight on your shoulders and how much responsibility you feel like you’re taking on in life. You and I might have the exact same level of responsibility, you see that as an opportunity, I see it as a burden, the weight of the world is on my shoulders.
This research is really starting to unpack the role that power has in determining whether we see that as an opportunity, or whether we see that responsibility as a burden that’s weighing us down. This study used a very creative way to test that. They gave people boxes. And the boxes had goods in them that weighed a certain amount, and they used different weights in the boxes. And then they primed people, again, very similar to earlier studies, to feel powerless, low power. Or to feel powerful, to have high power. And then they looked at the estimates of the weights of these boxes.
And what they found is, before they introduced the prime of low versus high power, so when everybody was the same, they estimated the weight of the boxes. Basically, exactly the same. So that’s the yellow bar that you see here. Before anybody ever talked about power, they had them estimate the weight of the boxes. And essentially the estimates were all about the same. But then, they introduced this prime where some people were primed to feel powerless and some people were primed to feel very powerful in this situation. And look at the difference in estimated weight minus actual weight.
The low power people were much more likely to over estimate the weight of the box whereas the high power people actually were more likely to underestimate the weight of the box. Now fascinating, there’s other research that shows that when you’re estimating the weight of these boxes, that’s akin to how much burden or responsibility you feel. So those high-power individuals. When empowered, when they feel power, when the psychology of power is prime. They don’t feel that same burden. But if I feel powerless, I feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders, and you feel that burden. Fascinating research. So power, one benefit, is it reduces that feeling of burden, and responsibility. Lastly is, power has health benefits.
And this is again one of the more fascinating studies that I’ve seen recently. Where in this study, again they primed people to feel powerful or powerless and then they actually hook them up to the physiological monitors to test heart rate, and cardiovascular output. And what we find is that when people feel powerless versus when people feel powerful, there are dramatically and drastically differences in health, so here are examples. The effect of power on, in this case cardiac output, so a higher score here is a much more efficient cardiovascular system. The difference is staggering. Almost over four times the cardiac efficiency, cardiac output when primed with high power relative to low power. Similarly, the effect on vascular resistance.
So, the greater resistance you have in your vascular system, the less healthy, the harder it is for the blood to flow, etc. And so, what you see here is when primed with to feel powerless or low power, the vascular resistance is much higher than in people who were primed to feel very powerful. And again, people are randomly assigned to different conditions here. So, people who had extremely efficient cardiac systems or extremely efficient vascular systems, that’s the baseline. And what we’re finding in this study is that they’re actually impacted in real time. By the psychology of power, how they feel. Do they feel powerless or do they feel powerful? And that’s a benefit of power.
It’s not only your ability to influence other people, but what we’re finding is all the way to the health benefits that it has on you as a person. And so what I’d like you to do, and these are just some teasers of benefits, obviously other benefits, career advancement, the more powerful you are, maybe the faster you will advance in your career. The more powerful you are, the greater access to resources, all of those things are absolutely true. I’ve tried to give you maybe some counterintuitive, maybe some new ways of thinking about the benefits of power.
So what I’d like you to do now is go to your discussion form on benefits of power and share with your classmates what benefits you’ve seen in your own experiences of having power. Maybe you’ve had power and seen benefits come to you from a career point of view. Maybe you’ve seen benefits from a personal side. What are those benefits that you see that you feel are most important when thinking about power? And then in particular, what are the benefits not only to you as an individual, but also do your team or your organization? How can power be used to create value for your team or organization? What are the benefits to your team? What are the benefits to your organization?
And maybe it’s not even just your power. But maybe the power of other people. What is the good that comes of power? That’s the question. And I’d like you to share with your classmates, learn from your classmates, share, debate, discuss, what you see as the benefits of power. And then we will turn to the potential cost, the risks, and what I call the dark side of power.
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