3 reasons why people in power are more likely to make bad decisions

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3 reasons why people in power are more likely to make bad decisions

The annual AFR Magazine power problem, which ranks Australia’s most powerful people in politics, business and professions, always makes for interesting discussions.

This year, the prime minister has been pushed off the top spot for the first time since it started in 2000. Thanks to the pandemic, Scott Morrison is in second place, behind four state prime ministers (Daniel Andrews, Gladys Berejiklian, Mark McGowan and Annastacia Palaszczuk).

Third place goes to Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, fourth to the nation’s Chief Health Officers and fifth to Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe. Former ministerial staffer Brittany Higgins is sixth, followed by Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, Commonwealth Bank chief Matt Comyn, opposition leader Anthony Albanese and Defense Secretary Peter Dutton.



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There are subordinate lists for the most covertly powerful, the most culturally powerful, the most powerful in business and in sectors such as technology, education, real estate and consulting.

One thing the problem really lacks is a comprehensive assessment of the downsides of power. Simply put, a powerful feeling tends to hinder one’s ability to make good decisions.

Research shows that having a formal position of authority with influence over people, resources and rewards is associated with cognitive and behavioral costs. People who feel powerful (currently or consistently) estimate the likelihood of negative outcomes to be significantly lower. They are more likely to take risks both to make a profit and to avoid losses.

Feeling powerful makes us more susceptible to three patterns of behavior that increase the likelihood of making bad decisions: overestimating our own perspective; rejecting the expertise of others; and not recognizing limitations.

Those who feel powerful are more likely to overestimate their own perspective and reject the advice of experts.
Ben Gray/AP

Not seeing other perspectives

Taking the perspective of others is important in any leadership role. However, those who feel more powerful tend to overestimate their own perspective and ignore the perspective of others.

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

The researchers evoked feelings of greater or less power in participants by asking them to recall a time when they had power over someone else, or a time when someone else had power over them. Others, who were asked not to do either, made up the control group.

The participants were then asked to take three different tests to measure their ability to see other people’s perspectives. For example, in one test, they had to identify emotions expressed by others. Those who were encouraged to remember vigorously were, on average, 6% less accurate than the control group. They were also less likely to detect expressions of displeasure in emails compared to the group who felt less powerful.

Australian state and territory leaders with Prime Minister Scott Morrison at a national cabinet press conference in Canberra, December 11, 2020. The AFR power list for 2021 has demoted the Prime Minister to second position.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

reject expert advice

Feeling powerful makes us more likely to reject expert advice. This effect was measured by behavioral researcher in organizations Leigh Tost and colleagues.

In their experiments, they used the same method as Galinsky and colleagues to make participants feel more or less powerful. They then asked the participants to estimate the weight of three people or guess the amount of money in three jars of coins.

After the first estimation round, participants were given access to advice from people who had previously performed the tasks. They were told whether these advisors were “experts” (with a strong performance record) or novices (with estimates that were only average).

Those who were encouraged to feel less powerful were more likely to listen to the experts’ advice. Those who felt more powerful were more likely to reject the advice of an expert and a novice in equal measure.

Participants also completed a survey about their feelings during the task. The results of this part of the study show that those who felt more powerful had a greater sense of being in competition with others. The authors conclude that rejecting expert advice is linked to the desire to “maintain their social dominance”.

Not recognizing restrictions

The more powerful we feel, the more likely we are to pursue goals aggressively and fail to recognize limitations. This is because power means that we are in fact less limited. The powerful have more resources to do what they want and tell others what to do.

Organizational researcher Jennifer Whitson and colleagues measured this tendency in experiments in which participants were given nine facts that could hinder the achievement of a goal – such as “not a lot of money to invest” – and nine facts that could help, such as “there is a lot of demand.”

Those who felt powerful (again established by the method used by Galinsky and colleagues) were significantly less able to remember the limitations. The authors conclude that “the powerful are more likely to achieve their goals because the limitations that normally impede action are psychologically less present for them.”

Refusing to acknowledge limitations can sometimes be helpful. Apple founder Steve Jobs, for example, was notorious for ignoring his engineers’ complaints that they couldn’t do what he asked. There is a story about him throwing an iPod into an aquarium to show that there was wasted space allowing air bubbles to exist.

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was a notorious teacher.
Paul Sakuma?

But such stubbornness is likely to lead to bad outcomes, such as the fate of Elizabeth Holmes, who modeled herself after Jobs and refused to make her idea of ​​a compact medical blood testing device work. She is now on trial for fraud.



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These drawbacks of power are worth remembering at a time when listening to different points of view and following expert advice has never been more important. Our experience of the pandemic is that power is best distributed. We need leaders who understand that power corrupts, and who are humble enough to listen.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Algulf.net and Algulf.net does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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