Thursday, May 19, 2011

Power and Empathy: Not Easy "Bedfellows"

What fires together, wires together, as neuroscientists tell us. In The Shallows, author Nicholas Carr uses a water analogy to illustrate his lament on the impact of the Internet in changing the very structure of our minds, potentially short-circuiting our deep thinking:

Flowing water hollows out a channel which grows broader and deeper. When it flows again, it follows the path traced by itself before.

This reality about how out thoughts and habits “train” our minds structurally, explains what power can do when unleashed without the daily discipline of self-control. If power, due to a leader’s position, goes to his head, it can have grave consequences hollowing out a channel that ultimately can literally trip him (or her) up! It appears to be the case with Dominic Strauss-Kahn.

What is interesting with the commentary on Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s situation is that empathy goes down as power bewitches a person. He or she loses the ability to sense or read accurately another’s emotions and to take constructive actions as a result. The shadow side of the leader takes over weakening more and more the very skills and character qualities that enabled his rise to power.

This paradox is a real and present danger for any leader-manager anywhere in the hierarchy of an organization. It takes work to understand another, daily work. Not surprisingly, the closer a person is to the front line, the greater the empathy for another. A grounded life keeps one grounded.

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