The Power Paradox

I think I have found my new favorite leadership book. I just wrapped up my notes after reading the Power Paradox by Dacher Keltner and would highly recommend it if you are looking for an edge in the business world or are vying for a leadership position at work. 

Here the lessons that I learned while reading The Power Paradox.

The Powerless Prince 

Photo by Paweł Furman on Unsplash

Traditionally, we view power through a Machiavellian lens. Popular culture and tradition show leaders gain and lose influence through displays of force and hold on to power through brute cruelty. However, Kelter argues that the violent strategies outlined in Machiavelli’s famous work The Prince are outdated and incompatible within the social structure of our modern world. 

“We have a deep cultural intuition that nice guys finish last…But nothing could have been further from the truth. In my experiment, the strongest predictor of which dorm dwellers rose to the top …was enthusiasm. The other Big Five mattered as well: kindness, focus, calmness, and openness also related to students’ power.”

Keltner, Dacher. The Power Paradox

Kelter states that that empathy is the tool through which leaders gain and keep power, and affective leaders work to improve the lives of others and make a positive difference in the world. He highlights 12 principals that encapsulate his understanding of power and influence.

Power Principals

Below are the core principals that give leaders influence and power according to Ketler’s research. 

PRINCIPLE #1 Power is about altering the states of others. 

PRINCIPLE #2 Power is part of every relationship and interaction.

PRINCIPLE #3 Power is found in everyday actions.

PRINCIPLE #4 Power comes from empowering others in social networks.

PRINCIPLE #5 Groups give power to those who advance the greater good.

PRINCIPLE #6 Groups construct reputations that determine the capacity to influence.

PRINCIPLE #7 Groups reward those who advance the greater good with status and esteem.

PRINCIPLE #8 Groups punish those who undermine the greater good with gossip.

PRINCIPLE #9 Enduring power comes from empathy.

PRINCIPLE #10 Enduring power comes from giving.

PRINCIPLE #11 Enduring power comes from expressing gratitude.

PRINCIPLE #12 Enduring power comes from telling stories that unite.

In leadership positions and business, it’s important to remember that the same practices that gave you influence in your relationships will also help you to keep power. The author notes that individuals tend to let power “go to their head” once settled on their throne and act more like Machiavelli’s cruel prince than a 21st-century leader. Reverting to cruelty can be an easy way to lose your seat of power and make enemies along the way. 

The Empathy Deficit

“When we are feeling powerful, we can easily rationalize our unethical actions with stories of our own superiority, which demean others…This is the heart of the power paradox: the seductions of power induce us to lose the very skills that enabled us to gain power in the first place.”

Keltner, Dacher. The Power Paradox

If you’re following along with my exploration of books by Sarah J Maas, this quote probably instantly reminds you of Tamlin and his spectacular fall from grace in a Court of Mist and Fury. For those of you who have not yet read the book, check out my book review for ACOTAR here. This series does a fantastic job of highlighting toxic, Machiavellian leadership practices and shows the reader how a loss of empathy can erode power. 

Photo by Pro Church Media on Unsplash

When Keltner speaks of power and influence, I think of it not only in terms of business practices but also in the way we conduct ourselves in personal relationships. Maintaining and growing our sense of empathy strengthens our relationships and helps us to grow together with our partners and friends as opposed to growing apart. Shifting the focus away from ourselves to concentrate on others is one of the chief principles in How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Another great read!

Creativity is Power in the Age of Influence 

Power, understood as a way of altering the states of others, helps make sense of how influential art, music, satire, and the written word can be. These forms of creative expression may not directly alter a person’s bank account or prove decisive on the battlefield, but they are powerful because they alter a person’s beliefs about what is real, true, and fair.

Keltner, Dacher. The Power Paradox 

Whether you are an artist, a late-night tv host, or an influencer, it has never been harder to hold people’s attention in a sea of clickbait. It’s not enough to have good ideas, but you also have to be able to communicate them in an intriguing way such that people want to listen. I think effective communication has become harder to learn since the inception of hyper-connected digital networks. Keltner points out that those who can navigate the digital social space and use the power of storytelling to spread their message can build powerful platforms and hold remarkable influence in society.

If you want to improve your leadership skills, I highly recommend reading The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence by Dacher Kaltner. Leave your book recommendations in the comments and follow me on GoodReads to see the other books I’ve been reading this year!

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