The Paradox of Power

The allegations against Dominique Strauss-Kahn bring back to the surface other recent examples of powerful men risking their careers for a moment of sexual gratification: President Clinton, Senator Edwards, Governor Spitzer , Governor Schwarzenegger .... the list goes on. It's easy to say simply that power corrupts, but this just isn't always true.

Many exceptional leaders, no less powerful than any of the above, lived virtuous lives. Just as poverty is not the cause of crime because many poor people are meticulously honest, so power is not the source of corruption because many powerful people are principled. Corruption, crime and vice are choices that people make and choices are functions of our characters not our circumstances. Viktor Frankl, whose thinking has profoundly influenced me and is reflected in so much of Lead by Greatness, discovered in the Nazi concentration camps that the same circumstances led some people to become villains while others chose to become saints.

Sonia Verma suggests in an article in Saturday's Toronto Globe and Mail that whether or not power corrupts depends on what motivates an individual to seek power in the first place.

Those who seek prominence for selfish reasons tend to become reckless.... By contrast, those who seek power for the good of others, or their organizations, tend to be less impetuous and prone to ultimate failure... "Rather than doing things to make themselves feel powerful, they do things in order to make others feel powerful," says Rick Lash, of Toronto's Hay Group.
When leaders are driven by what, in Lead by Greatness, I call their heroic rather than their instinctual operating systems, they make choices not from the impulses of their instincts but from the cores of their souls. These choices are inevitably principled and virtuous irrespective of their status or the power they wield.

How do you make sure that your choices are rooted in your heroic operating system and are not instinctually driven? How do you develop leaders who are more equipped to make principled choices? How can you tell if a high-potential leader is functioning in his or her instinctual operating system and likely to make decisions that will undermine their own reputation and your organization's? Follow these blogs to further the conversation and share your your ideas with us too. Lead by Greatness describes methods that have been tried and tested by many successful organizations.

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