Psychology of Power

In observing the people at my work who have the most power, either by title or by influence, I wanted to see if they showed signs of the psychologies of power that Galinsky and Magee outlined. I used their theory as a lease through which to view the leadership and behavior of my boss, Matt, who is the person on my team who has the most power. He’s very expressive, so it was pretty easy to see the theory come to life.

It is a very interesting result that Matt, in fact, displays a lot of the impacts of power that Galinsky and Magee describe. They posit that power will bring some positive impacts: that it increases action, increases optimism, leads to an increase in abstract thinking, and leads to an increase in goal-directed behavior. That describes Matt very accurately; he is constantly taking action to solve problems he sees, whether or not they are technically his responsibility. He is considerably optimistic about the ability of our team and the opportunity we have to affect the company’s way of operating. He is very academic (abstract thinking), as he consistently uses theories developed by his professors at Harvard Business School to spark conversations and develop thought leadership. And lastly, he operates from a very goal-directed standing, laying out a clear vision and being honest with his team about how well we are meeting the benchmarks along the way.

Galisnky and Magee also talk about the negative impacts of power: ignoring the perspectives and emotions of others, objectification, overconfidence, and an increase in risk taking. Without saying too much out of respect, Matt can also struggle with operating with these characteristics.

This theory has given me some insight as to how this theory interacts with the world: While one particular leader in the organization displayed many of these impacts, others did not. I had the chance to sit down and chat with some C-level executives, and from my brief exposure they seemed not to embody many of the positive or negative impacts outlined by Magee and Galinsky. This is one way that the theory falls short, though it is clearly applicable in describing some leaders.