The Power- Empathy Gap

Overcoming difficulties


There’s a lot of talk in leadership circles about empathy.

You know, the ability to step into the shoes of others.  More specifically, to be able to take on the visual, cognitive or emotional perspective of other people.

Leaders who are attuned to their followers get “what it’s like” for the people they lead.  Those who are out of tune: don’t.

Well, it turns out that being “drunk with power” is more than just a metaphor.

It’s real.

In a recent study published by the psychologists Michael Inzlicht and  Sukhvinder Obhi, they  assert that when people experience power, it changes how sensitive their brains become to the actions of others.

In a recent NY Times article, the authors describe a study where they induce feelings of power or powerlessness in their subjects, by  asking them to recall a time of power (or powerlessness.)

The subjects then watch a video of a human hand squeezing a ball–and were measured with how much their mirror neurons responding to the video: a standard scientific metric for determining empathy.

The more powerful they felt–the less the mirror neurons fired.  The less powerful–the more they fired.

More power = less empathy.

It’s been said that power is blind to itself.

Knowing that power can lead to its own blinding, what can  you doto make sure you stay connected to the people you lead?

Awareness is a good first step.




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