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Flickr co-founder: This is the dangerous downside of power

Caterina Fake at the Vanity Fair Founders Fair
Photo by Andrew Toth
Caterina Fake at the Vanity Fair Founders Fair

When you are the boss, people do what you tell them to do. But there's a downside to that kind power that too many leaders fail to consider, and it can be dangerous, says Caterina Fake.

"You will say something like, 'Let's get this done by Friday,' and everybody will be like, 'Yeah, got it, on it,'" says Fake, co-founder of Flickr. "What you don't realize is that then everybody is dropping what they are doing, they are ... working nights and weekends, just trying to crush it so they can get it to [you] Friday.

"And you don't even realize, you don't realize how powerful you are."

This careless wielding of power is a problem Fake says she sees all the time, both inside and outside of Silicon Valley.

According to Fake, it's what lead to corruption at companies like Wells Fargo, where bankers set up accounts in the names of unknowing customers in order to meet quotas, and at Uber, where machismo and competition led to a total breakdown of company culture.

"It's difficult because [power] is a blunt instrument and it spreads beyond frankly where you intend," says Fake.

Fake knows something about power. The serial entrepreneur sold photo sharing site Flickr to Yahoo in 2005. She then co-founded Hunch, a service that draws on the collective brain of the Internet to help people make decisions, which was acquired by eBay in 2011. She was Chairman of the Board of Etsy during its early, formative years, and now she is the founder of Findery, which allows you to find and leave notes all over the world.

"One of the biggest risks of being a founder/CEO is power," says Fake. That's why leaders need to exercise power in equal measure with caution.

"You have to be conscious of how much power you have got, and how to pull it back and how to listen, and how to use it wisely," says Fake.

"Power is something that is very dangerous. And it can be very intoxicating. And it can mislead you," she says.

"Power is something that is very dangerous. And it can be very intoxicating. And it can mislead you." -Caterina Fake, co-founder of Flickr

Fake is not the only one who sees the problem. In his recent TED address, Pope Francis also highlighted the danger of power.

Please, allow me to say it loud and clear: the more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly. If you don't, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other. There is a saying in Argentina: "Power is like drinking gin on an empty stomach." You feel dizzy, you get drunk, you lose your balance, and you will end up hurting yourself and those around you, if you don't connect your power with humility and tenderness. Through humility and concrete love, on the other hand, power – the highest, the strongest one – becomes a service, a force for good.