So to sum up: power enables people with the propensity for immoral behavior (lying) to do so more easily, but it doesn't shift their sense of morality (people who believe something is wrong will continue to do so even in a position of power).
Which suggests that those individuals we keep reading about after their high-profile falls from grace—the Madoffs and Blagojeviches of the world—were the result of power magnifying the effects of moral compasses that were already skewed.
The most striking finding of the study is that being in a position of power—even a false one created for the purposes of testing—creates a "stress buffer" that allows people to do things, both positive and negative, without feeling the same effects as those without power. Thus, risk-taking, public speaking and, yes, lying, all become easier.
There are many questions for businesses to consider from such results: first (and perhaps most important) is whether it's possible to identify people likely to abuse power before you hand it to them.
Second, companies may also want to consider ways to limit their leaders from feeling like they have a great deal of power—whether through increased accountability measures or other means. And, finally, companies should also consider the trade-off: while limiting someone's sense of power may make sense in curbing potential bad behavior, it may also limit their willingness to take on risk and ultimately impact their ability to effect change and success.
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Phil Stott is a staff writer at Vault.com in New York. Originally from Scotland, he has also lived and worked in Japan, South Korea and Eastern Europe. He holds an MA in English Literature and Modern History, and a Masters in Research in Civil Engineering, both from the University of Dundee.
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