Undesirable Effects of Power


Everybody desires power. It is an insatiable want common to all human beings whether rich or poor, tall or short, fat or thin, black, white, Caucasian….the list can go on and on. No matter where one is on the ladder of life, he or she will always desire to scale higher if only to be in more control and achieve more than what they already have. (Barnes 1988). A lot of times we believe that we would do a better job if we were in this or that position. We hear statements from politicians promising heaven once they get power. On a personal level, we have similar sentiments and we often fantasize how we would help our families or give to charity if we got more financial powers. One would be mistaken to believe that this natural inclination to all humans is desirable and that it can only bring good. What if we all got the power we so desire? What if we could be able to control just a little bit more than we currently are in control of? Definitely the world would be a far better place. Initially, our desire for power is usually noble. Before we get the power, it is never about us but about saving humanity because we believe we have ‘better hearts’ and we are ‘more understanding’ than those currently holding power. (Dowding 1996) It is therefore a wonder that very rarely will those who have ascended to power remember the noble ideas they had before they clinched power. “Nearly all men can stand adversity,”(Haddock) said Abraham Lincoln, “but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power” (Haddock). Gaining power in whatever form makes us proud by automatically turning the focus on us so that we become oblivious to those around us, changing our perception about matters and giving us a form of adrenalin that makes us undertake ventures we never thought we were capable of in order to maintain status quo.

Power and Pride

One of the most immediate changes on our character due to power is pride. Balance of power was quite evident in academia when a certain professor had students listening to him reverentially as he clipped his toe nails on a conference table. Power in all its form is thus witnessed in the world of business as well. A certain renowned film producer in Hollywood known as Scott Rudin had over 119 personal assistants fired while working for him excluding the ones that had been on probation (Haddock 2006). Power brings about a change in lifestyle. People who have acquired it move to better neighborhoods, drive better cars and wear better clothes. This change of position in society means a change in the company one keeps, bringing with it a new way of viewing things. Pride and arrogance creep in as one finds that they can no longer relate to their former lifestyle. Forget about the noble ideas they once had. It now becomes a game of hide and seeks with their former way of life lest their new associates discover who they were.

Power and Oblivion

Power makes people oblivious to those surrounding them. This power indicator can be portentous: As leaders become more distant from other people they end up in many ways lonely and much removed from people, a very dangerous occurrence because people become more or less pawns in a game of chess (Naomi). Just like alcohol, power in a way acts as an inhibitor as has been revealed by various studies. This indicates the daring attitude that people with power exhibit. A physiological angle is evidenced in various cases where the rush of adrenaline is witnessed in people with power something equal to the energy witnessed amongst persons in an emergency with the capacity to lift even a car in that instance. The combination of oblivion and the adrenalin rush that powerful people experience leads them to undertake corrupt deals if that is what it takes for them to achieve their goals (Naomi).

The Insatiable Want

It only takes a short time for the reality about what one can do with power to hit home before priorities change. (Luhmann and Niklas 1979). An illustration can help in appreciating this. A person who has not eaten for days prays to be able to obtain a dollar so they can put something in their stomach. He or she is at a point of desperation and even promises to share whatever they will get with their equally needy neighbor. If this same person gets a hundred dollars instead, his or her priorities change. The simple meal that they had been praying for is replaced by a different meal that wouldn’t be classified as simple. With so much power (financial), they want to eat well. “When was the last time I ate a decent meal?” they pose. “And what of clothes, shoes and my hair?” Their priorities have obviously changed. If the same needy neighbor they had vowed to help at their moment of desperation were to come around and ask for help, they would be told that the hundred dollars is in fact not even enough for the new found needs. With this change of priorities and a taste of the new and better lifestyle comes a desire to maintain status quo, if not to keep improving it.


“Power changes people” (Haddock). This is the change that explains the reason as to why talented people with leadership skills, become virtually unrecognizable once they seize power. By understanding the potential of power, one is in a better position to harness it. Being aware of these effects increases one’s alert level so that they are able to quickly discern when they start going off the right way. Being a good listener instead of embracing defensiveness when things are pointed out not only goes a long way in ensuring that power works for us and not us for power, but is also an inspiration to others.


Barnes, Barry. The Nature of Power. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988.

Dowding, Keith (1996). Power. University of Minnesota Press Jaye Naomi: Does Power Corrupt? Web.

Luhmann, Niklas. Trust and Power. Translated by Howard Davis, John Raffran, and Kathryn Rooney. Chichester, U.K., and New York: John Wiley, 1979.

Vicki Haddock, (Insight Staff Writer):Power is not only an aphrodisiac, it does weird things to some of us: Article 2006. Web.

Find out your order's cost