Power Motivation Research: Feel Your Pain or Feel Lonely at the Top?
ANN ARBOR, Mich. Can powerful leaders really be in touch with everyday people or are they isolated and lonely at the top? It depends on how deliberately one pursues power, according to new research by a University of Michigan business professor.
"Power affects your emotions and behavior and we want to examine how it affects someone's self-identity,'' says Fiona Lee, professor of management and organizations at the Ross School of Business and a U-M psychology professor. "Does power make the power-holder feel disconnected, do they have a harder time relating to others, and generally become more lonely at the top? Or does power help the power-holder feel like they know everyone, can influence others to get things done, and therefore feel more connected to others?''
It depends on how deliberately and strategically one thinks about power. The more you think about power, Lee says, the more likely you will dwell on how you can build relationships with others and how other people can help you get things done. In this case, having power makes one feel more connected to others.
Lee and U-M graduate student Brianna Barker worked with Larissa Tiedens of Stanford University to learn how power affects someone's self concept, specifically examining whether it makes people feel more alone or more connected with others.
"Some people are in very high power jobs, but they are not necessarily motivated by power," Lee says. "They may not think a lot about how to gain and accrue power in their everyday lives. For these people, having more power is related to feeling more disconnected to others.
"However, some people are interested in a job precisely because it affords a lot of power and influence. For these individuals, they are constantly thinking about how to use their relationships to influence others, and in this case, having more power makes them feel more connected to other people."
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