The evil side of power

Power can have a significant impact on the brain, both in a negative and a positive way. It can make you smarter, more motivated, less depressed; it increases you tactical thinking. These characteristics can make you grow towards a management position. However, if power is not bound and controlled, it can also have dark and dangerous sides. It can lead to narcissism, tunnel vision and bad judgment.

Empathy is reduced

MRI scans of the brain clearly map some of these changes. It appears that the parts of the brain associated with empathy show damage or alterations. As a result, leaders run the risk of losing their capacity to feel empathy. Empathy is of paramount importance for managers in their decision taking, something they do a lot. When they can feel, experience and have insight into the opinion of others, their decision taking will improve. For many managers, though, it holds true that power has undermined their capacity to assess how others feel. This means that their ability to evaluate the effects of their behaviour and decisions is impaired.

Power makes you more eager to win

Power can also make you more intent on winning. The desire to win dominates your actions more and more. When animals fight, the winner has a higher level of testosterone, and this may be an explanation why power changes managers as testosterone prepares the body for battle. Further, an increased testosterone level has a positive impact on the dopamine system; winning makes you feel good and makes you crave for more. One victory increases your appetite for the next one.

Addicted to pleasure

There is also a third aspect to be considered, the addiction to the dopamine moment. Dopamine is a substance our brain produces when we have successfully achieved something, it creates a moment of bliss. If our activities increase our dopamine level on daily basis, we can become addicted to these blissful moments. This starts an endless craving for greater budget, more takeovers, more and more. The self-evaluating capacity of our conscience can become blurred and we only focus on tangible, short term successes. As others can see these successes too, the feeling of bliss is further enhanced. If managers were to let go of this feeling abruptly, they would experience fear and inferiority, so they keep on going. They will start taking disproportional risks.

What can be done?

Knowledge is power, but in turn, power reduces knowledge. Then, people start behaving foolishly and simply because leaders are influential, this can have a great impact on the wellbeing of many. The solution can be found in that managers should learn to manage their own brain, so that they can control and handle their own power. This is a proper way to use the positive qualities of power.

How do you manage your brain so you become less susceptible to power?

First, you should understand the interaction between power and the brain. The better you understand this phenomenon, the sooner you’ll start to observe your own change. You’ll become more receptive to remarks of others regarding your change.

Secondly, a manager should meditate. Meditation proves to be an adequate antidote to power. Meditation develops self-awareness and you need self-awareness for continuously reassessing your values.

To conclude, it is important to surround yourself with people who keep you grounded. This can be your partner, your co-workers, your friends or a professional, such as a coach.


Power can be a destructive force, but it also allows personal growth. It’s a complicated dilemma, but once you learn how to manage your brain, you can get a good handle on it.

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