Power & The Dark Side of Hu­man­ity

Trillions - - In This Issue - By Dr. Chance T. Ea­ton

It started with a news­pa­per ad promis­ing $15 per day to par­tic­i­pate in a 2-week study of prison life. Pro­fes­sor Philip Zim­bardo (1971) se­lected 24 col­lege stu­dents (of 75 ap­pli­cants) who met the cri­te­ria for nor­malcy and emo­tional sta­bil­ity to par­take in a sim­u­lated prison study in the base­ment of the Psy­chol­ogy depart­ment at Stan­ford Univer­sity. The makeshift prison in­cluded barred cells, beds, soli­tary-con­fine­ment, and area for the guards.

The par­tic­i­pants were ran­domly sep­a­rated into “guards” and “prison in­mates”. To mimic a true sit­u­a­tion, the “prison in­mates” were ar­rested in pub­lic, hauled to the prison by po­lice car, booked stripped, de­loused, and dressed in prison at­tire. The guards were dressed in uni­forms, night­sticks, re­flec­tor sun­glasses, keys, and even whis­tles.

The rules were sim­ple; the pris­on­ers were to re­fer to them­selves by their prison num­ber, told to re­fer to the guards as “Mr. Cor­rec­tional Of­fi­cer”, rou­tinely lined up for count, pro­vided three meals/day, and three su­per­vised toi­let vis­its per day. One would ex­pect that a group of young col­lege men to make fun and not take the as­sign­ment se­ri­ously. But this didn’t hap­pen at all.

At first, the pris­on­ers were jok­ing and even re­bel­lious; but within a short amount of time, the pris­on­ers be­came pas­sive to their guards’ au­thor­ity. The guards be­came filled with a sense of power, con­trol, and au­thor­ity. In fact, some of the guards be­came pro­gres­sively abu­sive to the prison in­mates. They were ha­rassed, awoke dur­ing the night, taunted with in­sults, given point­less tasks, placed in soli­tary con­fine­ment, ridiculed, and even phys­i­cally pun­ished.

By the 6th day the study was ter­mi­nated be­cause one of the grad­u­ate stu­dents, Christina Maslach, PH.D., chal­lenged the moral­ity of the ex­per­i­ment. Of all the peo­ple that were aware of the study, she was the only one who ev­ery ques­tioned the moral­ity of the sit­u­a­tion. What was sup­posed to be a sim­ple 2-week study ob­serv­ing the be­hav­iors of guards and pris­on­ers, with a group of men that were not prone to vi­o­lence, turned de­struc­tive. Nor­mal peo­ple be­came de­hu­man­ized by au­thor­ity fig­ures act­ing in their in­sti­tu­tional roles. In time, the study did re­sult in the for­mal recog­ni­tion of eth­i­cal guide­lines by the Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion.

There is a dark side of hu­man­ity that can be­come ex­pressed when nor­mal peo­ple are placed into so­cial roles and in­sti­tu­tional po­si­tions of au­thor­ity.

Not only can peo­ple adopt tyran­ni­cal con­trol­ling styles of lead­er­ship, but they can adopt sub­mis­sive, help­less, de­pen­dent, and sur­vival like be­hav­iors. The en­vi­ron­ment is stronger than we re­al­ize, and peo­ple are not al­ways as in­de­pen­dent as one would think.

Another im­por­tant piece of re­search prior to the days of eth­i­cal guide­lines comes from Stan­ley Mil­gram in the mid 1960’s. He wanted to un­der­stand if Nazi killings dur­ing WWII could be par­tially ex­plained by au­thor­ity-obe­di­ence phe­nom­e­non.

In the ex­per­i­ment, vis news­pa­per ad­ver­tis­ing, par­tic­i­pants were promised $4.50 to help study “mem­ory and learn­ing”, when in fact the ex­per­i­ment was de­signed to study obe­di­ence and au­thor­ity. When the par­tic­i­pant showed up to the lab­o­ra­tory at Yale Univer­sity, they were in­tro­duced to another par­tic­i­pant, who hap­pened to be a con­fed­er­ate (an ac­tor in the study). To de­ter­mine whether the par­tic­i­pant would be the ‘learner’ or the ‘teacher’, they picked sheets of pa­per to de­ter­mine which role they would play. But the ran­dom as­sign­ment was also part of the study de­sign, as both slips said “teacher” (the ac­tor would claim theirs said ‘learner).

The par­tic­i­pants were then sat in dif­fer­ent rooms, one for the ‘learner’ (the ac­tor), where they were at­tached with elec­trodes, and one for the ‘teacher’, where they sat in front of a shock gen­er­a­tor with 30 switches rang­ing from 15 volts to 450 volts. They could hear each other but could not see each other Fi­nally, an ‘ex­per­i­menter’ (also an ac­tor in the study) wear­ing a lab coat sat be­hind the ‘teacher’.

Dur­ing the ses­sion, the ‘teacher’ (par­tic­i­pant who an­swered the ad for $4.50) gave the ‘learner’ word pairs, and then read four pos­si­ble choices. The ‘learner’ was to press a but­ton in­di­cat­ing their re­sponse. If the ‘learner’ an­swered in­cor­rectly, the ‘teacher’ was to ad­min­is­ter and elec­tric shock to the ‘learner’, with the volt­age in­creas­ing by 15-volt in­cre­ments for each in­cor­rect answer. Since the ‘learner’ was an ac­tor, they never ac­tu­ally re­ceived elec­tric shocks. To en­sure the ‘teacher’ knew what the shock felt like, be­fore the ses­sion be­gan, the ‘teacher’ was given a sam­ple elec­tric shock.

The ‘learner’ (ac­tor) pur­pose­fully gave wrong an­swers on pur­pose, in or­der to see how far the ‘teacher’ would go up the volt­age scale. Fur­ther, the ‘learner’ (ac­tor) would com­monly protest, shout, ask to leave, bang on the wall, and com­plain of heart prob­lems dur­ing the ex­per­i­ment. At the high­est volt­age level, the ‘learner’ would fall silent. If the ‘teacher’ ob­jected to ad­min­is­ter­ing higher volt­age shocks, the ‘ex­per­i­menter’ in the lab coat sit­ting be­hind the ‘teacher’ prod­ded them to con­tinue. Ex­am­ple prods in­cluded: please con­tinue, the ex­per­i­ment re­quires you to con­tinue, it is ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial that you con­tinue, and you have no other choice but to con­tinue.

Be­fore the ac­tual ex­per­i­ment, when the de­sign was de­scribed to psy­chol­ogy stu­dents, psy­chi­a­trists, and Mil­gram’s col­leagues, most said the av­er­age per­son would stop at 135 volts, and not a sin­gle per­son would go to 450 volts. The ac­tual re­sults were very con­cern­ing – 65% of the par­tic­i­pants (teach­ers) con­tin­ued to 450 volts, and ev­ery­one went to 300 volts. The ‘teach­ers’ (par­tic­i­pants who an­swered the news­pa­per ad) were un­com­fort­able, and ex­hib­ited vary­ing de­grees of stress. There were many vari­a­tions of this study con­ducted, and most lead to sim­i­lar con­clu­sions.

Though the study faced many sim­i­lar eth­i­cal is­sues seen in Zim­bardo’s study, it points out the power of an en­vi­ron­ment an­chored to au­thor­ity and re­sult­ing obe­di­ence. When nor­mal peo­ple are placed in an en­vi­ron­ment that al­lows for the pres­ence of au­thor­ity, the re­main­ing hu­man cap­i­tal can be­come obe­di­ent and sub­mis­sive to power.

The in­fu­sion of power is also ex­tremely sen­si­tive. In a study by Galin­sky et al. (2006), they asked par­tic­i­pants to draw the let­ter ‘E’ on their fore­head for oth­ers to view. They found that when nor­mal peo­ple are asked to re­call times where they had power over another per­son, they were 3 times as likely to draw the E fac­ing them­selves (back­wards to an ob­server). The in­fu­sion of power re­sults in peo­ple an­chor­ing too heav­ily to their own van­tage point, and un­able to ad­just to other peo­ple’s per­spec­tive.

Power and re­sult­ing obe­di­ence isn’t only a be­hav­ioral phe­nom­e­non – it is a bi­o­log­i­cal one. Re­search done by Hogveen, In­zlicht, & Ob­hit (2014) found that brains fun­da­men­tally change how they per­ceive the ac­tions of oth­ers. Us­ing Tran­scra­nial Mag­netic Stim­u­la­tion to mea­sure mo­tor cortical out­put, the au­thors found that par­tic­i­pants primed with power re­duced their abil­ity to mir­ror oth­ers, which is a cor­ner­stone of em­pa­thy. Power lit­er­ally changes how the brain re­sponds to oth­ers. This re­search helps ex­plain why au­thors of Brad­berry & Greaves (2009) con­tinue to find Emo­tional In­tel­li­gences scores be­come worse the higher you go up the tra­di­tional cor­po­rate hi­er­ar­chy. They have sim­ply been ac­cus­tomed to be­ing in po­si­tions of au­thor­ity, fol­lowed by obe­di­ent and com­pli­ant sub­or­di­nates.

So here we are today, in or­ga­ni­za­tional struc­tures that in­ad­ver­tently feed the au­thor­ity-obe­di­ent dy­namic. A col­league re­cently asked me why their VP would con­stantly send out read­ings and videos on lead­er­ship

for their team to watch, when they in fact would never watch them per­son­ally. She fur­ther stated that even if they did, she knew for a fact her VP would as­sume they pos­sessed all the traits and be­hav­iors seen in the ideal leader. Why are peo­ple in au­thor­ity so obliv­i­ous to their ef­fects on their teams? It’s be­cause her leader has lost per­spec­tive, com­forted by power, and sub­con­sciously know­ing that the sub­or­di­nates are obe­di­ent. Today’s tra­di­tional or­ga­ni­za­tional struc­tures feed au­thor­ity-obe­di­ent dy­nam­ics – and I’m pretty sure em­ploy­ees don’t need re­search to ex­plain this phe­nom­e­non, they are al­ready well aware of it.

The en­vi­ron­ment is strong; nor­mal hu­man be­ings in po­si­tions of au­thor­ity can of­ten abuse their po­si­tion by cre­at­ing tyran­ni­cal and con­trol­ling styles of lead­er­ship. They be­come de­luded to the sit­u­a­tion and as­sume their ‘fol­low­ers’ are com­mit­ted, when in fact that are only com­pli­ant. We know that au­thor­ity and obe­di­ence are very real dy­nam­ics that take very lit­tle en­ergy to ini­ti­ate. We also know that when peo­ple gain power, they don’t want to lose it. Fur­ther, when peo­ple are in the pres­ence of power, they of­ten sub­mit to it. So, what is to be done?

Fol­low­ing are a few ba­sic strate­gies to di­lute the au­thor­ity-obe­di­ence phe­nom­e­non:

1. Lead­er­ship Ed­u­ca­tion for the Masses. Train Lead­er­ship ba­sics to en­tire or­ga­ni­za­tions, not just for­mal lead­ers. Lead­er­ship isn’t the pri­vate prop­erty of a few spe­cial lead­ers – these prac­tices are avail­able to any­one, and learn­able by ev­ery­one.

2. Make EQ a Cul­tural Cor­ner­stone. Make Emo­tional In­tel­li­gence (EQ) a cor­ner­stone to com­pany cul­ture. De­velop or­ga­ni­za­tional com­pe­ten­cies around the EQ fac­tors, cre­ate on­go­ing di­a­logue and em­ployee per­for­mance around this ba­sic hu­man con­struct.

3. Mea­sure Em­ployee En­gage­ment. Assess for em­ployee en­gage­ment ev­ery 6 months. This will place pres­sure on for­mal lead­ers to im­prove their team’s en­gage­ment level, as well as em­power em­ploy­ees to be­gin prac­tic­ing the ba­sics of team en­gage­ment.

4. Share the Power. Where ap­pro­pri­ate, let em­ploy­ees col­lab­o­rate to par­tic­i­pate in in­no­va­tion, de­ci­sion mak­ing, and change man­age­ment prac­tices. As a very ba­sic prac­tice, let your team mem­bers take turns fa­cil­i­tat­ing staff meet­ings.

5. Play to Strengths. The best teams are made up of di­verse peo­ple play­ing to one another’s strengths. Quit play­ing po­lit­i­cal games to gain busi­ness buy-in, and fo­cus on strength-based team dy­nam­ics.

6. Cre­ate Team Goals. When en­tire teams be­come ac­count­able for re­sults, ev­ery­one must be com­mit­ted for team per­for­mance. It isn’t about a few peo­ple tak­ing credit for the suc­cess of their teams – it is about en­tire teams own­ing re­sults and to­tal suc­cess.

Hu­man cap­i­tal is the strate­gic ad­van­tage for the 21st cen­tury, and or­ga­ni­za­tions that con­tinue to be run by al­pha male cul­tures de­luded by the ‘power’ phe­nom­e­non will fail. Next gen­er­a­tion or­ga­ni­za­tions must re­mem­ber that there is a dark side to hu­man­ity – and teams, com­mu­ni­ties, and col­lab­o­ra­tion is the answer.

Brad­berry, J. & Greaves, J. (2009). Emo­tional in­tel­li­gence 2.0. San Diego, CA: Ta­lents­mart.

Galin­sky, A. D., Magee, J. C., Inesi, M. E., & Gru­en­feld, D. H. (2006). Power and per­spec­tives not taken. Psy­cho­log­i­cal Sci­ences, 17, 1068-74.

Haney, C., Banks, W.C., & Zim­bardo, P.G. (1973). A study of pris­on­ers and guards in a sim­u­lated prison. Naval Re­search Re­view, 30, 4-17.

Ho­geveen, J., In­zlicht, M., & Obhi, S. S. (2014). Power changes how the brain re­sponds to oth­ers. Jour­nal of Ex­per­i­men­tal Psy­chol­ogy: Gen­eral, 143, 2, 755-762. Dr. Chance Ea­ton has over a decade’s worth of ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing in the field of learn­ing and or­ga­ni­za­tional de­vel­op­ment. Due to his unique ed­u­ca­tional and work ex­pe­ri­ences in fi­nance, psy­chol­ogy, lead­er­ship and man­age­ment, ed­u­ca­tion, noetic sci­ences and agri­cul­ture, Dr. Ea­ton pro­vides his clients with rel­e­vant busi­ness so­lu­tions grounded in the­ory and re­search. To learn more about Dr. Ea­ton’s ser­vices, visit www.hc­sin­ter.com

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.