When it comes to power, we’re our own worst enemies.It’s called the self-handicapping phenomenon, says Jeffrey Pfeffer in his book, Power: Why Some People Have It And Others Don’t:
This logic is deceptively simple. People desire to feel good about themselves and their abilities. Obviously, any experience of failure puts their self-esteem at risk. However, if people intentionally choose to do things that could plausibly diminish their performance, then any subsequent performance decrements can be explained away as not reflecting their innate abilities.
So if people don’t actively seek power, they can explain away why they never achieved it.
But there are lots of reasons we should want power, he says — for one, to live a healthier, longer life. To get comfortable with the idea of having power, we’ve first got to realise all the obstacles that stand in our way.
By subscribing to the Just-World Theory – which is essentially that people get what they deserve — we’re often left “unprepared for the challenges and competition of the real world,” he says, when in fact it’s “often a zero-sum game.”
Pfeffer, who’s been teaching on the subject at Stanford University for several decades, introduces his book this way:
“The single biggest effect I can have is to get people to try and become powerful. Because people are afraid of setbacks and the implications of their self-image, so they often don’t do all they can to increase their power. So get over yourself and get beyond your concerns with self image or, for that matter, the perception others have of you. They are mostly concerned with themselves.”
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