I found some interesting articles in the latest online edition of Greater Good. This one is all about power.
Dacher Keltner challenges the Machiavelli notion of power in organisations with some interesting evidence. Here’s a snippet which gives an idea of where he’s headed.
We accomplish most tasks related to survival and reproduction socially from caring for our children to producing food and shelter. We give power to those who can best serve the interests of the group. Time and time again, empirical studies find that leaders who treat their subordinates with respect share power, and generate a sense of camaraderie and trust are considered more just and fair.
Social intelligence is essential not only to rising to power, but to keeping it.
There’s some interesting material here and a good primer for dealing with those who are cynical about soft power. It leaves me with questions about how come organisations don’t actually seem to follow the social intelligence model; and also a desire to leave room for mess and a bit of shadow.
Christopher Boehm has a great piece called Political Primates. He looks at a paradox that has interested me for some time. Here’s how Boehm frames it:
Before 10,000 years ago, only egalitarian societies existed on our planet—tiny societies with no strong leaders at all. Keeping in mind that gene-selection requires at least a thousand generations to change our nature significantly, we must assume that most of our genes have evolved from the genetic makeup of people living in these small Paleolithic bands. This includes our “political genes”, if I may call them that. Yet, of course, we do not only see egalitarian societies in the world today; we also see nations ruled by fierce despots. So, somehow, prehistoric egalitarians set us up to live not only in egalitarian democracies but in these despotic nations as well.
…Once we recognize that humans throughout prehistory have had to cope with this tension between attraction to power and desire for social parity, it’s much easier to see why power has always posed such a problem for our species—and why there can be such variety in human expressions of power today.
…This theory about our political evolution helps us understand why we are so often ambivalent about power. Our genetic nature makes both its abuse and our counter-reactions equally likely.
Bonus link: Bob Sutton also notes research showing how rudeness impairs performance.