When we think about greed, jealousy, corruption, and a multitude of other vices, there is one process underlying all of these. What is it?
This corruptible force is power. We’ve all heard the saying “power corrupts,” or the longer version, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Is there any truth to it? Yes, power can corrupt, but, of course, it does not always do so.
Philosophers and psychologists have studied the process by which power can become intoxicating and cause people to misbehave. Philosopher Terry Price has suggested that as leaders gain more power and control, and have dedicated followers willing to obey their every command, these powerful leaders begin to think that they are special. They begin to think that they are above the rules—that the laws and social rules do not apply to the powerful leader, in a process Price calls “exception-making.”
Does an individual’s or a leader’s power have to be a corrupting force and lead to bad behavior? No. One way to distinguish between power that corrupts and power that is used for positive ends is the difference between what leadership scholars call “personalized” versus “socialized” power. Personalized power is used for personal gains, while socialized power is used to benefit others.