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Maria Gonzalez Blog
Mindful Leadership

When Power Goes To Your Head, It May Shut Out Your Heart

There is a fascinating article in NPR, indicating that “neuroscientists have found evidence to suggest that feeling powerful, dampens a part of the brain that helps with empathy”.  It appears that power fundamentally changes how the brain operates.  The study found that “when people felt power, they had more trouble getting inside another person’s head”.

This has significant implications for leadership.  Many of us have probably had the experience of witnessing people in positions of power who appear to be unfeeling towards or disconnected from those whom they lead.  These research findings may explain what, at times, appear to be unrealistic expectations, whereby, the leader “demands / expects” what subordinates don’t feel they can reasonably deliver.  And from the leader’s perspective there can be the sense that subordinates are not meeting expectations on what should be “simple” requests, such as results, deadlines, deliverables, etc.

It appears that what may be arising is an increasing difficulty in “walking in someone else’s shoes” when one is in a position of power.  In Mindful Leadership I talk about “compassion” being one of the 9 ways of being a mindful leader.  To be compassionate is to be able to appreciate what the other person is going through, in essence, to walk in their shoes.

Knowing that there may be a tendency to be less empathetic when in a position of power, it becomes increasingly important to become internally aware.  Ask yourself the question next time you feel that you have power over another person or over a situation, “what is going on in internal awareness (feel / image / talk)?”  Notice if you are becoming judgmental towards others, rather than open and seeking to understand.  Often the simple act of shedding awareness will reveal a great deal to you.  The reason this is so critical is that to be a truly mindful leader, who can sustain high performance and be personally resilient, you need to be able to experience compassion.  This does not make you a weak leader or a weak person, but rather a complete person that can experience every range of emotion and channel each emotion productively.

More about this topic in future blogs.

Below is the link to the article:


I would like to thank Todd Mertz for bringing this article to my attention.


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