4 Signs That You're Too Power Hungry
This article originally appeared on Forbes by Mark Murphy, Founder of Leadership IQ
Most executives I study are driven by power or achievement (or some combination of the two). Power-driven people want to be in charge and they want authority to make decisions that will impact others. By contrast, achievement-driven people are more thrilled by accomplishing difficult tasks, even if no one else notices. (To discover what drives you, take this free quiz Are You Driven By Power Or Achievement?).
Neither of these drives is better than the other. Having power as your driver is perfectly fine; power is not inherently bad and wanting power does not make you evil. We need power to do good in the world. Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King and even Mother Teresa all needed power. And most executives need power to accomplish their goals.
But, sometimes, we get carried away with our desire for power. We become so power hungry that we forget the good things we wanted to do with that power. And that’s where we can get into trouble. When power is your driver, you need to stay vigilant and watch for the signs that may indicate you’re taking it too far.
Here are four signs that you may be too power hungry:
#1: You Frequently Say I/Me/My
Leaders who’ve gotten carried away with their power drive often sound narcissistic when they speak. Specifically, they use the words “I,” “me” and “my” a lot. They might say things like:
- “I believe in this strategy.”
- “I think this is the right thing to do.”
- “I want you to believe in me.”
- “Hop on my back and I’ll carry us across the goal line.”
- “This is my team.”
Taken individually, these phrases aren’t necessarily bad. But when said together, or uttered frequently, that’s a lot of I/me/my language. It’s perfectly fine to tell your team “Don’t worry, I got this.” But if you talk about yourself more than other topics, or you regularly make “I” the subject of your sentences, you’re probably too caught-up in getting power for yourself.
Ironically, the best motivational speeches are less about what “I can do for you” and more about “what we can achieve.” The more we talk about “we’re doing this for the customers,” for example, the more everybody in the organization will pitch in. Moving away from “I” and into “we” gains you more power than saying I/me/my, etc.
#2: You Don’t Hear Bad News
Every company is going to have bad news. Whether the issues are big or small, balls will be dropped, customers will be disappointed, and deadlines will be missed. But power-hungry leaders believe that bad news will damage their reputation; so it gets suppressed or denied. And their employees, having received this message loud-and-clear, stop bringing bad news to the power-hungry boss.
Pay attention to whether you get bad news (and how much you get). If the information flow is weak or nonexistent, you may have become too concerned with preserving your reputation and getting power. And while that might seem like a good career move, it’s not. Leaders who know what’s going wrong in their operations (and fix it) generally have a higher career survival rate than those who suppress or deny problems.
#3: You’re Angry When You’re Not In Charge
We’ve all had moments of irritation watching a colleague mangle a presentation. Or mismanage a meeting. We’ve all thought to ourselves ‘I would have done this so much better.’ As long as we’re capable of keeping those thoughts private, and we’re able to silently endure the meeting, we’re okay. It’s when we can’t control our emotions, when irritation turns to anger, that we’ve got a problem.
There are times when we’re going to have to sit quietly and endure a bad presentation or poorly-run meeting. There are times when we’re simply going to have to take turns. But when we’re unable to share, take-turns, or otherwise shut-up for brief periods, that means our power drive is controlling us.
#4: You Distrust Your Employees
A clear sign that you’ve gotten too power-hungry is when you distrust your employees to complete their work properly, or you’re wary of how they’ll represent you in a meeting. This paranoia comes from focusing so intensely on gaining your own power that you see the world as zero-sum and become suspicious of those around you.
And here again is a deep irony. To get significant power, you need people to trust you. And respect you. And even like you. But it’s very hard for others to trust, respect and like you when you’re frequently suspicious of their motives. Your employees and colleagues will feel it if you’re constantly thinking “I better make sure they don’t mess up and do damage to me, so I need to keep a close eye on them.” And when people don’t receive trust, it’s tough for them to give trust.
To reiterate, power is not inherently bad and wanting power does not make you evil. It’s only when we get carried away—when we lose control of our power drive—that we get into trouble. Stay vigilant for these 4 warning signs and develop your power to do good in your organization and the world.