21 June 2024
Self-control leads to power and leadership

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Understanding How Self-Control Leads to Power

In today’s fast-paced world, we often come across news stories about powerful individuals, such as CEOs, making impulsive decisions or displaying out-of-control behavior. This might lead some to believe that impulsivity is a pathway to power. However, recent research conducted by the UC San Diego Rady School of Management and Texas A&M University suggests otherwise. The study reveals that having self-control is a key factor that leads to power.

The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, involved approximately 3,500 participants, including both students and working adults. The participants were exposed to individuals with varying levels of self-control, defined as the extent to which people behave in ways that align with their goals. Across seven experiments, individuals with high self-control were consistently perceived as more powerful and deemed more suitable for positions of power compared to those with low self-control.

The Impact of Self-Control on Perceived Power

One of the experiments conducted as part of the research involved working adults imagining a scenario where a colleague had the goal of maintaining fitness. The colleague either indulged in a large dessert or refrained from eating dessert altogether. Interestingly, participants viewed the colleague as better suited for high-power roles when they exhibited self-control by abstaining from indulgence. This finding highlights that self-control plays a significant role in how individuals are perceived in terms of power.

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According to Pamela Smith, an associate professor of management at the Rady School of Management and co-author of the study, what mattered most to participants was whether the colleague’s actions aligned with their goals, rather than the manner in which they made decisions. This pattern held true across various goals, including saving money, maintaining health, and other personal aspirations.

The Connection Between Goal Achievement and Power

Another intriguing discovery from the study was the impact of goal achievement on perceived power. In an experiment involving undergraduate students, individuals were tasked with setting reading goals. Some set ambitious goals of reading 200 pages per week, while others set more moderate goals of reading 50 pages per week. Surprisingly, even though all individuals read the same amount—100 pages—those who failed to meet their ambitious goal were perceived as less powerful by the study participants.

The results suggest that setting ambitious goals and failing to meet them diminishes one’s perceived power, regardless of performance levels. This finding contradicts the common notion that setting stretch goals is beneficial for motivation. Shuang Wu, a Ph.D. student at the Rady School and the paper’s first author, emphasized that not meeting ambitious goals can lead to a decrease in perceived power compared to setting easier goals and surpassing them.

Implications for Individuals and Organizations

The research on how self-control leads to power has significant implications for both individuals and organizations. For individuals seeking to attain positions of power or influence, cultivating self-control and aligning behaviors with personal goals can enhance how they are perceived by others. Consistently demonstrating self-control in various aspects of life, such as health, finances, and personal development, can contribute to a more powerful image.

Organizations can also benefit from understanding the relationship between self-control and power. Encouraging employees to set challenging but achievable goals, rather than solely focusing on stretch goals, can help maintain their perceived power within the organization. By recognizing the importance of self-control in leadership roles, organizations can foster a culture that values goal alignment and self-discipline.

The research highlights the critical role that self-control plays in shaping perceptions of power. By exercising self-control, individuals can not only enhance their personal power but also position themselves more favorably for roles of influence and leadership. Ultimately, self-control is not just a personal trait but a pathway to acquiring and maintaining power in various aspects of life.

Links to additional Resources:

1. rady.ucsd.edu 2. mays.tamu.edu 3. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7399044/

Related Wikipedia Articles

Topics: Self-control, Power (sociology), Goal achievement

Self-control is an aspect of inhibitory control, one of the core executive functions. Executive functions are cognitive processes that are necessary for regulating one's behavior in order to achieve specific goals. Defined more independently, self-control is the ability to regulate one's emotions, thoughts, and behavior in the face of temptations...
Read more: Self-control

Power (social and political)
In political science, power is the social production of an effect that determines the capacities, actions, beliefs, or conduct of actors. Power does not exclusively refer to the threat or use of force (coercion) by one actor against another, but may also be exerted through diffuse means (such as institutions)....
Read more: Power (social and political)

A goal or objective is an idea of the future or desired result that a person or a group of people envision, plan, and commit to achieve. People endeavour to reach goals within a finite time by setting deadlines. A goal is roughly similar to a purpose or aim, the...
Read more: Goal

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