How Greater Leaders Don’t Allow Power to Corrupt Them

“Control is not leadership; management is not leadership; leadership is leadership.” – Dee Hock

When one thinks of leadership, control and high-title positions often come to mind. But if none of those things fully capture leadership, how can you measure it?

Leadership is “the position or function of a leader, a person who guides or directs a group.” It can also be defined as the “ability to lead” or “an act or instance of leading; guidance; direction.” However, leadership is much more than having power over a group, and possessing the authority and capability to guide and direct them. It goes beyond a revered title, embodying values and vision.

Kevin Kruse, an entrepreneur whose companies have won Inc. 500 and Best Place to Work awards, writes: “Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.” In other words, great leaders don’t domineeringly impose their power, but instead influence others through productive collaboration to fulfill specific goals.

Don’t let power corrupt you

A great leader is someone who inspires others to follow in their example – not in terms of following commands, but trying their best at all times while practising good virtues.

However, behavioural research has found that the desirable qualities that elevate people into powerful and privileged positions are subject to fading and being replaced with unethical behaviour. Dacher Keltner calls this “the power paradox,” in which good qualities pave the way to power but behaviour worsens as a person continues to move up. This phenomenon can be seen practically everywhere – in schools, legislative bodies, sports teams, and workplaces. As a result, those in leadership positions often start to feel overly entitled and lose their moral character.

In fact, studies show that professionals in high positions are three times more likely than their subordinates to interrupt and insult co-workers, not pay attention during meetings, and raise their voices. The actions of leaders who succumb to power corruption has widespread negative consequences. These types of people not only ruin the reputations they’ve built, but also the working environment. Stress and anxiety is created, weakening a group’s performance level and desire to succeed.

In a recent poll, about half of respondents who were treated badly at work said they deliberately put in less effort or lowered the quality of their work. In order to prevent power from corrupting your character and overall group, Keltner stresses it is important to practice self-reflection.

After finding yourself in a new leadership position, constantly check for changes in your behaviour, particularly negative ones. It is easier to fix problematic conduct once one is able to determine what it entails. Taking a breather in a comfortable and quiet place is also a great way to keep one’s focus and calmness in tact.

Keltner also encourages instilling graciousness into one’s character, which involves the ethics of empathy, gratitude, and generosity. Empathy helps leaders understand the concerns of their team and establish a collective goal beneficial for all. On the other hand, gratitude involves thanking people for their hard work and dedication, displaying appreciation for jobs well done. Lastly, generosity entails sharing knowledge, opportunities, and credit where it is rightfully due. The combination of these morals and good practices will greatly benefit how well a group works together and what they will be able to achieve.

“…[Lead] the way by not being selfish. The more you empower others… and embrace team and mentoring – I guarantee, you will manifest more opportunity than you can handle,” says Gerard Adams, founder of Elite Daily.

Overall, maintaining the virtuous qualities that granted you power is key in the longevity and effectiveness of your run as a leader.

Furthermore, leadership does not develop overnight. It is “a learned skill, not a genetic grant,” says writer Michael J. Farlow. In order to rise through the ranks and be worthy of the “leader” title, it is important to establish and hone certain characteristics.

“A first step is developing greater self-awareness. When you take on a senior role, you need to be attentive to the feelings that accompany your newfound power and to any changes in your behavior.”

9 traits that great leaders possess


A leader should not only be confident in their own capabilities - but should also believe in the potential that their team holds. This way, the group can approach any situation aiming for real results. 


It is necessary for leaders to learn how to make firm decisions that they can stand by, for this is a recurring duty entailed within such a position.


Leaders should have a set vision that they will vigorously pursue. This requires a game plan (plus many back-ups), and a push for organization and unity.


It is motivating for group members to see those in authoritative positions putting in as much effort as they do. People should be hardworking at all levels; leadership should not serve as a free pass to sit back and relax. Once commitment is instilled throughout the entire group, goals will be much easier to achieve.


Leadership does not give someone the right to pass the blame onto others. A great leader takes responsibility for the entire group’s performance, whether it is positive or negative. This entails honesty in times of failure and guidance towards finding solutions.


Thinking outside the box will not only help leaders set themselves and their group apart from potential competition - but it will also be helpful when problem solving is required.


Leadership involves a lot of social interaction, as one guides and directs others. Hence, it is important to know how to empathize with people, listen and support them during both their ups and downs. This will foster better working relationships, contributing to overall productivity.



It is important for leaders to stay positive, particularly in times of difficulty (which are sadly unavoidable), in order to keep a group afloat. Dwelling on the negative will only bring down the team and their desire to keep going.

Desire for challenges

A leader’s list of goals should not end. They should always strive to be better and seek the next challenge that they will overcome.

A Harvard Business Review study shows that the average age of employees in leadership development programs is 42 – much older than the average age of an employee in a leadership role, which is 30. The study reveals that employees occupy leadership roles for approximately a decade before undergoing any training.

We are one of the top executive search firms in Toronto, and we're obsessed with helping early-stage high-growth tech companies find the talent they need.