Office of Learning & Organizational Development

The Dark Side of Winning

On Father’s Day, Danney Williams son of a former Arkansas prostitute, reached out to Bill Clinton via Twitter to wish him well. Danney believes he is Bill’s son based on his mother’s interactions during his time as Governor in the mid-1980s; and, he is requesting that Bill take a paternity test.

Even though Bill Clinton exhibits many qualities as a professional that are associated with positive leadership behaviors, there are obviously places in his persona that lack integrity. In today’s blog post, we are going to step out of the light of the positive effects of winning and talk about the dark side… What are some of the negative effects of the power that comes from winning, and how can this success cloud our previously logical judgment?

While there are certainly a host of social, psychological, and physical benefits to winning the down side is ever so real. Ian Robertson, in his book “The Winner Effect,” discusses research study, after research study, revealing successful people with high power can exhibit lower empathy scores, view the people they work with as means to accomplish their goals, operate with a double standard for themselves and others, and even have a heightened sense of control in situations that are completely uncontrollable (e.g., gambling).

In one study, researchers found that leaders also personally validated themselves and their decisions if those around them did not speak up to challenge their perspective. As an underling, the political risk of speaking up is very real. Oftentimes challenging the boss, or going against what is considered to be the flow of the conversation, can prove itself a threat to another’s opinion of you (cue the unhappiness effect) and will not achieve the desired result anyway. Leaders who have a strong sense of control and power tend to take on a lead by force mentality that will leave all others who do not comply “bloodied and bruised” along the way.

In closing, winning can prove to be a personally fulfilling venture, but no one is immune to the flipside of its effects. Creating methods to hold yourself accountable, and keeping yourself humble the more successful you become, are both important ingredients to obtaining the kind of positive power that will be sustainable for the long term.