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The warping psychology of power and some cautions for general counsel

General counsel have power. They can hire and fire, pay and promote. They can mentor and support or they can neglect and derail. There lies power.

An ad for a DVD from the Stanford Graduate School of Business gives a thumbnail description of some of the risks of misusing power. “Dr. Gruenfeld’s research explains the psychological effects of power: disinihibition, single-mindedness, depersonalization of others, and an orientation to action.” In all likelihood, the lecture has in mind CEOs, not functional heads who report to the CEO like most US general counsel, but within their realms, general counsel wield considerable power. Do Dr. Gruenfeld’s findings apply?

Disinihibition lures GCs into imperial behavior (See my post of Dec. 31, 2006: the imperial general counsel.). If everything revolves around you, it’s tempting to fall into a Sun King syndrome and act however you see fit.

Single-mindedness doesn’t seem to afflict general counsel much, but perhaps a relative fixation on some topics such as technology or managing up or accumulation of headcount would be manifestations.

Depersonalization of others shows up as thinking of “resources” and organization charts. Lack of empathy could rear up (See my post of April 15, 2006: listening skills enhanced by empathy; and July 31, 2005: emotional intelligence.).

An orientation to action hardly seems likely among risk averse, conservative top lawyers.

Hence, based at least on my consulting experience and keeping up with things law department, these abuses of power seem to be rare among general counsel.