Being in control feels good and to be “out of power” is a very tough transition to make especially after experiencing all the benefits of power.
Power really does corrupt minds, as scientists claim it is as addictive as cocaine.
In social science and politics, power is the ability to influence or control the behavior of people.
I believe that’s why leaders who have served for a long time find it hard to let go. The thought of them being controlled or under someone’s influence is unbearable and impossible. So even if they are to voluntarily choose to retire or leave, is a tough transition to make.
Scientists say the feeling of power has been found to have a similar effect on the brain to cocaine by increasing the levels of testosterone and its by-product 3-androstanediol in both men and women.
This in turn leads to raised levels of dopamine, the brain’s reward system called the nucleus accumbens, which can be very addictive.
Ian Robertson, a founding director of the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience in Dublin writes that too much power can disrupt normal cognition and emotion, leading to gross errors in judgment and imperviousness to risk, not to mention huge egocentricity and lack of empathy for others.
Author Jeffrey Pfeffer, in his book Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t tells it all that it is devastating when power is taken away.
“Power is addictive, in both a psychological and physical sense,” says Pfeffer in his book.
He says the rush and excitement from being involved in important discussions with senior figures and the ego boost from having people at your beck and call are tough to lose, even if you voluntarily choose to retire or leave and even if you have more money than you could ever spend.
“In a power- and celebrity-obsessed culture, to be “out of power” is to be out of the limelight, away from the action, and almost invisible. It is a tough transition to make. And because it is, some executives seek to avoid switching to a less powerful role.”
In Africa, we have a number of leaders who have been in power for a long long time and are not about to leave anytime soon.
This illustrates yet another price of power–the addictive quality that makes it tough to leave powerful positions.
Robert Gabriel Mugabe of Zimbabwe is Africa’s oldest and longest-serving president. Having spent 34 of those years as president of Zimbabwe, he’s not done yet.
We have our own President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni who was late last year nominated to stand for re-election in two years-time. Museveni has been in power since 1986 and if he wins the next election and serves his full term, he would have served 35 years in power, easily becoming one of Africa’s longest serving presidents.
Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir seized power in 1989 in a bloodless coup and became president in 1993. He has been in power since them.
However, everyone eventually has to step down, and the druglike nature of power makes leaving a powerful position a truly wrenching experience for some.
Take a look at Libya’s ex-President, Col Muammar Gaddafi, he was a de facto ruler of Libya for 42 years until he was killed on 20 October 2011 during the Battle of Sirte. Gaddafi was found hiding in a culvert west of Sirte and captured by National Transitional Council forces and killed shortly afterwards.
Power has almost identical effects to cocaine and too much of it can produce too much dopamine leading to more negative effects such as arrogance and impatience.
So power may be a drug, but it isn’t killing your braincells, as we are used to being warned about illicit substances. But that doesn’t mean the addiction is good for you — or for those around you.
Big question is, now that power has become an obsession, how can it be checked?