Does power wear out those who don’t have it?

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Two astute politicians compete for this quote: Talleyrand-Périgord, the French man called the “lame devil”, the “chameleon”, the “sorcerer of democracy”, the man beside Metternich at the Congress of Vienna, known for the skilled political actions that, aside from moral judgments, made him the great protagonist of his time; and Giulio Andreotti, 7 times Italian Prime Minister, 27 times Minister and Member of Parliament in every legislature of the Republic from 1948 to his death, on May 6th 2013.

Described by Fallaci, with her fearless roughness: “True power does not need arrogance, a long beard, a loud voice that barks. True power chokes you with silk ribbons, courtesy, intelligence. Intelligence, my goodness if he had it. To the point he could afford the luxury of not showing it”.

On the intelligence of this sentence, we were saying, there have always been some doubts. To make things clear, science intervened, disturbing two of the most prestigious Universities in the world, Stanford and Harvard, with the task to solve an ancient dilemma: who is more stressed between who commands and who is commanded?

Who is more stressed between who commands and who is commanded?

It’s the leader that has the better time, according to the study published on Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Being the boss is not an easy job, but, contrarily to the cliché that wants him stressed to death, who holds the power is actually more relaxed than those who don’t have it.

For the study, the American researchers interviewed 231 army officials from the Harvard executive leadership program, measuring the level of cortisol, the main hormone for stress.

Two astute politicians compete for this quote: Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord and Giulio Andreotti.

James Gross, the psychology from Stanford that directed the study, explains that the common perception that says that who commands is more stressed (which could justify, among other things, a higher salary) has actually been disproved many times by scientific literature, which proved that having control of others’ lives reduces the level of anxiety.

The measurement of cortisol of soldiers in positions of command registered a level that was 27% lower than non-leaders’.

Is a person that has power happier too?

Who has power not only is less stressed, but is even happier. Israeli scientists from the University of Tel Aviv came to this conclusion, with a study published on the journal Psychological Science.

Research disproves the myth of the powerful person that is alone and consumed on the top of the world, which for centuries was present in the collective imagination.

There are several experiments that support this. In one of these, more than 350 people were surveyed, to establish if the feeling of power was connected with personal well-being in different contexts, such as work or love relationships. The result?

Who feels more powerful tends to be happier. And the people that were in higher position felt more satisfaction, 16% more than those who were lower positioned. This “scepter effect” is much more evident for powerful people in the business world. Employees near the top of the pyramid are 26% more satisfied than colleagues with less power.

Power does not wear out, rather makes people happy, but it can go to someone’s head anyway. In conclusion… who has power still has to deal with human side effects…

Laura Mondino


[1] Sherman G.D., Lee J.J., Cuddy A.J., Renshon J., Oveis C., Gross J.J., Lerner J.S., Leadership is associated with lower levels of stress, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Sep 2012

[2] https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/power-helps-you-live-the-good-life-by-bringing-you-closer-to-your-true-self.html

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