I think I have found my new favorite leadership book. I just wrapped up my notes after reading The Power Paradox by Dacher Keltner, which is on the syllabus for WBI’s Certificate in Wholebeing Positive Psychology. I highly recommend it if you are looking for an edge in the business world or are vying for a leadership position at work.

Here are the lessons I learned while reading The Power Paradox.

The Powerless Prince
Traditionally, we view power through a Machiavellian leans. Popular culture and tradition show leaders gain and lose influence through displays of force and hold on to power through brute cruelty. However, Keltner argues that the violent strategies outlined in Machiavelli’s famous work The Prince are outdated and incompatible within the social structure of our modern world.
“We have a deep cultural intuition that nice guys finish last, that one must step on others to rise in the ranks, and that acquiring power requires the cold-blooded dispensing of rivals and even allies. But nothing could have been further from the truth. In my experiment, the strongest predictor of which dorm dwellers rose to the top within the first week of arriving at college, and which ones remained there through the year, was enthusiasm. The other Big Five mattered as well: kindness, focus, calmness, and openness also related to students’ power.”
Instead, Keltner says that empathy is the tool through which leaders gain and keep power, and effective leaders work to improve the lives of others and make a positive difference in the world. He highlights 12 principles that encapsulate his understanding of power and influence.
Power Principles
“The power paradox is this: we rise in power and make a difference in the world due to what is best about human nature, but we fall from power due to what is worst. We gain a capacity to make a difference in the world by enhancing the lives of others, but the very experience of having power and privilege leads us to behave, in our worst moments, like impulsive, out-of-control sociopaths.”
Below are the core principles that give leaders influence and power, according to Keltner’s research.
✓ Principle #1 Power is about altering the states of others.

✓ Principle #2 Power is part of every relationship and interaction.

✓ Principle #3 Power is found in everyday actions.

✓ Principle #4 Power comes from empowering others in social networks.

✓ Principle #5 Groups give power to those who advance the greater good.

✓ Principle #6 Groups construct reputations that determine the capacity to influence.

✓ Principle #7 Groups reward those who advance the greater good with status and esteem.

✓ Principle #8 Groups punish those who undermine the greater good with gossip.

✓ Principle #9 Enduring power comes from empathy.

✓ Principle #10 Enduring power comes from giving.

✓ Principle #11 Enduring power comes from expressing gratitude.

✓ Principle #12 Enduring power comes from telling stories that unite.

In leadership positions and business, it’s important to remember that the same practices that gave you influence in your relationships will also help you to keep power. The author notes that individuals tend to let power “go to their head” once settled on their throne and act more like Machiavelli’s cruel prince than a 21st-century leader. Reverting to cruelty can be an easy way to lose your seat of power and make enemies along the way.
The Empathy Deficit
“When we are feeling powerful, we can easily rationalize our unethical actions with stories of our own superiority, which demean others…This is the heart of the power paradox: the seductions of power induce us to lose the very skills that enabled us to gain power in the first place.”
Every time Keltner speaks of power and influence, I think of it not only in terms of business practices but also in the way we conduct ourselves in personal relationships. Maintaining and growing our sense of empathy strengthens our relationships and helps us to grow together with our partners and friends as opposed to growing apart. Shifting the focus away from ourselves to concentrate on others is one of the chief principles in How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, another great read!
Creativity Is Power in the Age of Influence
“Power, understood as a way of altering the states of others, helps make sense of how influential art, music, satire, and the written word can be. These forms of creative expression may not directly alter a person’s bank account or prove decisive on the battlefield, but they are powerful because they alter a person’s beliefs about what is real, true, and fair.”
Whether you are an artist, a late-night TV host, or an influencer, it has never been harder to hold people’s attention in a sea of clickbait. It’s not enough to have good ideas, you also have to be able to communicate them in an intriguing way such that people want to listen. I think effective communication has become harder to learn since the inception of hyper-connected digital networks. Keltner points out that those who can navigate the digital social space and use the power of storytelling to spread their message can build powerful platforms and hold remarkable influence in society.
Emily Raskett

Emily Raskett

Emily Raskett is a self-proclaimed bookworm, well-rounded nerd, and personal development junkie. By day, she works as a civil engineer designing highway bridges, ramp systems, and roundabouts. By night, she brings an analytical, systems-based approach to long-term personal growth with her blog, Off Brand Bubbly, where she writes articles and reviews books, sharing lessons learned. The work of Wholebeing Institute and its founder, Megan McDonough—who is also Emily’s beloved mother—has inspired her to weave well-being content into her blog as she shares her voice with the world.