Seven Reasons Smart Leaders Get Dumb

Power makes leaders dumb. The more power you gain the dumber you get.

power makes leaders dumb

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There are at least seven dumbing effects of power.


  1. Reduces the complexity of your thinking. You over-simplify.
  2. Limits your ability to consider alternatives. You decide quickly and validate your decisions.
  3. Permits you to treat people like objects who get things done rather than human beings.
  4. Closes your ears. Powerful people minimize what others know.
  5. Decreases your interest in others. You matter more.
  6. Inspires preoccupation with self. The world revolves around you.
  7. Struggles to understand the perspective of others.

The most dangerous danger of dumb leadership:

Dumb leaders create dumb organizations.

Powerful leaders wrongly believe they have the answers. In reality, “80% of of an organization’s potential for improvement lies in front-line ideas.” (The Idea-Driven Organization)

Getting smart requires humility.

Humble leaders are smarter than arrogant.

Identify, promote, and hire humble people.

8 ways to spot humility:

  1. How do you talk about co-workers?
  2. How do co-workers talk about you?
  3. How do you support others?
  4. How do you celebrate the accomplishments of others?
  5. How much attention do you require?
  6. How much time do you spend talking about yourself?
  7. How much time do you spend calmly listening?
  8. How well do you tolerate working behind the scenes?

7 ways to develop humble organizations:

  1. Eliminate dress codes. Managers and leaders dress more like everyone else.
  2. Remove physical barriers that create inaccessibility.
  3. Limit bureaucracy and sign-offs.
  4. Locate managers and leaders closer to the front line.
  5. Develop transparency. Everyone knows how everyone is doing. Secrets protect inequity.
  6. Expect more execution and less talk. Talking without execution encourages arrogance.
  7. Look to the front-line for answers first.

This post is adapted from chapter 2 of the new book, “The Idea-Driven Organization,” by Alan G. Robinson and Dean M. Schroeder. (Recommended reading for leaders who want to empower their workforce and develop an idea-driven organization.)

How can leaders protect against the arrogance of power?

How can leaders develop humble organizations?

*Research by Galinsky, Gruenfeld, and Magee in, “From Power to Action.”