Do we change when we have power?


Kevin Mangelschots

“Power is dangerous. It corrupts the best and attracts the worst.” This famous quote is told by Ragnar Lothbrok in the popular TV series Vikings. And although it is fictional television, there is a lot of merit to it.

Does being in a position of power change us?  Well, sometimes we do, and sometimes we don’t. Let’s explore what factors it depends on.

Do we change when we have power or not?

Knowledge + action = power written in white letters on a black background.

I do think that power does indeed have the capacity to change us, but not always. But in some cases, power corrupts the best, and power attracts the worst indeed.

When we aren’t humble, the power can get to our heads. Our arrogance can lead us to believe that we are superior. That others should do our bidding just because we are in a higher position in the social hierarchy, or because we have more money. And in our modern world, having money often equals having power.

That’s why humble people, and not the power-hungry ones, have good intentions and aren’t chasing power can be ideal to be in a position of power. Because their reasons are pure. They’re not looking to misuse that power because they didn’t intend to be in that position in the first place.

Arrogance comes before the fall a rephrasing of pride comes before the fall. And that’s exactly what happens in real life. Whenever we think we know better, whenever we overestimate ourselves and our capabilities, which means we have a sense of superiority, is when things will go wrong. Remaining humble counteracts this phenomenon, and will keep our mind open to new experiences to learn from.

So to summarize shortly, whether power changes us depends on the following factors:

  • Humbleness
  • Power hungry
  • Intentions
  • Empathetic

Why do we change when we have power?

The words “knowledge empowers you” written on a blackboard with chalk by someone's hand.

It should be noted that power doesn’t always change us. But sometimes, it does have a profound effect on our personality and behavior.

Power has the habit of bringing out the worst in us

I think that we often change when we have power since it brings out the worst in us. When we can basically do whatever we want and typically get away with it, then it’s most certainly an attractive option to behave badly.

When we’re not in charge, we’re kinda “forced” or at least incentivized to listen. Be it to the people higher in the hierarchy at work, or our social circles. Because money and being in a position of power “buys” a certain degree of freedom.

I think that most of us will probably agree that the laws that apply to the average folks don’t always apply, or at least not to the same degree to rich, powerful individuals.

Power causes our true self to surface

It can also be the case that suddenly being in a position of power allows us to show our true nature. People are proficient at putting on a mask to hide our true selves. Especially if they are smart, manipulative, and trying to conceal their bad intentions.

It could be that they couldn’t afford to show their true selves before they were in a position of power. It could be that the power didn’t necessarily change that person, but that it simply allowed them to exude their true personality without any shame or repercussions.

People who don’t seek power are often best suited to lead

Image of two people shaking hands at a work meeting.

People who don’t strive for power are typically the best people to be in power. Why? The answer is simple.

Because they aren’t striving to be in a position of power. And because they don’t seek out power and its benefits, they’re often less corruptible than those with less noble intentions. People can chase power for a variety of reasons. Optimally, it’s to improve their own AND other people’s lives. But sometimes, the reasons are less benevolent.

It is also possible that people chase that position because they’re power-hungry and want to improve only their own lives, rather than that of others as well. They may want to feel superior. Power-hungry people are not the right kind of people to be in charge, since it will lead to problems sooner rather than later.

What we’re deprived of often comes back with increased intensity later on in life

We know that what we’re deprived of regularly comes back at a later point in our lives. Deprived feelings tend to come back with an increased intensity as well.

Let me give you some examples. Never went to parties when you were younger because you weren’t allowed to by your parents? Those people frequently start partying hard at a later age. Harder than they would have if they went out at an earlier age.

Another example is that someone who feels lonely and unloved will desperately cling to others in an attempt to get love and attention. Much harder and more desperately than if they received some love and attention earlier on in life.

With great power comes great responsibility

People should be careful what they wish for. It’s enticing to only look at the bright side that power provides. In this instance, we see the money, the fame, and the respect that comes along with power. What we don’t see is the great amount of responsibility, hard work, sleepless nights, and long working hours put in to get to that privileged position.

Furthermore, you are responsible for the people working alongside and under your guidance. You’ll need to treat them properly and guide them. And the more people are working for you, the harder it becomes to be available for every individual.


Lessons Learned statement on paper note pad. Office desk with electronic devices and computer, wood table from above, concept image for blog title or header image. Aged vintage color look.

Sometimes we do, and sometimes we don’t change when we have power. It depends on your intentions and your character. Being humble, empathetic, and having good intentions will go a long way towards preventing misusing being in a position of power.

There are a lot of upsides to being in an esteemed position, such as respect and wealth, but there are a lot of downsides as well.

Not everyone is cut out for the great responsibility that accompanies power and the amount of effort it requires to get there. At times, power corrupts the best and can even attract the worst.

Make sure to consider carefully if it’s worth chasing after power or not. The grass always looks greener on the other side, but this is not always the case. Different strokes for different folks, and that’s perfectly okay.

Call to action

Before attempting to get in a position of power and leadership over others, attempt to control yourself to be in charge and control over your thoughts, emotions, and consequently, your behavior.

Bad leaders will drive the company into the ground, and make their peers feel miserable and unsupported. This can quite frankly even be dangerous at times.

However, it can allow you to do great things. That is if you’re careful, humble, and use it with the right intentions.