People make bad personal decisions everyday, but we are often surprised when intelligent, successful and powerful people make bad choices that have devastating consequences. Consider CIA director David H. Petraeus, a highly respected leader who engaged in an extramarital affair in spite of the ramifications. Why do smart people make stupid decisions? There is evidence to suggest that powerful people and other sensation seekers have different brain chemistry than most of us. Power can distort a person’s perception of reality and drive risk taking behaviors.
The reality is that powerful people tend to be thrill seekers, have less accountability for their actions in their personal lives, believe they are invincible and seek immediate gratification. Not to mention that powerful people receive tremendous admiration, attention, and adoration for their amazing accomplishments and some come to expect it. Many highly success-driven people are obsessed with achievement and have an insatiable hunger for success and fame. These high achievers are adrenalin junkies, constantly seeking challenges and obstacles to conquer and are easily bored with the routine aspects of their life. They become accustomed to the excitement of conflict, turmoil, and chaos. In addition, they are surrounded by people who support their efforts, feed off of their position, and tell them what they want to hear. Some people cater to the powerful person’s unreasonable needs and enable their destructive behaviors.
Can powerful people change? As I mentioned in my last blog, there are several strategies to shift one’s focus from success to significance. Powerful people can do amazing things to help others when they take the focus off of themselves. Hopefully we will learn to value relationships, balance, and emotional health over power and achievement. Our legacy is in the lives we’ve impacted in a positive way, especially those closest to us like our spouse, family, and friends. What will we be remembered for?