Rising Up the Ranks: The Peril of Power and the Importance of Humility

Rising Up the Ranks: The Peril of Power and the Importance of Humility
Jul 14

One of the best feelings in life is to see the youngsters you have mentored excel in their careers and rise the ranks at a fast pace. Recently, a few of my younger colleagues got their cabins allocated, and they wanted to show me their new workspace. During my visit to their brand new cabins, a few of them asked me what is the one piece of advice I would like to give them as they embark on the new journey of their career. I gave it a quick thought, and the first thing that came to mind was, as you rise the rank, don’t let power corrupt you; stay humble and grounded. In its true essence, leadership is a service. Later, I couldn’t help but wonder why people get corrupt as they climb the ladder. I have seen many good boys and girls with great humility and humbleness becoming arrogant as they acquire power and money. This transition in people has deeply intrigued me; why this happens, and how can it be avoided? The famous statement that money and power corrupts is not simply an axiom; it reflects something deep about human nature. This transition happens almost subconsciously, and I have often wondered how I can guide young leaders to be conscious of this subconscious transformation which happens to most of them.

To begin with, let us understand how this transformation seeps in. Often good people have suffered from bad leaders who went up the rank reasonably fast. They have witnessed arrogant, cold-hearted leaders snatching credit from others and making it to the top. This might have given them the impression that this is how leadership is, that it is supposed to be run by an iron fist, without empathy for others. That power is heartless and corrupt in nature. Secondly, there is something called the 'Self-Serving' bias, according to which we tend to attribute all our accomplishments to personal or internal factors and assign the failures to external factors. Continuous success may make us believe that it is the result of only our inner abilities, and we may quickly discredit the contribution of others and external circumstances. Nothing can be further from the truth; while there is no denying that success requires hard work and commitment, but success is also often the result of hard work and sacrifices others made in our journey. No captain, CEO or leader can ascribe the success of their team or enterprise solely to themselves. In our relentless pursuit of success, it's easy to become enamoured by the power and influence that comes with climbing the rankings. Whether it's in our professional careers, sports, or any other endeavour, achieving higher positions can be exhilarating. However, as we ascend to greater heights, we must also be mindful of the lurking danger of power corrupting our character. Staying humble and grounded becomes paramount to maintaining our integrity and making a positive impact on the world around us. It becomes essential to breed humbleness in oneself because success often feeds our ego.

The Pitfalls of Power: Power has the potential to transform individuals, often revealing their true nature. It can magnify pre-existing flaws or tempt us to indulge in unethical behaviours. When we find ourselves in positions of authority or influence, there is a risk of losing touch with our values, becoming arrogant, and disregarding the needs and concerns of others. Arrogance and entitlement can blind us to the reality of our actions, leading us to believe that we are invincible or beyond reproach. The sense of power can breed complacency, causing us to become disconnected from the struggles and challenges faced by those beneath us. It is essential to remember that the authority we hold is part of our job; it does not give us the power to mistreat others and should not make us less of a human being. Instead, power should make us more responsible towards our colleagues. Many spiritual texts talk about the importance of letting go of the lure of power; it does not mean that one has to forego the position they hold. It just means don’t be blinded by power and don’t let it kill the goodness in you.

The Importance of Humility: Humility acts as a vital counterbalance to the intoxicating allure of power. It allows us to maintain perspective, empathy, and a genuine connection with others. When we remain humble, we acknowledge our limitations, recognize the contributions of others, and stay open to continuous learning and growth. Humility requires honest self-reflection. By acknowledging our strengths, weaknesses, and biases, we can guard against the seductive nature of power and cultivate a sense of self-awareness that keeps us grounded. Remaining humble means recognizing the efforts and contributions of those around us. Expressing gratitude and appreciation for the support we receive helps us remember that our success is rarely achieved in isolation. When we are grounded, we also genuinely listen to others, valuing their perspectives and experiences. By developing empathy, we can better understand the challenges faced by others, and use our power to uplift and support them. Humility also fuels a thirst for knowledge and growth. It reminds us that there is always more to learn and that no matter how high we rise, there is room for improvement. Learning is fluid in nature; it can come from anyone around us. Many CXOs are reverse-mentored by younger people on various aspects of technology and digitization. Embracing a mind-set of lifelong learning allows us to stay humble and adaptable in the face of changing circumstances.

Over the years, I have learned that you can cultivate a few practices to stay grounded in the face of power and success. To begin with, surround yourself with honest and trustworthy individuals who are unafraid to challenge your perspective and keep you accountable. Seek feedback and actively listen to constructive criticism. Embrace growth opportunities and recognize that even setbacks can provide valuable lessons. Regularly reflect on your values and revisit your motivations. To escape the power trap, take away the centre for power from you and place it in a higher purpose. Remind yourself of the importance of using your power for the greater good and the positive impact you can make. Once you start thinking about the greater good, your power does not hold much value; you just become another person in the purist of making the world a better place. Remember, your position and power allow you to make a difference and contribute to the well-being of society.

I will conclude by quoting a famous verse from the ancient Indian epic, Mahabharata, which loosely translates to ‘Humility is the mark of a true leader. They understand that power is not to dominate but to serve.’

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Tapan Singhel is the MD & CEO of Bajaj Allianz General Insurance Company Limited. This blog has been initiated by him so that he can directly interact with all the valuable customers and employees of this company.

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