In an experiment he called "the cookie monster" study, Dacher Keltner, professor of psychology at University of California, Berkeley, and author of The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence, brought groups of three people into a lab and randomly assigned one person a position of leadership. He then gave the group a writing task. After a half-hour of work, Keltner placed a plate of four freshly baked cookies in front of the team—one for each team member with one left over. In all groups, each person took one. Who would take the last remaining cookie? In nearly all cases, it was the person who'd been named the leader of the group who took the last cookie for themselves.

"In addition," Keltner writes in the Harvard Business Review, "the leaders were more likely to eat with their mouths open, lips smacking, and crumbs falling onto their clothes."

Such an experiment illustrates what Keltner calls "the power paradox." While people often gain power through behavior that advances the interests of others, such as empathy and collaboration, once they begin to feel powerful, those are the very qualities that diminish. Leaders then become more likely to engage in rude, selfish, and unethical behavior. In short, the old saying is true: Power does corrupt.

There's a neurological explanation at work. Sukhvinder Obhi, a neuroscientist at McMaster University in Ontario, put the brains of the powerful and the not-so-powerful under a transcranial-magnetic-stimulation machine, a device with an electromagnetic coil that that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain. What he found was that power impairs a specific neural process called "mirroring." In neural mirroring, a neuron fires both when we perform an action, like laughing or raising our hand in a meeting, and when we observe the same action performed by another. Researchers say this kind of vicarious experience may be a cornerstone of empathy.

But not only does neural mirroring, an unconscious response, decrease in the powerful, so too does psychological mimicking, the empathic response to laugh when others laugh, for example, that allows us to momentarily have an understanding of another person's experience. Powerful people "stop simulating the experience of others," Keltner told the Atlantic, which leads to what he calls an "empathy deficit."

It's not just power in the workplace, however. Other forms of privilege and entitlement, such as wealth can have a similar effect. In another experiment, for example, Keltner and a colleague found that drivers of the least expensive cars always ceded the right-of-way to pedestrians in a crosswalk. People driving luxury cars such as BMWs and Mercedes yielded only 54% of the time; nearly half the time they ignored the pedestrian and the law.

Power also heightens feelings of egocentricity. In another study, participants were asked to draw a capital E on their forehead with a washable marker. Those with power tended to draw the E on their forehead oriented to their own point of view, but which would appear reversed from the point of someone standing opposite them. Lack of empathy, coupled with egocentrism, aids and abets those in power to see people as means to an end, objects along their personal path to success.

"[Power] creates psychological distance between the powerful person and everything else," Batia Wiesenfeld, a management professor at New York University's Stern School of Business, told Fast Company.

"Here's the thing," wrote David Rock and Mary Slaughter of the NeuroLeadership Institute in Fast Company. "A lot of leaders fall into the trap of being stuck in the big picture, as well as the outcome. This can lead them to make ethically dubious decisions without thinking about the consequences. Similarly, this type of thinking can also present problematic business risks." To say nothing of your team turning on you.

So what's a powerful leader to do? Keltner says it comes down to awareness and actions of empathy, gratitude, and generosity.

The practice: Awareness

Awareness at work, and examination of one's demeanor at the office, is no different than a mindfulness practice at home: sit quietly, breathe deeply, quiet your mind. Practice what Buddhist teacher, Tara Brach, calls RAIN: Recognize, Allow, Interrogate, Non-Attachment.

The proof: Studies show that spending just a few minutes a day on such exercises gives people greater focus and calm; it's why these techniques are taught in training programs at companies like Google, Facebook, Aetna, General Mills, Ford, and Goldman Sachs, Keltner notes.

The practice: Empathy

Practice empathy in the workplace by thinking before a meeting about the individuals who will be present and what's going on in their lives. Is someone in the midst of a move or did they just drop their kid off for the first day of kindergarten that morning? Listen actively with attentive body language and vocal engagement (no looking at your phone during meetings). Ask questions and paraphrase the important points you hear. When employees come to you with difficult situations, take a moment to sympathize with them before launching into problem-solving mode. "That's really tough," and "I'm sorry" mean a lot.

The proof: Keltner advises we look at the U.S. Senate. Research has shown senators who used empathetic facial expressions and tones of voice when speaking to the floor got more bills passed than those who used domineering, threatening gestures and tones in their speeches.

The practice: Gratitude

Practice gratitude by making thank you's a regular part of how you communicate with your team. It can be handwritten notes, emails, and public praise and acknowledgement. Don't be afraid to give a fist bump or high-five to celebrate success.

The proof: NBA players who physically display their appreciation—through head raps, bear hugs, and hip and chest bumps—inspire their teammates to play better and win nearly two more games per season, Keltner's research has shown.

The practice: Generosity

Practice generosity by spending one-on-one time with your subordinates. Buy them lunch. Delegate and share high-profile responsibilities to those who have earned it, offer generous praise, and share the spotlight by giving credit for success not to yourself, but to all members of the team who made a win possible.

The proof: Those who share with others in a group, by contributing new ideas or lending a helping hand on projects not their own, are viewed as more worthy of respect and influence and thus well-suited for leadership, studies show.

The takeaway

Think not just about practicing empathic and generous leadership, but exercising enlightened power.

"Enlightened leadership is... the domain of awareness where we experience values like truth, goodness, beauty, love and compassion, and also intuition, creativity, insight and focused attention," said Deepak Chopra.

Sounds like a great boss.

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Over two years into the most momentous event in our lives the world has changed forever … Some of us have PTSD from being locked up at home, some are living like everything’s going to end tomorrow, and the rest of us are merely trying to get by. When the pandemic hit we entered a perpetual state of vulnerability, but now we’re supposed to return to normal and just get on with our lives.

What does that mean? Packed bars, concerts, and grocery shopping without a mask feel totally strange. We got used to having more rules over our everyday life, considering if we really had to go out or keeping Zooming from our living rooms in threadbare pajama bottoms.

The work-from-home culture changed it all. Initially, companies were skeptical about letting employees work remotely, automatically assuming work output would fall and so would the quality. To the contrary, since March of 2020 productivity has risen by 47%, which says it all. Employees can work from home and still deliver results.

There are a number of reasons why everyone loves the work from home culture. We gained hours weekly that were wasted on public transport, people saved a ton of money, and could work from anywhere in the world. Then there were the obvious reasons like wearing sweats or loungewear all week long and having your pets close by. Come on, whose cat hasn’t done a tap dance on your keyboard in the middle of that All Hands Call!

Working from home grants the freedom to decorate your ‘office’ any way you want. But then people needed a change of environment. Companies began requesting their employees' RTO, thus generating the Hybrid Work Model — a blend of in-person and virtual work arrangements. Prior to 2020, about 20% of employees worked from home, but in the midst of the pandemic, it exploded to around 70%.

Although the number of people working from home increased and people enjoyed their flexibility, politicians started calling for a harder RTW policy. President Joe Biden urges us with, “It’s time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again.”

While Boris Johnson said, “Mother Nature does not like working from home.'' It wasn’t surprising that politicians wanted people back at their desks due to the financial impact of working from the office. According to a report in the BBC, US workers spent between $2,000 - $5,000 each year on transport to work before the pandemic.

That’s where the problem lies. The majority of us stopped planning for public transport, takeaway coffee, and fresh work-appropriate outfits. We must reconsider these things now, and our wallets are paying

the price. Gas costs are at an all-time high, making public transport increase their fees; food and clothes are all on a steep incline. A simple iced latte from Dunkin’ went from $3.70 to $3.99 (which doesn’t seem like much but 2-3 coffees a day with the extra flavors and shots add up to a lot), while sandwiches soared by 14% and salads by 11%.

This contributes to the pressure employees feel about heading into the office. Remote work may have begun as a safety measure, but it’s now a savings measure for employees around the world.

Bloomberg are offering its US staff a $75 daily commuting stipend that they can spend however they want. And other companies are doing the best they can. This still lends credence to ‘the great resignation.’ Initially starting with the retail, food service, and hospitality sectors which were hard hit during the pandemic, it has since spread to other industries. By September 2021, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 4.4 million resignations.

That’s where the most critical question lies…work from home, work from the office or stick to this new hybrid world culture?

Borris Johnson thinks, “We need to get back into the habit of getting into the office.” Because his experience of working from home “is you spend an awful lot of time making another cup of coffee and then, you know, getting up, walking very slowly to the fridge, hacking off a small piece of cheese, then walking very slowly back to your laptop and then forgetting what it was you’re doing.”

While New York City Mayor Eric Adams says you “can't stay home in your pajamas all day."

In the end, does it really matter where we work if efficiency and productivity are great? We’ve proven that companies can trust us to achieve the same results — or better! — and on time with this hybrid model. Employees can be more flexible, which boosts satisfaction, improves both productivity and retention, and improves diversity in the workplace because corporations can hire through the US and indeed all over the world.

We’ve seen companies make this work in many ways, through virtual lunches, breakout rooms, paint and prosecco parties, and — the most popular — trivia nights.

As much as we strive for normalcy, the last two years cannot simply be erased. So instead of wiping out this era, it's time to embrace the change and find the right world culture for you.

What would get you into the office? Free lunch? A gym membership? Permission to hang out with your dog? Some employers are trying just that.

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Did you hear about the Great Resignation? It isn’t over. Just over two years of pandemic living, many offices are finally returning to full-time or hybrid experiences. This is causing employees to totally reconsider their positions.

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