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Power Abuse and the Means to Avoid It


Despite numerous attempts to control the actions of those beholding power, power abuse remains one of the notorious elements of everyday reality. On the one hand, corruption is an inevitable stage of evolution of a regular person who suddenly gained too much power to be able to refrain from using it for his/her own interests. On the other hand, a number of techniques that may help one avoid abusing power have been developed. According to Zimbardo, the ethics of leader’s choices may be enhanced by introducing diversity into workplace, therefore, allowing for the reinforcement of corporate values and, thus, improvements in the leader’s idea of what his/her power entitles him/her to do.

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In large companies and corporations, people at the helm often have to face the temptation to abuse their powers and cross the border between ethical and unethical. With the availability of the information, the opportunity to control people and the power to make decisions that the fate of the company often depends on, leaders and managers often succumb to abusing their powers and exploiting the resources that, quite frankly, should be used from the benefit of the company (Bruhn, 2009).

While the given phenomenon can be attributed to the specifics of human nature and, therefore, is extremely hard to fight, it can be assumed that, by introducing the principles of human diversity and sense of responsibility into the company managers’ organizational behavior, one can possibly bring the rates of corruption within an organization to bearable rates.

Personal Experience: When Leader’s Organizational Behavior Leaves Much to Be Desired

In my personal experience, I have encountered the situations in which company managers abused their powers, and in each case, not only the dishonesty of these managers, but also the faults in the representation of the company’s values and ethics. I used to work for a recycling company that provided raw recycled material for partner companies and services to the people and companies who needed to dispose of different types of waste (domestic waste, industrial waste, etc.).

Because of the laissez-faire leadership style adopted by the company leader, managers often abused their power and resorted to fraud, mainly tax fiddling and stealing from the company’s budget for technology, to get extra money. This was the case described by Rhode, when “ironically, public immorality seems to be less tarnishing than private immorality despite the extent of the consequences” (Rhode, 2006, p. 123). If the managers had displayed immoral viewpoints in any other sphere, they would have been tolerated; however, in public sphere, this behavior was given a very hostile reception.

Power and Self Interest without Restrain: Corruption at Its Worst

Actually, when analyzing the reasons for corruption to exist, one should take a closer look at the hierarchy of human needs and realize that, while the need for recognition at work and personal achievements land rather high on the list of people’s priorities, bare necessities, i.e., food and shelter, still remain the key ones. Therefore, the very phenomenon of corruption, in fact, can be explained easily; moreover, it is fully justifiable based on the specifics of human nature (Calabrese, 2003). The given fact does not make corruption any less despicable; however, it clearly points at the difficulties in reducing its rates in an ordinary company, not to mention the process of eliminating the possibility of corruption (Bondy, 2008).

From Zimbardo’s Point of View: Human Diversity and the Sense of Responsibility

It would be a mistake, though, to attribute the efficacy of moral leadership solely to the rates of diversity within a company (Frederiksen, 2010). While being a relatively important aspect of shaping a company’s set of moral values (Pies, Beckmann, & Hielscher, 2010), it still addresses only one aspect of leadership style evolution, i.e., the leader’s ability to avoid judging people based on common stereotypes. Arguably, human diversity also allows for incorporating more ethical principles into the company’s ethical code, therefore, providing solutions for possible ethical dilemmas that may emerge once two or more cultures collide.

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Such conflicts, in fact, are very common for the companies that are only starting to expand ad, hence, have little experience of contacting with the companies belonging to the people of different culture and traditions. In my own experience, after several employees from a different cultural background had been accepted for working in the organization, the company manager started displaying willingness to introduce the principles of the Asian culture into the company’s organizational behavior.

More to the point, organizational clarity and honesty, a trademark of the Japanese culture, which the new employee belonged to, seemed to affect the leader’s behavior as well, reducing the corruption rates a few notches. However, it was still not enough to bring the rates of corruption down significantly, which was why another method suggested by Zimbardo was utilized.

Defined as sense of responsibility (Zimbargo, 2006), the given method works from the inside, in contrast to the rest of the approaches, which presuppose an outside influence on the wrongdoer. It should be stressed, though, that sense of responsibility is not acquired easily and definitely demands considerable time to bring fruitful results. In contrast to the method of introducing cultural and human diversity into the company, where the manager in question is influenced by the people around him and, therefore, has no other options but to evolve, sense of responsibility presupposes a conscious recognition of the necessity to follow specific rules.

In other words, sense of responsibility presupposes that a person acknowledges the reasonability of certain ethical restrictions and abstains from breaking the existing code of ethics not because of his/her fear of punishment, but because (s)he understands what this code is required for. In addition, it is required that the managers should be able to balance between maintaining general welfare and private wealth (Windsor, 2006).

In the context of my workplace environment, introducing managers to the sense of responsibility appeared to be successful because of the reconsideration of the company’s ethics and the change of leadership strategy adopted by the head of the company. Instead of utilizing the laissez-faire approach, which gave managers impressive freedom yet did not presuppose that they should be under the influence of any ethical principles, Mr. Hutchinson decided to adopt transformational leadership style.

By appealing to the managers’ needs and introducing a model of appropriate behavior to them, Mr. Hutchinson managed to reinvent their perception of corporate responsibility, therefore, shaping their idea of what they should use their power for and enhancing the learning of other shared practices and beliefs, as Hartman and DesJardins define culture (Hartman & DesJardins, 2011, p. 162).


Corruption among company leaders and managers is a part and parcel of everyday reality in the modern world of business and entrepreneurship. The given phenomenon can be explained with the help of the hierarchy of needs and dealt with with the help of change in corporate ethics and organizational behavior, as well as redefinition of the leadership style adopted by the head of the company.

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Reference List

Bondy, K. (2008). The paradox of power in CSR: A case study on implementation. Journal of Business Ethics, 82(2), 307-323.

Bruhn, J. G., (2009). The functionality of gray area ethics in organizations. The Journal of Business Ethics, 89(2), 205-214.

Calabrese, R. L. (2003). The ethical imperative to lead change: Overcoming the resistance to change. The International Journal of Educational Management, 17(1), 7-13.

Frederiksen, C. (2010). The relation between policies concerning corporate social responsibility (CSR) and philosophical moral theories – An empirical investigation. Journal of Business Ethics, 93(3), 357-371.

Hartman, L. P. & DesJardins, J. R. (2011). Business ethics: Decision-making for personal integrity and social responsibility (2nd ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

Rhode, D. L. (2006). Moral leadership: The theory and practice of power, judgment, and policy. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Windsor, D. (2006). Corporate social responsibility: Three key approaches. Journal of Management Studies, 43(1), 93–114.

Zimbargo, P. (2006). The psychology of power: To the person? To the situation? To the system? In D. L. Rhode & W. Bennis (Eds.,) Moral leadership: The theory and practice of power, judgment and policy (pp. 129–159). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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