The Dean’s Disease: How the Darker Side of Power Manifests Itself in the Office of the Dean

Arthur G. Bedeian wrote this article regarding the dark side of humanity that often materializes when one is put in a position of power.  This article focuses on college and university deans, but it’s easy to extrapolate this out to other high-ranking positions.  These changes in behavior are referred to as the metamorphic effects of power.  I see two really great arguments in this article and would like to examine both of them.  Remember the term “locus of control”? 

Position 1 – When one attains a great deal of power, such as becoming a new dean, a dark part of some personality types suddenly begins to assert itself even if there has been no indication of that dark side in the person’s past.  This dark side is a deeply seeded character flaw that can either be controlled or allowed to fester.  As with all leaders, it is our job to notice these flaws in ourselves and take measures to ensure that we squelch those tendencies and lead in a way befitting the position we’ve been given.  We have no one but ourselves to blame when we become power-hungry and begin to walk all over people to accomplish our own agendas.  In short, those with the requisite internal locus of control should recognize their misbehavior and take whatever action is necessary to correct this behavior, up to and including resignation. 

Position 2 – Almost the moment a new dean accepts the position, he is inundated with people sucking up to him in order to garner favor and position themselves in their own place of power.  With their new-found power over people and resources, dean’s are treated as something like royalty around the university.  They hold power over careers, salaries, positions, praise, and recognition.  Many of the people under the dean’s leadership spend the majority of their time in self-preservation mode using flattery and agreement as tools to stay within the “inner circle”.  It is human nature to become puffed up and think more highly of yourself than truly deserved when you have people constantly telling you how brilliant you are.  Anyone would start believing their own press in a situation like that.  For those reasons, it is up to those who serve under the dean to provide reality checks and remind him that he is a fallible human being and to challenge him when necessary.

While it wasn’t the main thrust of the article, I couldn’t help but notice that the “Dean’s Disease” article contained a subtle argument around loci of control.  Someone with an internal locus of control would realize their part in developing the “Dean’s Disease” and would take steps to resolve the problems they’ve created.  On the other hand, someone with an external locus of control would blame the environment, the teachers and staff, the flattery, and everything else to avoid responsibility for their actions. 

There was a lot more to this article, but my lesson learned was to take responsibility for my actions.  Don’t take yourself so seriously that you treat people like stepping-stones for your career.  Admit when you’re wrong, and make up for your shortcomings by surrounding yourself with people who challenge you and tell you the truth even when it hurts.  It’s been said that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Not that I claim to be smarter than Lord Acton, but I don’t see it that way.  Power can have a big impact on us, but it cannot negatively affect our behavior unless we let it.  Remember that you choose your behavior, but you can’t always choose the consequences for that behavior.


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