By Dr. John Famodimu
When I heard of the predatory behavior of Harvey Weinstein, an Hollywood film producer; I watched Bill Cosby being handcuffed for committing sexual crime that blinded him because he was in the position of power; Les Hughey—who founded Highlands Community Church in north Scottsdale, in the State of Arizona, USA has been placed on leave following allegations that he sexually abused teenage girls under his supervision at a California church for 40 years; Pastor Hughey confessed and agreed with the allegations and issued a written statement in response to the Bee’s report, saying he “sinned and harmed the most important relationships in my life. I was unfaithful to my God, my wife and the ministry, and was rightly removed from that church. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to undo what happened, so I instead accept and live with the consequences, even now so many years later”. Hughey added that both his wife and church leaders were now aware of “his history.”
Pastor Bill Hybels, the founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church was forced to retire from his position after he admitted to sexual misconduct.
These unbearable atrocities that are befalling leaders at all sectors have led to my giving brief advice on how they can be avoided by both the present and emerging leaders.
Leaders who lose their way are not necessarily bad people; rather, they lose their moral bearings, often yielding to seductions in their paths. Very few people go into leadership roles to cheat or do evil, yet we all have the capacity for actions we deeply regret unless we stay grounded.
Before anyone takes on a leadership role, they should ask themselves, “Why do I want to lead?” and “What’s the purpose of my leadership?” These questions are simple to ask, but finding the real answers may take decades. If the honest answers are power, prestige, and money, leaders are at risk of relying on external gratification for fulfillment. There is nothing wrong with desiring these outward symbols as long as they are combined with a deeper desire to serve something greater than oneself. Jesus Christ submitted to us that an effective leader should serve others.
Leaders whose goal is the quest for power over others, unlimited wealth, or the fame that comes with success tend to look to others to gain satisfaction, and often appear self-centered and egotistical. They start to believe their own press. As leaders of institutions, they eventually believe the institution cannot succeed without them.
In his article submitted to Berkeley University Journal, Dacher Keltner wrote, “When we learn of injustice, it’s only human to focus on how to eliminate or punish the person responsible, but research into the social psychology of power suggests that — without exculpating corrupt individuals — we also need to take a hard look at the social systems in which they commit their abuses.
We should also learn from, Dacher Keltner, the professor of Psychology at Berkeley University and other social scientists research work that was documented how feeling powerful can change how ordinary citizens behave — which they called the banality of the abuses of power. In experiments in which one group of people is randomly assigned to a condition of power, people in the powerful group are prone to two shortcomings: They develop empathy deficits and are less able to read others’ emotions and take others perspectives. And they behave in an impulsive fashion — they violate the ethics of the workplace.
Their research also shows that these two tendencies manifest in inappropriate sexual behavior in male-dominated contexts, echoing the accounts of the women assaulted by those in the position of power. Studies show that powerful men overestimate the sexual interest of others and erroneously believe that the women around them are more attracted to them than is actually the case. Powerful men also sexualize their work, looking for opportunities for sexual trysts and affairs, and along the way leer inappropriately, stand too close, and touch for too long on a daily basis, thus crossing the lines of decorum — and worse.
These findings from laboratory studies tell us that abuses of power are predictable and recurring. So too does a quick reflection on history.
We should also take a lesson from the now-canonical studies of Stanley Milgram on obedience to authority. Those studies, inspired by Milgram’s quest to understand the conditions that gave rise to Nazi Germany, showed that authoritarian contexts can prompt ordinary, well-meaning citizens to give near-lethal shocks to strangers off the street. In a similar fashion, contexts of unchecked power make many of us vulnerable to, and complicit in, the abuse of power. We may not like what’s going on, but many of us wouldn’t do anything to stop it. This doesn’t excuse the rest of us any more than it excuses the powerful for their crimes, but it should prevent us from telling ourselves the comforting lie that we’d behave better than the people in The Weinstein Company who reportedly knew what Weinstein was doing and failed to put a stop to it.
The challenge, then, is to change social systems in which the abuses of power arise and continue unchecked. And on this the social psychology of power offers some insights.
First, we need to hear tales from those abused by the powerful, as difficult and unsettling as it can be to share their stories. I appreciate brave people who are calling out the bullying and sexual abuse of Weinstein and others. These tales galvanize social change. For example, when English citizens started to hear the stories about the treatment of slaves on slave ships in the 1700s, the moral calculus of the slave trade started to shift, and antislavery laws followed. Telling such stories also functions as a means by which those with less power construct the reputations of those in power and constrain their impulsive tendencies.
We are also learning of the many benefits of women rising to positions of power, from lower rates of corruption to more profitable higher lines. Hollywood is one of the most male-dominated sectors, more female directors and producers would change the balance of power in filmmaking. Studies show this kind of systemic change will reduce the likelihood of sexual abuse. For example, ethnic minorities are more likely to be targeted in hate crimes as the numerical advantage enjoyed by a particular ethnic or racial group increases than the others. Greater numerical balance between people of different groups constrains the abuses of power: Those from less powerful groups have more allies, they are more likely to be watchfully present in the contexts in which the powerful abuse power, and they are more likely to feel empowered to speak truth to power.
Finally, we need to take on the myths that sustain the abuses of power. Social scientists have documented how coercive power structures sustain themselves through social myths, which most typically justify the standing and unfettered action of those at the top. We’ve heard them before: “Women aren’t biologically equipped to lead.” “African Americans aren’t worthy of the vote.” “He may scream at people and cross some lines, but he’s a genius.” And a favorite in Hollywood: “Women are turned on by men with power like Weinstein.” Actual scientific studies find something quite different: When women (and men) are placed into positions of less power, their anxiety, self-consciousness, and worry rise dramatically, and their pleasure and delight, including sexual, are turned off.
This moment has the potential to become a tipping point in the fight against systemic sexual assault. For it to live up to the promise of this billing, we have to recognize the banality of Harvey Weinstein, and turn our attention to changing the social context in ways that make the human tendency to abuse power a thing of the past.
Conclusively, leaders should start to adopt servant leadership style as the Lord Jesus Christ does. If leaders at political and other sectors have the mentality that they are in their positions to serve others, they will not be greedy for money, power and will avoid extra marital affairs.