We may often hear there are three things that make a great leader: stay focused, communicate, and inspire. Leaders may have the ability to possess all these leadership skills, but the difference between a leader and a powerful leader lies in how well she effectively executes these abilities in a position of power. According to a recent study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, an effective leader isn’t someone who just exudes power and firmly establishes a point of view, but someone who possesses the skill to adjust to others’ perspective.

Power motivates leaders to push toward their goals, but it can blind them to the perspectives of others in the rest of the world. Ronald E. Riggio, psychologist and leadership expert, believes leaders, specifically transformational leaders, who are positive, inspiring, and who empower and develop followers, are the most valued, and have a higher performing team, or support staff. Leaders who do not aim to inspire or motivate their followers will often jeopardize the impact they could have, and consequently, fall short of their goals.

In an effort to explore whether combining power with perspective-taking can lead to better interpersonal treatment and higher quality decisions by communicating and integrating the knowledge and interests of others, Adam Galinsky, the Vikram S. Pandit Professor of Business Management at Columbia Business School, and his colleagues conducted a series of three experiments. These experiments tested the effects of combining power and perspective-taking in various boss-employee scenarios at the workplace. The researchers hypothesized power and perspective-taking are ideal leadership traits to be an effective leader.

The first two experiments tested the benefits of combining power and perspective-taking when handling a layoff. The participants in the experiments were asked to think about an experience they had with high or low power. They were then subtly encouraged to consider the perspective of others by being told how they delivered the bad news, or by considering words related to perspective-taking. The findings revealed it was only when the participant had power, and took the perspective of others into account, did they treat employees more truthfully and as equals.

In the third and final experiment, the researchers explored how the combination of power and perspective-taking affects people in less-emotional scenarios. Participants were paired up and either assigned the role of boss or the other role of employee. The participants were then told to consider the perspective of their partner. The researchers then had the pair make a decision that required both groups to share information and work together to resolve an issue. Similar to the first two experiments, it was when power was combined with perspective-taking that participants arrived at the best solution to a problem.

The findings suggest leaders produce the best outcomes when they consider their audience’s perspective, and begin to see the world from someone else’s perspective. Galinsky compared effective leadership to a successful car ride. When you need to get from point A to point B, you need gas and acceleration. Power is the psychological accelerator.

"You also need a good steering wheel so you don't crash as you speed down the highway — perspective-taking is that psychological steering wheel," said Galinsky, in the news release. "When you anchor too heavily onto your own perspective, and don't take into account the viewpoints of others, you are bound to crash."

A 2006 study published in the journal Psychological Science, also conducted by Galinsky, the researchers found power was associated with a reduced tendency to understand how other people see, think, and feel. People in power are more prone to dismiss, or misunderstand the viewpoints of those who lack authority. These studies help give insight into how leadership can be improved to make global leaders more socially responsible for their actions and their citizens.

With great power, comes great responsibility, especially the ability to consider the perspective of others. Leaders who balance power and perspective-taking tend to handle difficult situations more successfully, with greater respect and fairness. Galinsky emphasizes this is why the combination of power and perspective is the formula to effective leadership.

The ability to have the power of perspective is very valuable for a powerful leader.

Sources: Galinsky AD, Magee JC, Rothman NB et al. Acceleration With Steering The Synergistic Benefits of Combining Power and Perspective-Taking. Social Psychological & Personality Science. 2014.

Galinsky AD, Gruenfeld DH, Inesi ME, Magee JC. Power and Perspectives Not Taken. Psychological Science. 2006.