If we want more instances of power being used for good, we need to ensure that more good people understand—and are willing and able to use—the principles of power.
I began teaching an elective course on power when I arrived at Stanford as a full professor in 1979. I did so because power felt like an important topic that went mostly untreated in either core or elective courses in both undergraduate and MBA curricula. That year, Harvard professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter called power “America’s last dirty word,” even though, as she noted, power is crucial for effective managerial behavior. To this day, power and organizational politics, although ubiquitous in social and organizational life, remain topics that often make people uncomfortable. Thus, although more business schools offer material on power than they did almost four decades ago, currently too few places teach this material—and even fewer teach it using the copious social science research that challenges the “feel good” leadership platitudes that business schools typically tell their students.