Power is not a singular attribute but a tricky intersection between the power of the person and the power of the role. I’ve written elsewhere about this tricky problem of the fit between the power of the person and the power of the role, the interaction of power and status.

Poor use of power most often stems from a dissonance between the personal power of the one in the role and the power of the role itself.

Now a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology shows how this dynamic happens in a research study. The implications of this are vast and useful for everything from ethics in corporate governance to bullying in schools.

What makes it even trickier is that status is not static; it fluctuates depending on many factors. Under threat and attack, our status can go down. In fact, under threat, when triggered, it’s common to regress to the place where we have been hurt or wounded, because that is where we learned to defend ourselves. This is why power needs to come with a User’s Guide: We regress to our place of lowest status, and from there, reach for our biggest rank to defend ourselves.