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Abuse of power is as old as human history.Leadership involves the use of power, and, as Lord Acton famously warned, power corrupts. And yet leaders without power – the ability to cause others to do what we want – cannot lead.Ethics and power can be mutually reinforcing.But ethics can also be used instrumentally to increase power. Machiavelli addressed the importance of ethics for leaders, but primarily in terms of the impression that visible displays of virtue made upon followers. The appearance of virtue is an important source of a leader's soft power or the ability to get what one wants by attraction rather than coercion or payment. Idealism without realism rarely reshapes the world, but as we judge our modern democratic leaders, we should keep both Machiavelli and Acton in mind. We should look for and support leaders who possess an ethical element of self-restraint and a need for achievement and affiliation as well as for power.
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