liar.jpgToday, yet another CEO will be going before Congress to explain himself.

This time it’s Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman Sachs’ big cheese.

Basically the mega financial firm is charged with profiting from the housing market’s collapse and actually betting against their own clients. Blankfein, along with other Goldman bigwigs, will be testifying before a Senate subcommittee today.

The whole thing has me sort of bummed out.

It’s getting to feel like a never-ending CEO parade on the Hill. Enron’s CEO. Toyota’s CEO. Countrywide’s CEO.

They all testified that they knew nothing, did nothing, and frankly were “immensely proud of what we accomplished.” That last line came from former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling during his Congressional grilling.

Are all these powerful guys just bald-faced liars? Is the old adage, power corrupts true after all? According to one study, the answer may be yes.

I recently came across a study by Dana Carney, a management professor at Columbia Business School, that looked at power and lying.

She found that individuals with power were better liars than the rest of us lowly workers.

I wrote about her research in a recent MSNBC.com column:

For the average liar, she said, the act of lying elicits negative emotions, physiological stress and the fear of getting caught in a lie. As a result, she added, liars will often send out cues that they are lying by doing things like fidgeting in a chair or changing the rate of their speech.

But for the powerful, the impact is very different, according to the study:

“Power, it seems, enhances the same emotional, cognitive, and physiological systems that lie-telling depletes. People with power enjoy positive emotions, increases in cognitive function, and physiological resilience such as lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Thus, holding power over others might make it easier for people to tell lies.”

This is why I’m depressed. If power makes us better liars how can we ever hope for integrity from our leaders?

During my interview with Carney we talked at length about how disheartening her research was. I didn’t include that part of our conversation in my story but want to include some of it here.

I asked her how we were going to deal with this problem, and encourage more honesty and integrity out of our leaders?

“I don’t know. It’s a little bit scary. It’s difficult to think about how to deal with it. My scientific intuition would say, ‘what can I do to remind them that they are good?’ It’s more about self affirmation.”

And, she added, you can alter behavior through punishment. “A small child learns not to touch a stove when punished. That’s literally how human beings learn.”

I wondered about that statement for a while now. If you punish the powerful will they learn? I’m not sure. A handful of CEOs have ended up in jail in the past few years, but questionable behavior continues in the corner offices throughout Corporate America.

I will tune in today to hear what Blankfein has to say. But based on Carney’s conclusions he may be lying but not really know it, or at least not let on.

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