I like to think about what powerful people were like as children, and what they become as they age.
People have many goals in life: happiness, love, knowledge, family, faith, wisdom, friends, status. The growing child seeks the power to achieve these goals. All people start out as seekers of power.
Competition is an essential part of the search for power. Who will go to the head of the class? Enter the best college? Make the varsity team? Land the best job? Children are natural competitors.
Not all can be losers; some must succeed, whether by talent, luck, or sheer drive. Success brings wealth and status, instills confidence and frequently the desire to achieve more.
There will always be positions of power waiting to be filled, and young people will advance to these positions. They will begin to believe they are better than others, that their success is mostly due to their talent and skills, that it is deserved. They will begin to believe and create a myth about themselves.
At a certain point, many of the most successful will become enamored of power, and the concomitant wealth and privilege. They will desire more power. There are always new vistas to attract, new heights to scale, and the drive to become rich and powerful is mightily stoked by success.
Only a fraction of this group of powerful young people will continue to advance; the others will generally give up on seeking more power, accept a moderately successful status, and shift their attention to other goals. Many will simply tire of the grueling work required to compete at the higher levels of power. Conversely, those that continue to seek power share one distinguishing characteristic: an indomitable motivation to succeed. For these people, the challenge of competition can become the primary goal in life.
There are numerous paths to wealth and power; although my theories focus on those who succeed in government and business (because these are the fields in which power is created), the others who make a mark in entertainment, technology, sports, art, science, literature, academia, etc., may still become power seekers within their field of accomplishment.
Within the complex organizational structures of business and government in the developed world, powerful people seek and hold positions of leadership. Their personal power becomes camouflaged by and integrated with the power of the organization. Those power seekers who dominate such organizations develop, whether by training or experience, the ability to comprehend and exploit the complexities, laws, regulations, and customs of such organizations.
Power seekers are made, not born - by the simple process of survival and advancement through a competitive selection, governed by talent, training, luck, and, above all, drive. They may be saints or sinners, industrious or lazy, but all of them cannot help being affected by their own rise to power, and some of them will be corrupted by it. Most will find the experience of power so satisfying that they will be reluctant to give it up later in life.
Power seekers often have fragile egos. Misled by repeated successes, when they encounter their first failure to advance in status, they are frequently shocked and saddened, viewing what may simply be a failure of luck or the right connections as a personal fault.
All people, whether powerful or not, generally try to pass down as much power to their children as possible, by maximizing educational opportunities, setting up positions for them to occupy, and making gifts of valuable property. The children of the powerful may be thought of as elites, those who have a significant head start from childhood on attaining power.
Until we understand the powerful as human beings, we cannot hope to regulate their natural efforts to dominate.