Abu­sive Lead­ers Suf­fer From Their Ac­tions

Trillions - - In This Issue -

We all know that power can cor­rupt, mak­ing peo­ple act in ways that harm oth­ers. But new re­search from the Univer­sity of Florida shows that when some of the pow­er­ful mis­be­have, some of them hurt them­selves, too.

“We al­ways think those who have power are bet­ter off, but hav­ing power is not uni­ver­sally or ex­clu­sively good for the power holder,” said Trevor Foulk, who led the re­search.

Foulk and fel­low War­ring­ton re­searchers Klo­di­ana Lanaj, Min-hsuan Tu, Amir Erez and Lindy Ar­cham­beau found that lead­ers who acted abu­sively to col­leagues had trou­ble re­lax­ing af­ter work and were less likely to feel com­pe­tent, re­spected and au­ton­o­mous in the work­place. The find­ings, pub­lished in the Academy of Man­age­ment Jour­nal, stemmed from sur­veys of 116 lead­ers in fields in­clud­ing en­gi­neer­ing, medicine, ed­u­ca­tion and bank­ing over a three-week span.

Rather than struc­tural power – a leader’s po­si­tion in the hi­er­ar­chy – the study looked at psy­cho­log­i­cal power, or how pow­er­ful a leader feels, which changes as they move through the work­day. When lead­ers felt pow­er­ful, they were more likely to act abu­sively and per­ceive more in­ci­vil­ity from their co­work­ers, which in turn harmed their own well-be­ing.

“This flips the script on abu­sive lead­er­ship,” Foulk said. “We tend to as­sume that pow­er­ful peo­ple just go around and abuse and they’re to­tally fine with it, but the ef­fect of power on the power holder is more com­plex than that.”

Side-step­ping the neg­a­tive ef­fects of power might re­quire us to re­think the qual­i­ties we look for in a leader. Foulk’s study sug­gests that agree­able lead­ers – those who value so­cial close­ness, pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ships and work­place har­mony – may be less sus­cep­ti­ble to the mis­be­hav­ior brought on by psy­cho­log­i­cal power.

It’s also pos­si­ble that, over time, the con­se­quences of psy­cho­log­i­cal power are self-cor­rect­ing. If a leader acts abu­sively, then goes home and feels bad about it, he or she might come back to work the next day feel­ing less pow­er­ful and be­have bet­ter – a phe­nom­e­non Foulk is study­ing for a fu­ture pa­per.

Al­though a boss who yells, curses or be­lit­tles might not seem to de­serve our sym­pa­thy, “they’re suf­fer­ing, too,” Foulk says. “Even though your boss may seem like a jerk, they’re re­act­ing to a sit­u­a­tion in a way many of us would if we were in power. It’s not nec­es­sar­ily that they’re mon­sters.

While some man­agers may be­come abu­sive with in­creased power due to in­se­cu­rity and lack of con­fi­dence, some may just be very strong-willed and act ag­gres­sively out of con­fi­dence and a be­lief that an emo­tional out­burst can be a good man­age­ment tech­nique.

Had the re­searchers included more types of or­ga­ni­za­tions in their study they may have found that some per­son­al­ity types thrive un­der abu­sive bosses be­cause the abuse re­in­forces their own lack of self-es­teem. If a worker was abused by par­ents as a child they may ac­tu­ally seek out an abu­sive boss to fill the role of an abu­sive par­ent. In such cases, some or­ga­ni­za­tions can ac­tu­ally per­form at high lev­els, pro­vided that most of the work­ers feel a need for a strong-willed su­per­vi­sor.

A good ex­am­ple of such an or­ga­ni­za­tion is the U.S. mil­i­tary. Other ex­am­ples in­clude oil field drilling crews and tele­mar­ket­ing op­er­a­tions.

In the era of Mil­len­ni­als, po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness and class-ac­tion law suits, few com­pa­nies can af­ford to keep an abu­sive boss even though some work­ers may re­spond well to a stronger man­age­ment style.

An­other fac­tor that the Re­searchers did not con­sider is telepa­thy. How a per­son thinks and feels about an­other per­son can have a real im­pact.

Stud­ies have shown that peo­ple can eas­ily form a very real con­nec­tion to an­other per­son and in­flu­ence them tele­path­i­cally. Stud­ies con­ducted at the Univer­sity of Las Ve­gas by Dean Radin found that merely look­ing at an­other per­son's photo caused a mea­sur­able phys­i­o­log­i­cal re­sponse in the per­son in the photo and that a curse placed on some­one also had a mea­sur­able ef­fect which was am­pli­fied if the per­son knew about the curse and be­lieved in curses.

Bosses who cre­ate neg­a­tive feel­ings and thoughts in oth­ers can ex­pect to be af­fected tele­path­i­cally in neg­a­tive ways. Al­though, some peo­ple seem to thrive on such neg­a­tive en­ergy and feed off of it.

Im­age by Kris­dog

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