Abusive Leaders Suffer From Their Actions
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.