Friday, January 09, 2015

When the Boss Craves Power, Look Out!

Kellogg Professor Jon Maner and doctoral student Charleen Case have conducted a fascinating new experiment about power.   They gave groups of students a task to perform, with prizes for the teams that performed the best. They created three experimental groups. In the control group, they did not assign a leader, and the members would share the prizes equally upon completion of the task.  In a second scenario, a student was assigned to the leader, and he or she was told that one member of the group was very highly skilled at the task.  The leaders were told that they should supervise the group members and choose how to allot the prizes among the members at the end.  In the third scenario, the leaders were told to supervise and to allot the prizes at the end, but they were told that the hierarchy was malleable (i.e. someone else could step up and become the leader during the course of the work).  What did they find?  According to Kellogg Insights, Maner and Case discovered the following:

Maner and collaborator Charleen Case, a doctoral student at the Kellogg School, found that leaders who were driven by a desire for power (or dominance motivated) were more likely to undermine a group’s communication and cohesion than those who were motivated by a desire for respect (or prestige motivated). Those power-hungry leaders were most inclined to behave this way when they were told that the power hierarchy in the group was unstable and they may lose their position at the top. And they were most likely to undermine group cohesion by isolating the one highly skilled member of the group.

Once again, we find that power corrupts.  Specifically, people who crave power tend to be threatened by the highly skilled subordinate.  They may go so far as to isolate that individual and break down the group's cohesion for the sake of maintaining power.   In so doing, they undermine the group's performance.  

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