Category: leadership

Very intelligent people make less effective leaders, according to their peers and subordinates

By Alex Fradera

Highly intelligent people tend to make good progress in the workplace and are seen as fit for leadership roles: overall, smarter is usually associated with success. But if you examine the situation more closely, as does new research in the Journal of Applied Psychology, you find evidence that too much intelligence can harm leadership effectiveness. Too clever for your own good? Let’s look at the research.

Continue reading “Very intelligent people make less effective leaders, according to their peers and subordinates”

Can evolutionary psychology and personality theory explain Trump’s popular appeal?

GettyImages-632198430.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

One year ago today, Donald J Trump, a man with no political or military experience, defied expectations, winning the election to become the 45th president of the United States. Nearly 63 million voted for him, including, and in spite of his reputation for sexism, over half of all white women. In an open-access paper in Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture, Dan McAdams, one of the world’s leading experts in personality psychology, proposes an explanation for Trump’s popular appeal that is grounded in evolutionary psychology, personality theory and the social psychology of leadership.

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Introverts may miss leadership chances because they overestimate how stressful it will be

GettyImages-637902386.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

There are certain situations where it’s advantageous for an introvert to take charge. For instance, perhaps they are better qualified than their extroverted peers. The trouble is, most introverts tend to shy away from seizing informal leadership opportunities when they arise (psychologists call this “emergent leadership” – when someone takes charge in a team without a formal hierarchy).

A new study in Personality and Individual Differences suggests this might be because introverts expect to find group tasks and situations unpleasant, which inhibits them from displaying the kind of behaviours required to take charge of their group. By helping introverts to realise they may enjoy leadership more than they expect, Andrew Spark and his colleagues at Queensland University of Technology say it may be possible to encourage more introverts to step up to the plate.

Continue reading “Introverts may miss leadership chances because they overestimate how stressful it will be”

Non-White or female bosses who push diversity are judged negatively by their peers and managers

Business team and teamwork concept. Set of detailed illustration of businesswomen standing in different positions in flat style on white background. Diverse nationalities and dress styles. Vector illustrationBy Alex Fradera

As the first cohort of women leaders began pushing up against the glass ceiling, many hoped it would shatter… but it only cracked. Today fewer than 10 per cent of Fortune 500 companies are led by people from ethnic minority groups and women combined, and although the reasons are manifold, blame has been laid at the feet of the early pioneers themselves.

The accusation is that successful people from underrepresented groups act as gatekeepers, keeping out others to maintain their special status and to identify with the dominant majority (the most famous example being the Queen Bee syndrome where a female boss undermines other women). But new research from the Academy of Management Journal suggests a different and very understandable reason that minority members are cautious to show enthusiasm for increasing diversity – because they know it could spell disaster for their own career if they did.

Continue reading “Non-White or female bosses who push diversity are judged negatively by their peers and managers”

With leader charisma, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing

Team GB Arrive In Olympic VillageBy Alex Fradera

If there’s one quality you absolutely want in a leader, it’s surely charisma. Celebrated leaders are invariably associated with this magic word, and evidence suggests charismatic people inspire more trust, commitment, and results from their followers. But across a number of other supposedly virtuous traits, such as political ability or assertiveness (pdf), researchers are starting to realise that it’s possible to have “too much of a good thing.” Could charisma fall in that category? That’s the suggestion of new research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Continue reading “With leader charisma, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing”

There’s a psychological case for paying female managers more than male managers, or giving them more holiday

Red Businesswoman Silhouette, Black Business People Group Team ConceptBy Alex Fradera

Women are still underrepresented in managerial positions, particularly at the top of organisations. It’s not just that women are unable to attain these positions due to discrimination or access to resources. There’s also evidence that suggests these positions may be less attractive to women, as having a senior job tends to increase life satisfaction for men but not for women; this could lead to women exiting such career paths or shying away from them even if well qualified. New research in the Journal of Happiness Studies asks a simple, but important question: why are women managers less happy than their male counterparts?

Continue reading “There’s a psychological case for paying female managers more than male managers, or giving them more holiday”

What makes our work meaningful? Do bosses really make it meaningless?

The media has used the findings to demonise bosses, but such coverage forgets an important point, writes Alex Fradera

There have been times in my life where work seemed pretty pointless, on occasion because the position was a prime example of what anthropologist David Graeber calls bullshit jobs – those that give no real value back to oneself or society. But I’ve more frequently experienced the sense that a job was at some times meaningless, and at others very worthwhile. That’s a theme picked up in Catherine Bailey and Adrian Madden’s new study published in MIT Sloan Management Review, where interviews with 135 people within 10 different occupations explored times when work was meaningful or meaningless.

Like myself, interviewees didn’t consider meaningfulness as a fixed property of their job. They described it arising in episodes, highly intense and memorable peaks separated by unremarkable lulls. Some cases exemplified what the work was all about, such as an academic giving what they knew to be a superb lecture, whereas others were quite outside the norm, such as a shop assistant tending to a critically ill customer.

Often, these episodes had a personal flavour, such as the participant who recalled the first music recital attended by her parents. Many involved recognising the impact their work had had on people besides themselves, whether their students’ graduation or when their engineering innovation had been translated into products used by others. These personal and transcendent aspects were easily fused, such as in the example given by a refuse collector, where, during a crisis triggered by contamination of the local water supply, he visited one neighbour after another providing clean water.

It’s tempting to assume valuable work experiences should be positive – euphoric, air-punching highs – but the interviews teemed with examples that were heavy and challenging. Nurses described end-of-life situations; lawyers, toiling through a heavy, hard case; workers, pushing together against a seemingly intractable problem. Bailey and Madden suggest that organisations and researchers both may be neglecting such poignant experiences, which don’t tally with a superficial account of positive psychology, but may be very important in making work meaningful.

Times that meant something often involved contact with family and friends, peers and particularly the people served by the job. In contrast, managers were mentioned in accounts of meaningless work: times when the interviewee felt treated unfairly, disempowered or taken for granted, or when managerial priorities separated from important relationships with peers, or disconnected them from the values that mattered most to them, such as when the bottom line was placed over the quality of work. It’s for this reason that Bailey and Madden concluded that managerial meddling is often to blame when our work feels meaningless – a claim that has attracted boss-bashing headlines in the mainstream media, such as MoneyWeb’s Bosses destroy meaningful work.

But this media coverage, while fun, forgets an important point – in all but the most dysfunctional organisations, managers have a role in determining the conditions around work, which means – as Bailey and Madden themselves note – that a deft manager can be of benefit.

How does the work have a bigger meaning; for example, how does recycled waste actually lead to the creation of new objects? How can people devoted to their work get opportunities to interact with each other, and with the people their work benefits? How can the difficult times at work – like the eventual loss of a resident at your hospice – be met with appropriate support, but also recognised as valuable? And how can grey tasks like filling out forms be reduced, or at the least, be joined up with the important stuff? Should management solve such problems, they’d fade into the background, and in all likelihood, stay unsung in interviews about meaningful work. But that won’t mean that their efforts didn’t matter, and hopefully they can take pride – and meaning – in that.

What Makes Work Meaningful — Or Meaningless
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Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.

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Puncturing the myth of the tireless leader – if you’re sleep deprived you’re unlikely to inspire anyone

Sleep deprivation makes it harder for us to inspire others, or to be inspired

There’s an archetype of the tireless leader who scorns slumber in favour of getting things done – Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill, Benjamin Franklin, to name a few. But if you think you’re going to inspire anybody by routinely working through the night, you might want to think again. Research published recently in the Journal of Applied Psychology shows that sleep deprivation has the specific effect of making it harder for us to charismatically inspire others. And in a double whammy, the research suggests that followers who are sleep deprived are likely to find it particularly difficult to be inspired by their leaders.

Christopher Barnes and his colleagues asked 88 business students to prepare a commencement speech (a talk meant to inspire students at their graduating ceremony), and then to deliver it in front of a video camera. Half of the participants made the speech in a state of sleep deprivation (the previous night they’d had to complete a survey every hour between 10pm and 5am), the others were fully rested.

Afterwards the students answered questions about their own performance, including their ability to engage in “deep acting” – regulating their emotions by reaching inward and trying to genuinely experience these emotions. Also, a team of judges watched the videos of the speeches and rated the students’ performances for charisma. The judges didn’t know who the students were, nor whether they were in the sleep deprived condition or not, but nonetheless they consistently rated the tired orators as less charismatic.

This result was just as Barnes and his team predicted because previous research has shown that sleep deprivation makes it harder to control our emotional displays, and that one component of charismatic behaviour is being able to embody gravity, enthusiasm, or righteousness as the situation demands. Bearing this out, sleep-deprived participants considered themselves less able during the speech to engage in deep acting. And the worse they felt they were at deep acting, the less charismatic the speech.

A second experiment turned the tables to see how observers deal with charismatic content when they are tired. The researchers cherry picked some of the more charismatic or uninspiring videos from the first experiment, and then asked 109 student participants to watch them back and rate each for their charismatic effect. Half of these participants were sleep deprived and they felt less charismatically impressed by what they heard. As this can’t be related to their own deep acting skills, what was going on? Again, the answer is emotion: the tired participants felt less positive, and this lower mood explained the degree to which sleep deprivation affected their ratings. This is because in searching for an external explanation for our feelings, we are liable to misjudge the source – in this case the students blamed their feeling flat from tiredness on the fact the orators weren’t that charismatic.

The tireless leader trope may not come out of nowhere: there is evidence for a gene that provides resistance to sleep deprivation, and the will to persevere during certain crises may temporarily outweigh the costs. But the costs – summarised here – can be substantial, including attention deficits, poorer decision making and risk evaluation, and memory lapses. Now we can add charismatic influence to that list. Moreover, role-modelling long hours risks propagating these habits to the rest of the organisation – so even leaders who have the rare ability to shake off their own tiredness will be presiding over cognitively impaired, irritable followers in no mood for their pronouncements. Forty winks are a wise investment indeed.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Barnes, C., Guarana, C., Nauman, S., & Kong, D. (2016). Too Tired to Inspire or Be Inspired: Sleep Deprivation and Charismatic Leadership. Journal of Applied Psychology DOI: 10.1037/apl0000123

–further reading–
Students: it’s time to ditch the pre-exam all-nighter
An afternoon nap tunes out negative emotions, tunes in positive ones

Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.

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The most effective leaders clash with their company’s culture

Anyone will tell you that the most successful organisations have leaders who match the company culture. A CEO fixated on getting things done should lead somewhere driven by outcomes, a “mission culture”, whereas a people-focused leader suits a place focused on involvement and participation. This way everything is neat, tidy and aligned, with messages presented consistently, providing staff with reliable guides as to how to behave. But this is not what the data says in a new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. The new results argue that your leader shouldn’t line up with the culture – they should supply what it’s missing.

Chad Hartnell and his colleagues surveyed the management of firms within a technology consortium, asking members of 120 management teams to rate their CEOs on task leadership (e.g. “encourages the use of uniform policies”) and relational leadership (“is friendly and approachable”), and to rate their organisation’s culture on these same task and relation dimensions. The researchers wanted to find out which combinations of leadership and culture would, nine months later, show the greatest benefit in a tangible outcome: firm finances.

The data drew a gloomy picture for alignment. For relationship focus, mismatches were always better. Firms with a strong relational culture performed better when led by a leader with a low relational focus, and highly relational leaders were associated with stronger results when they operated in a culture with lower concern with relations. A similar picture emerged for task focus, where a combination of a high-focus culture and leader was the worst one possible. These associations held true even after controlling for past performance, CEO tenure and size of the firm.

Why could this be? When leader and culture are aligned, much of the leader’s efforts are redundant. When an organisation’s history of competition and high standards leads to a highly outcome focused culture, the CEO generates limited returns from focusing on task outcomes, as culture is acting as a “substitute for leadership”. The job of a leader is to bring something new and needed to the table, such as a relational focus in a highly clinical culture.

Hartnell’s team point out their finding operates at a very broad level – more or less focus on people or outcomes – and that this shouldn’t be taken as querying whether leaders can ever be a misfit for a culture; clearly they can. So this study isn’t a paean to appointing disruptive contrarians, but rather, to considering the broader picture of what an organisation needs at any given time. Leaders who’ve been successful in steering their ship should reflect on whether the lessons they came to teach have now been learned, and whether it’s time to shift who they are as a leader, so they can begin to offer new ones.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Hartnell, C., Kinicki, A., Schurer Lambert, L., Fugate, M., & Doyle Corner, P. (2016). Do Similarities or Differences Between CEO Leadership and Organizational Culture Have a More Positive Effect on Firm Performance? A Test of Competing Predictions. Journal of Applied Psychology DOI: 10.1037/apl0000083

Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.

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Why narcissistic leaders are like chocolate cake

By Christian Jarrett

At a superficial level, people who are narcissistic seem like they will be good leaders. They’re confident, outgoing and unafraid of putting themselves forward. But once in charge, their appeal rapidly wanes. In this way, say the authors of a new paper in the Journal of Personality, they are rather like chocolate cake:

“The first bite of chocolate cake is usually rich in flavor and texture, and extremely gratifying. After a while, however, the richness of this flavor makes one feel increasingly nauseous. Being led by a narcissist could be a similar experience.”

Supporting their chocolate cake model, the researchers recruited 142 unacquainted students to take part in weekly group tasks. Through the course of the study, the students rated each others’ leadership skills. High scorers in narcissism attracted positive leadership ratings from their peers early on, but this positive impression faded. The deteriorating perception of narcissists over time was partly explained by their lack of so-called “transformational leadership skills” becoming apparent – that is, their inability to motivate and inspire others. A second study was similar but involved students who already knew each other. In this case, the narcissists did not receive positive leadership ratings from the outset – there was no honeymoon period for them – and as the study went on, they received more negative ratings from their peers.

“Taken together, the findings of the two studies are consistent with the chocolate cake model and demonstrate that initial positive peer perceptions of narcissistic leadership fade over time, and eventually become negative,” the researchers said.

The Leader Ship Is Sinking: A Temporal Investigation of Narcissistic Leadership

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Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) is editor of BPS Research Digest

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