The Hidden Danger of Narcissistic Leaders


Publication: Academy of Management Review (2015)
Article: Narcissistic Organizational Identification: Seeing Oneself as Central to the Organization’s Identity
Reviewed by: Ben Sher

 

Narcissistic leaders can bring down an organization even when they are trying to build it up. Work by Galvin, Lange, and Ashforth (2015) uses extant organizational research findings to propose a new theory that may explain why this is so. They say that something called narcissistic organizational identification is to blame, and they demonstrate several ways that it happens and discuss how we can make sure this phenomenon doesn’t end up ruining businesses.

 

THE GOOD: ORGANIZATIONAL IDENTIFICATION

The authors begin with a discussion of organizational identification, which is when employees believe that their organization makes up an important part of their own self-identity. Because of this overlap between self and organization, employees who may be motivated to act toward their own self-interest will also act toward the self-interest of the organization. For example, they may engage in behavior that is likely to help the organization, such as organizational citizenship behavior, which means going above and beyond job requirements.

The authors say that there are four major conditions that lead people to identify with their organization. These antecedents include:

  • Sense of control over the organization (which fosters good feelings)
  • Feeling of psychological ownership (that the organization is at least partially “mine”)
  • Sense that the organization is regarded highly by others (that it’s something worthwhile)
  • Others consider you to be fundamental to the organization (creates a sense of connectedness)

 

THE BAD: NARCISSISTIC ORGANIZATIONAL IDENTIFICATION

In this article, the authors propose a new type of organizational identification. Unlike conventional organizational identification, which is highly desirable, narcissistic organizational identification is just as bad as it sounds. It starts when narcissistic organizational leaders encounter the same four situations listed above. Instead of healthy and productive outcomes, it results in narcissistic organizational leaders considering their own personal identity as paramount to the organization’s identity. In other words, this kind of leader believes that he or she “is” the organization. This is bad, say the authors, because these leaders believe that serving their own interests is just as good as serving the organization’s interests—after all, they “are” the organization. Similarly, they say that narcissistic identification can make leaders feel self-important, grandiose, overly superior, or entitled. It’s not difficult to imagine how that could affect their propensity to behave unethically.

The authors explain that narcissistic organizational identification can encourage leaders to engage in theft or nepotism in an effort to better themselves. Although unethical, it may seem logically sound if they consider that their own success and status is the same exact thing as organizational success and status. And finally, These leaders may also attempt to mold a company so that it reflects their own personal values, because they first consider who “they are” when determining what the organization “should be.” If they are risk taking, they will drive the organization to risk taking.

 

PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS

This article lays groundwork for an emerging area of research that will help us further understand the damage caused by narcissistic leaders. Influential organizational people may want to be on the lookout for narcissistic leaders, especially when exhibiting some of the signs mentioned in this article. It could be a sign of narcissistic organizational identification. This article also helps explain how some of these leaders may appear to be highly committed to their companies at the same time. Just because a CEO works very hard to build or lead an organization, does not mean that the same person will avoid unethical behavior that could damage the organization. This is especially so because the narcissistic leader may believe that acting out of self-interest is doing what’s best for the organization.

Although the authors admit that CEOs and other high level executive are most naturally at risk for narcissistic identification, they say that it could also affect lower level employees who lead a division or team within an organization. The detrimental effects of the narcissistic leader may be affecting workplaces in more places than we might first think. This is another reason why continued research is necessary in this area. In the meantime, be on the lookout for the narcissist in power; he or she may even appear well-intentioned.

Manager Personality Can Lead to Organization-Wide Performance


Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Taking It to Another Level: Do Personality-Based Human Capital Resources Matter to Firm Performance?
Reviewed by: Ben Sher

 

Is personality related to job performance? This classic I-O psychology question is still debated today, and thanks to the latest research, clearer answers are emerging. A new study (Oh, Kim, & Iddekinge, 2015) shows that the manager personality is related to important organization-wide outcomes. This finding has clear implications for selection of organizational leaders.

Past studies considered the relationship between personality and job performance at the individual level. For example, a study might investigate if outgoing or extraverted people perform better at their jobs. These studies only advance the field so far, say the current authors, because job performance is typically measured with supervisor ratings. Even when associations are found—say that extraverted people have better performance—there is room for organizational leaders to be skeptical: Even if extraverted people receive better ratings, will that really impact my company’s bottom line and make us more successful? An astute I-O psychologist would present a utility analysis showing the predicted financial gain for hiring each extraverted employee, but this might still be dismissed as confusing and overly speculative.

 

ORGANIZATIONAL LEVEL PERSONALITY MEASUREMENT

This current study does better than simple individual level-analysis, and instead measures many managers within the same organizations. This allows the researchers to ascertain two important facts. The first is the average level of a personality trait that the organization’s managers have, and the second is an estimate of the typical range (or “variance”) of that personality trait in managers within the organization. Once these two metrics are evaluated, researchers can determine if organizations with certain types of employees do better than others. For example, do “extraverted organizations” fare better than “introverted organizations”?

The researchers surveyed 6,709 managers in 71 different companies. Results indicate that when organizations had managers with high levels of emotional stability, extraversion, and conscientiousness, their organizations had higher levels of managerial job satisfaction and had higher levels of labor productivity (measured by revenue per employee).

When the average levels of personality traits were considered along with the variance or “typical spread” of the personality trait, several interesting findings were reported. Organizations with higher emotional stability had higher levels of job satisfaction, labor productivity, and financial performance (measured by return on equity), and this effect was even more pronounced when there was less variance among managers (in other words, managers were more similar on emotional stability).

Additionally, higher extraversion was associated with higher financial performance, and this effect was also more pronounced when managers were more similar on extraversion.

Openness to experience and agreeableness were related to labor productivity and financial performance, respectively, and these effects were more pronounced when there was more variance, in other words managers were more spread out on the respective personality trait.

 

 

ORGANIZATIONAL IMPLICATIONS

This study shows that personality is related to organizational level success, specifically when managers are emotionally stable, extraverted, and conscientious. Results generally show that homogeneity is preferable, in other words results were better when managers had similar levels of the personality trait. This means, say the authors, that organizations might want to consider selecting employees who have these traits, and also try to create a singular organizational profile, which might encourage desired employees to initially join the company and subsequently stay as long as possible.

This study also advances the general theory and plausibility of selecting employees based on personality type. The evidence in this study may be more convincing than studies that investigate individuals and focus on performance ratings. By using aggregated organizational-level personality traits and connecting them with the most tangible measures of organizational success, the current authors make personality-based selection a more alluring proposition.

Ethical Leadership Inspires Trust and Employee Success


Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Ethical Leadership: Meta-Analytic Evidence of Criterion-Related and Incremental Validity
Reviewed by: Ben Sher

 

Ethical leadership certainly sounds like a good idea, but I-O psychologists will require scientific evidence before being convinced. Is ethical leadership something different from other effective leadership styles or behaviors, and does ethical leadership lead to anything positive in the workplace? New research (Ng & Feldman, 2015) has answered this question. Results show that ethical leadership is a real, distinct idea, and it can indeed lead to positive workplace outcomes that extend beyond the effects of other leadership styles.

 

STUDYING ETHICAL LEADERSHIP

This study was a meta-analysis, meaning it statistically combined results from many previous studies. The philosophy of meta-analysis is that combining results from many studies provides a more accurate estimation of reality than a single study in a single situation.

The researchers explain that ethical leadership occurs when leaders display appropriate and morally expected behavior in all situations. They interact ethically with the people they supervise, as well as demonstrate ethical behavior when interacting with other types of people such as their supervisors or customers. When ethical leadership is demonstrated, results show that subordinates feel more satisfaction with the leader, perceive that the leader is more effective, and have greater trust in the leader.

The authors also found that ethical leadership is related to many positive organizational outcomes, including increased job satisfaction, increased motivation, better task performance, more citizenship behavior (this is when employees go beyond formal job descriptions) and lower counterproductive work behavior (i.e. rudeness or sabotage).

Ethical leadership was also associated with lower job strains (or elements of a job that cause stress), increased commitment, increased organizational identification, and lower turnover.

 

ETHICAL LEADERSHIP LEADS TO TRUST

The authors found a factor that explains why all of the positive outcomes listed above were associated with ethical leadership. The authors used advanced statistical models to show that ethical leaders cause their subordinates to trust them more. For example, imagine a leader admits to making a mistake and marginalizing the work of an employee. The leader says that she will not make the same mistake in the future. Because the leader is seen as an ethical leader, the employee will be more likely to trust her and continue to have positive attitudes about the job and continue working hard. If the leader isn’t trusted, the employee might immediately make negative behavioral changes. The bottom line is that ethical leaders inspire trust, which inspires good work on the job.

Finally, the researchers show that ethical leadership can be can used to predict all of the positive outcomes we’ve mentioned, even when similar psychological traits are also being used in prediction. That is to say, there is something unique about ethical leadership that isn’t covered by other positive leadership styles. As an example, transformational leadership, or when leaders inspire followers to believe in some greater purpose, has also been associated with positive organizational outcomes. Yet organizations are not maximizing positive outcomes by merely hiring transformational leaders. Ethical leadership predicts some significant aspect of positive performance that is not covered by transformational leadership or other similar research-supported concepts. Ethical leadership also predicts some aspect of good performance beyond what is caused by an overall ethical organizational environment. Direct supervisors need to be ethical, not just the organizational higher-ups, say the authors.

 

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR ORGANIZATIONS

This study uses an impressive amount of data to show that ethical leadership is a unique concept that has very positive organizational outcomes. This means, say the authors, that organizations benefit from either training managers to display ethical leadership, or hiring ethical leaders from the start. Positive leadership in other regards will not be a substitute for this, but can work in tandem with ethical leadership to allow organizations to maximize positive outcome such as increased performance and lower turnover. Because this study identified trust as the mechanism that allows ethical leadership to work, organizations can better appreciate and focus on the importance of this interpersonal element when training leaders.

Which Leadership Style Leads to Burnout?


Publication: Journal of Occupational Health Psychology
Article: Leadership Styles, Emotion Regulation, and Burnout
Reviewed by: Steven Guy

 

Leadership style is often indicative of the type of emotional response strategy that leaders will use when interacting with their employees. According to the researchers (Arnold, Connelly, Walsh, & Martin Ginis, 2015), leaders engage in three primary response strategies: surface acting, deep acting, and genuine emotion. They say that the type of response strategy will affect the likelihood that a leader will experience burnout. Here is a brief description of each type of acting that leaders may use:

 

  • Surface acting is when a leader displays one emotion to his or her employees, while internally experiencing a different emotion.
  • Deep acting occurs when a leader can manage his or her internal emotions to meet the needs of a situation.
  • Genuine emotion is an outward display of a leader’s spontaneous reaction to a situation.

 

LEADERSHIP STYLE AND EMOTIONAL REGULATION

Traditionally, so-called “transformational leaders” (visionaries who inspire others) are known for their ability to utilize deep acting and genuine emotion to help guide their employees. These methods are effective because leaders appear more genuine when dealing with their employees.

Similarly, “transactional leaders” (typical managers who try to maintain the status-quo) also use deep acting but are more likely to engage in surface acting as well. While surface acting is considered less emotionally demanding, this type of leadership can be viewed as superficial, which may lead to employees becoming less trusting of management and less engaged in their work.

Finally, “laissez-faire leaders” (passive leaders who grant autonomy and support) are most likely to use genuine emotion when dealing with employees. Genuine emotion is the least emotionally demanding method and, while beneficial in some circumstances, is used by laissez-faire leaders more to avoid doing mental work rather than to solve problems. This form of leadership is considered the most organizationally destructive and offers little value to employees.

 

WHICH LEADERSHIP STYLE WORKS BEST?

Researchers found that transformational leaders were more likely to use deep acting and genuine emotion. Transactional leaders were more likely to use deep acting and surface acting; however, surface acting was not an indicator of burnout. A strong association was found between laissez-faire leadership and using genuine emotion. Oddly enough, the use of genuine emotion was found to have the strongest relationship with burnout, indicating that transformational leaders and laissez-faire leaders are more likely to experience burnout than their surface acting peers. These results were opposite of what the researchers expected.

 

LEADERSHIP STYLE AND THE BIG PICTURE

Organizations want leaders who can motivate, engage, and instruct. Clearly, research indicates that the laissez-faire leader may not be as well suited for these purposes. Furthermore, although transactional leaders may be effective at getting employees to work, it is clearly the transformational leadership style that offers organizations the largest upside. Finally, while transformational leaders are commonly thought of as the best at their craft, they too are human and must be cautious not to emotionally overexert themselves when working and potentially risk burnout.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words: How Hypocritical Leaders Affect Employee Turnover


Publication: Journal of Management
Article: When leaders fail to “walk the talk”: Supervisor undermining and perceptions of leader hypocrisy
Reviewed by: Kayla Weaver

 

What are the negative organizational effects of hypocritical leaders? Late author Stephen Covey once said, “What you do has far greater impact than what you say.” A recent study (Greenbaum, Bardes, Mawritz, & Piccolo, 2015) shows that these are more than mere words of advice, but rather a warning to managers and organizations about the importance of leaders “walking the talk.”

Effective organizational leaders role-model appropriate workplace behavior; however, some leaders do not always practice what they preach. This increases the possibility that employees will experience negative workplace outcomes. That is, when leaders themselves engage in behavior that subordinates are not supposed to mimic, subordinates may perceive the leader as hypocritical, leading to an increased likelihood of job turnover.

 

Justice Expectations & Supervisor Undermining

Most organizations have enacted a code of conduct that outlines formal rules for how employees should behave in the workplace. It is also common for organizations to have less formal structures that help inform appropriate work behavior, such as office culture or norms. When supervisors expect employees to show respect and social sensitivity to each other, the supervisor is demonstrating an interpersonal justice expectation.

However, it is possible for a supervisor to expect employees to demonstrate interpersonal justice with one another, even when the supervisor does not exhibit similar behavior. Supervisors who engage in undermining behavior, by definition, do not exhibit interpersonal justice. Examples of supervisor undermining include belittling employees for their ideas, spreading rumors about employees, and putting down employees when they have questions about work procedures. These examples illustrate how supervisor undermining is a form of social injustice, because supervisors are not respecting employees’ ideas nor being socially sensitive to their needs.

 

Hypocritical Leaders

Supervisor undermining alone can lead to negative outcomes for employees, such as lower job satisfaction and trust, as well as an increase in depression and counterproductive work behavior. Therefore, organizations are encouraged to take proactive measures to ensure that individuals in supervisory roles are not abusing their power by disrespecting their subordinates.

A recent two-part study that utilized both survey and scenario-based designs examined the relationship between justice expectations and supervisor undermining. The results showed that supervisor undermining is especially harmful when supervisors also set an expectation for others to engage in interpersonal justice. That is, when leaders expect others to engage in interpersonal justice, but do not personally engage in these behaviors, they are viewed as hypocritical. Therefore, it is the combination of both supervisor undermining and high expectations for interpersonal justice that results in the perception of leaders as hypocrites.

The second part of the study examined how perceptions of leader hypocrisy affect employees’ turnover intentions. Employees who perceived their leaders to be hypocritical had higher intentions to leave the organization than employees who did not perceive their leader as hypocritical.

 

Practical Implications

This study has many practical implications for the workplace. First, it is not enough for a supervisor to promote interpersonal justice. Supervisors who have high interpersonal justice expectations but do not align their behavior with these expectations demonstrate to employees that they do not “walk the talk.” In turn, employees who view their leaders as hypocritical may be more motivated to leave the organization, increasing organizational costs associated with recruitment and training.

The authors also suggest that leaders may be unaware of the behavior that contributes to perceptions of “bad” leadership. They may also underestimate the degree to which subordinates look to leaders for example behavior. Therefore, organizations would benefit from monitoring supervisors’ behavior as well as their interpersonal relations with subordinates. Ensuring that leaders are practicing what they preach will yield more positive outcomes for employees, and prevent good employees from leaving organizations.

How Rude! Passive Leadership May Encourage Workplace Incivility and Employee Withdrawal


Publication: Journal of Organizational Behavior
Article: The effects of passive leadership on workplace incivility
Reviewed by: Kayla Weaver

 

Workplace incivility, the use of rude or discourteous behaviors in the workplace, is a growing organizational problem that leads to negative outcomes for both employees and employers. Examples of workplace incivility include talking negatively about others, checking emails during work meetings, and failing to acknowledge another’s presence in the workplace. Experiencing workplace incivility can have lasting effects on employees, such as lowered creativity, job satisfaction, and commitment, as well as increased job turnover and burnout.

Previous research on incivility has identified the negative outcomes associated with witnessing or experiencing rude or discourteous behaviors while at work. However, it is also important to understand why incivility occurs, and the workplace conditions that may lead to employees engaging in this behavior.

 

THE INCIVILITY SPIRAL

One reason workplace incivility is so problematic, is that it often occurs in a behavioral spiral. If employees witnesses or experience incivility and believe that it was done on purpose, they are more likely to retaliate with an uncivil response. An individual who experiences incivility may direct their retaliation toward the perpetrator, or even worse, an innocent bystander. Previous research has shown that 94% of employees who have experienced incivility from others have retaliated with similar uncivil behaviors (Porath & Pearson, 2010). This spiral of incivility can spread throughout the organization and can be very destructive if it is not addressed or corrected.

 

PASSIVE LEADERSHIP AND WORKPLACE INCIVILITY

Leaders that utilize a passive leadership style tend to be “hands-off” and fail to take action to address actual or potential problems. A passive leader may delay decision-making, ignore workplace problems, or display an apathetic attitude. Because passive leaders are not proactive problem solvers, this leadership style may allow employees to engage in workplace incivility without consequences.

A recent study (Harold & Holtz, 2015) examined 122 employee-supervisor dyads and 105 coworker dyads to examine how the supervisor’s use of passive leadership affected the incivility experienced and demonstrated by employees. The results of the study showed that passive leadership was positively related to incivility. In other words, when the leader utilized a passive leadership style, employees were more likely to report experiencing incivility and engaging in uncivil behaviors.

Researchers also examined how passive leadership affected employees’ behavior. The results from the study show that passive leadership was related to increased reports of incivility by coworkers, which in turn was related to employees themselves engaging in workplace incivility. Taken together, employees who work for passive leaders are not only more likely to experience workplace incivility from others, but are also more likely to engage in uncivil behavior themselves.

 

PASSIVE LEADERSHIP, INCIVILITY, AND WITHDRAWAL BEHAVIORS

Workplace incivility can result in more negative work-related behavior and attitudes exhibited by employees. In addition, passive leadership may exacerbate these negative effects. Employees who experienced high levels of workplace incivility and worked for a passive leader were more likely to engage in withdrawal behaviors such as showing up late to work and taking excessive breaks. Taken together, the results from the study show how passive leadership can not only allow workplace incivility to occur, but can also affect employees’ own uncivil and withdrawal behavior.

 

PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS

Uncivil workplace behaviors are low intensity, and as such may not be acknowledged by leaders. However, the current research highlights the serious consequences that occur when leaders react passively to uncivil behavior (e.g., eye rolling, addressing someone in unprofessional terms, etc.). Increased workplace incivility and employee withdrawal behavior may occur.

The authors suggest that organizational leaders are responsible for setting behavioral standards and that “civil behavior should start with the leader.” Therefore, organizations may be inclined to screen out managerial candidates who report a passive leadership style, or may invest in training their current leaders to recognize uncivil behavior.

In addition, organizations may benefit from implementing zero-tolerance incivility policies. By communicating to employees that workplace incivility is against company policy and will result in serious penalties, organizations can create a climate that is supportive rather than uncivil, which ultimately will improve the working conditions for all employees.

How to Make Meetings Productive: The Role of Employee Participation


Publication: Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research
Article: Participate or Else! The Effect of Participation in Decision Making in Meetings Relates to Employee Engagement
Reviewed by: Madeleine Holtz

 

We wouldn’t think that the purpose of meetings is to encourage employee participation. After all, meetings are held for a variety of specific work-related reasons. But the results of these meetings can vary incredibly. Productive meetings can include the successful collaboration of ideas, while unproductive meetings can result in decreased morale in employees. How can we do better? New research (Yoerger, Crowe, & Allen, 2015) investigated the relationship between participation in decision-making, or PDM, and employee engagement in the context of meetings.

PDM is defined as the amount of freedom that supervisors allow their employees to have in the process of decision-making. Meetings are an easy place for employees to address change in the workplace, though it does not mean they will take advantage of this opportunity and speak up. Not only is PDM a potential outcome of successful meetings, but this process can lead to a sense of belonging within the organization as well as job satisfaction. All of these factors can lead to increased employee engagement, or the extent that employees feel enthusiastic about their jobs.

 

PERCEIVED SUPERVISOR SUPPORT AND FREQUENCY OF MEETINGS

So if employee participation is important to make meetings productive, how can supervisors make sure that employees will speak up? Perceived supervisor support (or the extent to which an employee feels like their supervisor supports them in their work) can have an effect on employees’ likelihood of speaking up at meetings. Showing employees that they are supported and that their contributions to the organization are valued will demonstrate to them that their roles carry much importance. Why wouldn’t employees want to feel this way? And why wouldn’t you want your employees to feel this way? Employees who feel supported by their supervisor and their organization will also feel the need to reciprocate.

Another factor that helps employees participate and feel engaged in their work is the frequency of meetings. If meetings are held frequently, employees may not feel that their input will be considered, or they may put off their desire to speak up because they know there will be more opportunities to speak up later. If meetings are more sporadic, then employees may feel that this is one of the few times they will have an opportunity to provide input. In some companies, meetings may be the only times that employees have the chance to interact with supervisors or management, which can also significantly affect the results of these meetings.

 

BOTTOM LINE FOR ORGANIZATIONS

So the next time you attend or facilitate a meeting, think about the outcomes that could result from the meeting beyond the content itself. It could have a profound effect on your organization, and all of its employees. By supporting employees on a day-to-day basis and by holding less frequent meetings, employees may be more likely to speak up and participate in meetings, and eventually feel more engaged in their work.

Servant Leadership Benefits Performance through Serving Culture


Publication: Academy of Management Journal
Article: Servant Leadership and Serving Culture: Influence on Individual and Unit Performance
Reviewed by: Winnie Jiang

The concept of servant leadership is becoming increasingly popular, especially in the service industry. Multiple studies have found that servant leadership is positively related to individual and organizational outcomes such as performance and organizational citizenship behavior, which is when employees go beyond their formal job requirements to help the organization.However, curious people may still wonder how servant leadership produces these positive outcomes. The lack of understanding of how servant leadership leads to these positive effects can make it difficult for organizations to implement this leadership practice and to fully enjoy its benefits.

New research (Liden, Wayne, Liao, & Meuser, 2014) has found that servant leadership leads to favorable individual and organizational outcomes through fostering a serving culture and enhancing employees’ sense of identification with their organization.

Servant Leadership, Serving Culture & Identification

Servant leadership is the leadership style that emphasizes a leader’s role as a “servant” first and a “leader” second. In other words, servant leadership promotes the philosophy of leading by serving. Servant leaders place their followers’ needs ahead of their own needs and consider it a priority to support followers in achieving their full potential. A servant leader also genuinely cares for followers and encourages followers to support each other.

Serving culture in this study refers to a situation where group members share the expectation of serving or helping others. In a team with a serving culture, every member treats helping others as a priority.

Employees’ identification with an organization is the extent to which the employees view themselves as part of the organization and the extent to which they see the organization they work for as an important part of their life.

How Does Servant Leadership Benefit Performance?

This study finds that servant leadership demonstrated by store managers is positively related to a serving culture in their stores. The authors argue that this is likely because employees model their managers’ behavior and become helpful and supportive themselves. The serving culture is subsequently found to predict better store performance as well as better job performance, enhanced creativity, higher customer service quality, and lower turnover intention. Serving culture is also found to predict a higher level of employees’ identification with their stores, which has a positive effect on many of the benefits mentioned above as well.

How Can Organizations Encourage a Serving Culture? 

The major takeaway from this article is that leaders (especially those in the service sector) might benefit from learning to become servant leaders and engage in servant leadership practices such as emotionally supporting their followers. Doing this will foster a serving culture in the organization and enhance employees’ identification with the organization. This can generate favorable outcomes for individuals and the organization as a whole. Organizations in the service industry may consider adding servant leadership to their executive or leadership development programs. Furthermore, because serving culture is the critical factor that produces the positive outcomes, in addition to developing servant leaders, organizations can promote serving culture through other channels such as encouraging voluntary activities and community service.

Lack of Supervisor Justice Leads to Team Cohesiveness


Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Misery Loves Company: Team Dissonance and the Influence of
Reviewed by: Ben Sher

 

Supervisor justice sounds like a good thing, and it is. This term refers to leaders who treat their employees fairly, and when speaking specifically about interpersonal justice, it means that they treat their employees with dignity and respect. Past research has highlighted the positive outcomes that occur when supervisor justice is at a high level, for example, employees will be more committed to the organization. However, a new study (Stoverink, Umphress, Gardner, & Miner, 2014) found the opposite. When supervisor justice is perceived to be lacking, there could be a positive benefit for employees who work on teams.

 

SUPERVISOR JUSTICE CLIMATE

I-O psychologists study many kinds of organizational justice, but the current study focused on interpersonal justice that comes from a supervisor. For example, does the supervisor speak respectfully and professionally to employees, or does the supervisor intimidate, scream, and harass? Specifically, the researchers investigated the climate of supervisor interpersonal justice. When researchers talk about a climate, they simply mean that they are evaluating a combination of all the employees’ individual perceptions, and in this case, they are evaluating joint perceptions of whether or not leadership is being fair to them. In this sense, a single workplace can be said to have a high amount of supervisor interpersonal justice, or a low amount.

 

WHEN SUPERVISORS ARE UNJUST

As you might expect, when a group of employees believe that their leaders are not treating them fairly, negative outcomes typically occur. The unique contribution of this study is that it has discovered an unintended positive outcome. When supervisor justice was perceived to be low (think screaming bosses), the employees have a greater sense of group cohesiveness. In other words, they band together in the face of adversity.

 

ROLE OF DISSONANCE

The authors explained that when employees have to deal with a disrespectful supervisor, they experience dissonance. Dissonance refers to an uncomfortable feeling that people get when things don’t go as expected. For example, imagine that you have completed a project adequately and you expect to be praised by your supervisor. If instead the supervisor yells at you and calls you a disrespectful name, the unexpected outcome makes you feel uncomfortable. You then need to spend energy focusing your thoughts on why your supervisor would do something like that. Interestingly, this rationalization process is best done along with other people who are experiencing the same problem. Trying to figure out why your boss yelled at you will lead you to share experiences, thoughts, and feelings with people who have also been yelled at by the same boss. Ultimately, this sharing of experience among team members leads to stronger group cohesion.

 

PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS FOR THE WORKPLACE

The authors note that these findings do not provide carte blanche for leaders to become abusive. Besides for the obvious ethical and humanitarian reasons against doing so, the authors note that mostly bad organizational outcomes will occur in response. However, this article does provide a sort of silver lining for those employees currently exposed to unjust or abusive leadership. The very same mechanism that may make their jobs more difficult may also enhance their experience of being on a team. More cohesive teams may perform better, leading to long-term positive outcomes for employees. As far as advice for employees dealing with adversity, such as an abusive boss, this article discusses how seeking out others who are experiencing the same problem can help.

Abusive Supervision may have Roots in Childhood


Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Roots Run Deep: Investigating Psychological Mechanisms Between History of Family Aggression and Abusive Supervision
Reviewed by: Amber Davidson

 

Supervisor anger is a common workplace problem. This can include a supervisor who is angered too easily or a situation when the supervisor’s anger is disproportional to the situation at hand. This study explores the true reasons behind this anger, hypothesizing that a history of family aggression is the root of angry reactions and abusive supervision.

 

SOCIAL LEARNING THEORY

Parents are the main role-models for children when they are young and children have a tendency to adopt the same coping techniques and reactions that they see their parents using. When a child grows up seeing an excess of family aggression, there are conscious and unconscious consequences. Exposure to aggression shows a child that this is acceptable behavior and this carries over into adult life, potentially creating an abusive supervisor. Seeing aggressive behavior lead to a successful outcome will also solidify the notion that aggression and abusive behavior will get the desired action or reaction. This ultimately means that children who grow up watching family aggression have the potential to become abusive supervisors for the simple reason that they were taught that aggression brings about desired results.

 

LEARNING TO BE ABUSIVE DURING CHILDHOOD

The study finds considerable evidence showing that family aggression does in fact increase the chances of abusive behavior in the workplace. This effect goes beyond the anger that is caused by situational factors, organizational mistreatment, demographical variables, or subordinates’ personality. The social learning theory was supported, meaning children who grow up seeing, and surrounded by, family aggression learn that abusive behaviors will produce the outcome they desire.

 

HOW RUMINATION MAKES THINGS WORSE

The authors also found that rumination, or the tendency to focus and dwell on negative past events, can make things worse. The association between abusive family life and abusive supervision was stronger when these supervisors engaged in more rumination. By focusing on the unpleasant aspects of growing up amidst family aggression and turmoil, supervisors became more likely to think hostile thoughts and experience hostile feelings. This led ruminating supervisors to act more hostile in the workplace.

 

WHAT CAN ORGANIZATIONS DO?

The importance of this study is that it helps identify the root cause of abusive behavior in the workplace. This is important because abusive supervisors can have strong negative impacts on employees and the company as a whole. Two steps can be taken to decrease the negative outcomes of abusive supervision. The first is to train abusive supervisors through cognitive-behavioral coaching. This may include emotional intelligence training, in order to help supervisors gain control of the angry behavior. Training can also help limit rumination for supervisors, which may help decrease the occurrence of angry thoughts and feelings, even when supervisors are predisposed to have them. The second step that organizations can take is to not let supervisors with abusive potential into the organization in the first place. This can be done by altering the recruitment and selection process to help identify those supervisors who are most likely to lead employees in a positive manner, and not those who are reduced to abusive supervision.