When leaders abuse their power over others, they end up feeling the negative effects, too, a new study suggests. …. Foulk and his fellow researchers 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, stem 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.
Heavy is the Head That Wears the Crown: An Actor-Centric Approach to Daily Psychological Power, Abusive Leader Behavior, and Perceived Incivility
Source: Trevor Foulk, Klodiana Lanaj, Min-Hsuan Tu, Amir Erez and Lindy Archambeau, Acaedmy of Management, Early View, Published online before print April 17, 2017
From the abstract:
Recognizing that powerholders operate in dynamic relational and interdependent work contexts, we posit that the effects of psychological power on powerholders are more complex than currently depicted in the literature. Although psychological power prompts behaviors and perceptions that harm the powerless, these reactions are not consequence-free for the actor. We integrate the social distance theory of power with consent-based theories of power to posit that although psychological power elicits negative behaviors and perceptions, these same reactions hurt leaders’ subsequent well-being. To explore this possibility, we conducted an experimental experience sampling study with a sample of managerial employees whom we surveyed for 10 consecutive workdays. We find that leaders enact more abusive behavior and perceive more incivility from others on days when they are exposed to psychological power compared to days when they are not. Leaders higher in agreeableness are less affected by psychological power. In turn, abusive behavior and perceived incivility harm leaders’ subsequent well-being as indicated by their reduced need fulfillment and ability to relax at home. We discuss theoretical implications for research on psychological power, abusive leadership, perceived incivility, and leader well-being, as well as practical implications for employees and their organizations.