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18 Aug 2011

Rude More Powerful than Respected

People often marvel that more managers don’t use inexpensive morale builders. Of course, many of the same also wonder, “How did that person become a manager in the first place?” It’s that we tend to feel negative power is more powerful than positive power is; thus, we will tend to feel the former would be a more powerful leader.

An article in the July-August 2011 issue of Harvard Business Review titled, “Why Fair Bosses Fall Behind” by  Batia M. WiesenfeldNaomi B. RothmanSara L. Wheeler-Smith, and Adam D. Galinsky provides research supporting this. In terms of powerfulness, they found that rude managers consistently scored higher than respectful managers did.

To illustrate this, I sometimes ask: Which dog would you prefer as a pet, a collie or a pit bull? Frequently, people select the collie. I then ask: If you lived in a high-murder neighborhood, which would you choose? People frequently switch to the pit bull. While the workplace isn’t that dangerous, evolution and the days of uncivilized life long ago still affect us. Then, we required leaders unencumbered by sensitivities to protect us. It’s why some of the world’s most ruthless, modern dictators (i.e. Stalin) are still admired today by significant portions of their native populations.

In everyday business life, we often experience this bias when people disqualify others as leaders because they “aren’t tough enough.” Negative power is very overt, easy to see. Contrast this to the positive, subtle power inherent in the inexpensive morale builders. That’s why we often see Darth Vader as a very powerful Star Wars figure even though he was the slave of the Emperor.

Thus, when we promote the rude, the Dark Side has successfully seduced us by triggering our insecurities and fears.


5 Responses

  1. Well, I’d pick the collie, too. If you switched the question to an dangerous neighborhood, I’d probably switch to the pit bull as well!

    I was recently impressed by reading Sam Walton’s biography that he went out of his way to speak to everyone and make them his friend. People shopped at his stores because he took the time and made the effort to know and befriend so many people. Seems to me that’s a pretty inexpensive way to build morale in business, as well, and from what people say, he practiced it.

    1. Thank you, Lynne, for the comment. I’m pleased your choices coincide with my informal study. I do have to say though that a few pit bull owners have indicated to me that they can be quite friendly pets.

      I did not know that about Sam Walton. Thank you for the education. I’ve also read studies that indicate making customers and employees feel welcome also reduces shop lifting and employee theft.

  2. Anne Dalton

    It makes perfect sense Mike, especially after listening to a dear friend (with Asperger’s) who kept telling me that he could relate better to people as guerrillas! Chest beating still works in a society that doesn’t seem all that far removed from the mudflats. 😀

    1. Mike Lehr

      You did give me a chuckle, Anne. You should try attending sales meetings or conferences. They are classic for that. I was in one such meeting and a male colleague tapped me on the shoulder asking, “Is the testosterone high in this room?” So, some, as your dear friend does, can be self-aware enough to know when this is happening. I don’t know if you saw this post> Competition, Success & Testosterone http://blog.omegazadvisors.com/?p=3954. It cites research indicating that this can increase risk taking. Thank you for visiting, Anne.

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