Friday, 16 Oct, 2009 Offbeat

Bullying Leaders Simply Want to Cover Their Inferiority and Incompetence


One of the recent studies showed that incompetent leaders really bully other people in order to cover their inferiority. According to Nathanael Fast, a social psychologist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, bullying bosses simply want to feel be superior and competent. In case they don't feel like being able to show their superiority in the legitimate way, they try to show it by taking people down. It is worth mentioning that Fast carried out a series of experiments to study the effect.

One of the experiments involved the participation of 90 men and women. Together with one of his colleagues, Serena Chen, Fast asked the participants to fill in online questionnaires on aggressive tendencies and perceived competence. Researchers discovered that the majority of people who reported the highest level of aggressiveness had high-power jobs and at the same time they had a sense of inferiority.

In order to see whether aggression is really caused by a sense of impotency, scientists decided to ask people to write about the moments when they felt either authoritative or inferior and then either proficient or incompetent. During the next step of the study, researchers asked the participants to choose a punishment for students who gave wrong answers in a theoretical test of learning. The punishment was a horn sound - loud sound means stricter punishment (the loudness ranged from 10 to 130 decibels). The results showed that those who felt more incompetent and empowered chose the loudest sounds, on average of 71 decibels, reports New Scientist. Those, who knew exactly how to handle their jobs, picked a much quieter sounds (on average between 55 and 62 decibels) - just like the people who felt incompetent and incapable of doing their job properly.

Researchers also discovered that the flattery of insecure bosses can temper their aggressive tendencies. Bullying is in most part the result of a hurt ego and not just threat to power. The same results could also explain why a lot of leaders attempt to surround them with yes-men and women. According to Adam Galinsky, a social psychologist at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management in Evanston, Illinois, telling a leader that it is natural to feel sometimes discouraged might help prevent future bullying.

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