Skip to main content

Ouch! Low Status Leaders Are Gluttons For Punishment

Life as a low-status leader can be a truly punishing existence.

It's the finding of a team of researchers from Rice University, the University of Texas and Universitat de Valencia. Their study, politely entitled "Cooperation and Status in Organization," was published in the August issue of the Journal of Public Economic Theory.

The researchers asked 80 study participants to play repeated rounds of a game where they could decide how much to contribute to the public good and how much to keep for themselves. Team leaders were chosen according to participants' scores on a trivia quiz. In one group, the person with the highest score ("high-status") was chosen as the leader. In the other group, the person with the lowest score ("low-status") was chosen to lead.

As the game wore on, it became apparent that team members were more likely to imitate the high-status leaders. Not only did they tend to ignore the low-status leaders, they punished them for trying to lead the group. The study concluded that groups headed by high-status leaders tend to be more stable.

Simply labeling someone as "the leader" doesn't mean the rest of the team necessarily views him or her as someone worth following.
"In a team, naming someone a leader is not sufficient to create effective leadership," said Rick Wilson, co-author of the study and professor of political science and statistics and psychology at Rice. "The status of the leader -- the way in which the leader is chosen -- determines the extent to which the rest of the subjects will follow."

Also, it doesn't seem to matter whether or not high-status leaders set a good example, which effectively gives them more wiggle room for risk taking.
"In teams with high-status leaders, followers are more likely to go along with them, even though the leader does not necessarily set a good example," Wilson said. "A high-status leader should be willing to risk making unilaterally high contributions to the public good, because the followers will do the same."

Not only are low-status leaders ineffective, they're gluttons for punishment. When the low-status leaders started punishing their teammates for not contributing more, the rest of the team started retaliating whenever it could. And round and round we go. Let the good times roll! Says Wilson: "The bottom line is that high-status leaders don’t need to punish because they are followed. Low-status leaders need to rely on punishment to motivate followers, but it is costly for everyone. It’s like they are the Rodney Dangerfields of the world -- they get no respect. When they use punishment to boost contributions to the public good, their followers retaliate."

Bottom line: People care about the process used to choose their leaders. A company that hires a new manager in a way employees can't respect will pay the price in low morale, lost productivity and little or no risk taking. The new manager, meanwhile, will be pretty much doomed right from the start.

After this, we all need a little bit of Rodney Dangerfield stand-up.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Seven tips for dealing with a jealous coworker

Look at you, doing so well at work! We're so happy for you. Well, most of us are happy for you and refuse to spend the entire work day talking behind your back. Let's talk about how to handle our jealous co-workers!Like every other professional, you've no doubt experienced your share of failures and successes. Lately, however, things seem to be going your way at work. And how! Perhaps you've managed to ace an important project this quarter, been instrumental in landing a huge client, earned some well-deserved rewards for this and that, or -- egads! -- been given a slight promotion or additional work responsibilities (e.g., the work responsibilities you actually want).You're quietly chuffed, but somehow your co-workers seem none too pleased with this rapid turn of events. Oh no, what should you do now?It's a workplace tale older than the disjointed last season of Mad Men. The playing field in the department was even, cozy and overall very friendly -- until so-an…

Employees Blame Technology For Slowing Them Down At Work

Do you feel like you're always working, but never getting very much done? If so, you're not alone. Too much technology, and too much red tape, keep slowing us down at work. But technology, and more of it, is supposed to make our lives easier! Too much technology, however, does not compute for employees. A new SAP/Knowledge@Wharton survey of almost 700 corporate employees finds a full 60% of respondents blame technology "for inhibiting their ability to meet strategic goals." Gee, anyone who has ever used the self-checkout line at the grocery store can tell you that. However, 40% surveyed said that looking for ways to simplify the technology has been "a low priority" for their company. Too much paperwork is an on-going problem for the workplace, too. A new ServiceNow survey of nearly 1,000 managers finds that 90% are doing too much administrative work, no matter the size of the company. This paperwork includes filling out forms, writing status updates, …

Is Your Co-worker Always Late For Work?

You've started the workday, but where is your co-worker? Oh, she's running late again, just like yesterday. And the day before. And the day before that. Let's get an early start on solving her tardiness problem, shall we? Working with someone who is consistently late is one of the most annoying aspects of office life, and also one of the most common, unfortunately. It's a universal theme of the workplace that everyone will get to work on time (give or take a few minutes...) except for the employee who is egregiously late nearly every day. And the excuses can get pretty amazing. Employees became more punctual as the Great Recession lingered, at least according to surveys. Everyone, that is, except for your able-bodied but habitually-tardy co-worker. It's bad enough dealing with tardiness when you're a manager, but it can be even more frustrating when you're a rank-and-file peer without any magical "shape up or ship out" managerial powers. So you…