How Dominant Leaders Go Wrong
Highly assertive, confident individuals may foster a selfish culture
“Competitive,” “decisive,” “action-oriented,” even “intimidating”: many people invoke these words to describe good leaders. Indeed, several studies suggest extraverted, dominant individuals are perceived as competent, influential leaders in industry and politics. Think of the late former General Electric CEO Jack Welch, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos or Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Many people find these leaders appealing and inspiring.
But such individuals have shortcomings as well. Dominant leaders sometimes seek to influence co-workers by fiat or force—insisting on their own way or intimidating others—rather than taking steps to discuss, debate or consult with colleagues. And that has serious downsides for the companies, organizations and nations that they lead.
In our recent research, we examined some of the unintentional negative consequences of a dominant leadership style. Across eight studies, we explored how such leaders can inadvertently reduce cooperation among their employees by fostering a competitive climate. Past research shows that societies and organizations flourish when members help one another, share information and engage in collective problem-solving. Dominant leadership can stifle those activities, however. We argue that’s because a leader’s hyper-individualist approach can foster a widespread zero-sum mindset, in which people believe they can only progress at the expense of others.
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