Abusing Power Hurts Leaders, Too

Scientists studied the effects of psychological power on powerholders. They found the affects are more complex than currently depicted in the literature. The psychological power prompts behaviors and perceptions that harm the powerless, these reactions are not consequence-free for the actor. Abusive behavior and perceived incivility harm leaders' subsequent well-being as indicated by their reduced need fulfillment and ability to relax at home.

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Abusing Power Hurts Leaders, Too
Image credit: University of Florida

The 19th-century British historian once said, “power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Yeah, he was right, abusing power makes people act in ways that harm others. But when the powerful misbehave, it also hurts them.

A study from the University of Florida suggests that leaders who acted abusively to colleagues had trouble relaxing after work. They were less likely to feel competent, respected and autonomous in the workplace.

Trevor Foulk. research led said, “We always think those who have power are better off, but having power is not universally or exclusively good for the power holder.”

Scientists involved 116 leaders from fields including engineering, medicine, education and banking for more than three-week span. Instead of looking at structural power, scientists looked at psychological power or how powerful a leader feels as they move through the workday.

Scientists found that when leaders felt powerful, they were more likely to act abusively. They were more likely to perceive more incivility from their coworkers, which also destroy their mood and harmed their own well-being.

Foulk said, “This flips the script on abusive leadership. We tend to assume that powerful people just go around and abuse and they’re totally fine with it, but the effect of power on the power holder is more complex than that.”

The study also suggests, agreeable values who gives importance to social closeness, positive relationships, and workplace harmony found as less affected to the misbehavior.

Sometimes the consequences of psychological power are self-correcting. For example, if a leader acts abusively, he goes home and feels bad about it. But when he or she comes back to work, he feels less powerful and behaves better.

Foulk said, “Even though your boss may seem like a jerk, they’re reacting to a situation in a way many of us would if we were in power. It’s not necessarily that they’re monsters.”