Can a Leader Have Too Much Power? Fascinating Research


Can a Leader Have Too Much Power? The Balance of Power
Can a leader have too much power?  History has glorified many powerful leaders – on the battlefield, in the workplace, and in the political arena.  But there has recently been some fascinating research that examines how leaders with too much power can negatively affect their team results.

This is a cautionary tale for both new and experienced managers.

Overbearing Leaders Can Decrease Productivity
Many used to think that a hard-driving boss could drive greater results – that a strong leader could only improve the performance and functioning of their team.  And this can indeed be true – at least in the short-term.

But at what cost?

We know that mean, unfair, overly demanding bosses at worst suffer high turnover on their teams and at best do not engage their workers in a way that promotes high performance.  But we didn’t know that powerful, even well-meaning leaders can also diminish performance.

What We’ve Learned
It seems dominating leaders can stifle the creativity and productivity of their teams simply by virtue of wielding too much leadership power.  Here’s what can happen: a leader takes over a meeting and does not invite or encourage others to lend their thoughts or ideas.  Sometimes, they are simply so convinced that they know the answers that they “forget” that their team members might have even better solutions.

And the effect on the leader’s followers?

They are discouraged from weighing into a discussion they are bound to lose.

The Downside
Too much power in a leader can have even greater consequences than discouraging innovation.  Just think of a pilot who ignores the legitimate concerns of a co-pilot or a surgeon who does not listen to colleagues who notice a significant change in the patient’s condition.

The Cure
Let powerful leaders know that, if they want to fully engage and retain their team, take advantage of new and different and perhaps better perspectives, and create peak performance, they need to genuinely and actively welcome input from their team.  It sounds simple, but it makes a big difference.

How Leaders Should Ask for Feedback
While powerful leaders may truly value and desire feedback and input, employees might be intimidated and hesitant about sharing alternative perspectives.  To increase your chances of soliciting honest input as a leader:

  • Set the stage so people feel comfortable
  • Be specific about the type of feedback you want
  • Provide questions and context ahead of time so people have a chance to reflect and prepare
  • Start with easy and less contentious topics to get the ball rolling
  • Discuss the issues one-on-one with each person before your meeting to set the stage for an open discussion
  • Proactively solicit dissent and different points of view
  • Actively listen and pay attention to non-verbal cues
  • Be open to all ideas and do not get defensive
  • Take the feedback and input seriously

The Bottom Line
Can a leader have too much power?  Yes.  Leaders who want to increase the performance of their team need to balance their leadership power with some humility.  They need to step back from the podium and listen to their audience – stop talking and authentically elicit contributions from their team.  This is the way to keep the team engaged, foster full participation in the pursuit of the team goal, and avoid mistakes before they become too big to handle.

If you want to learn more about being a better leader, download 29 Ways to Build and Maintain Trust as a Leader

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