23 February 2009

Study - Bad bosses get promoted, Not punished

How do people get ahead in the workplace?

One way seems to be by making their subordinates miserable, according to the Bond University [Queensland, Australia] study.


The Bond University study's aim was to determine the level and nature of bad leadership in business by seeking to define ‘what makes a bad boss’.

Professors Ben Shaw and Anthony Erickson of Bond University’s School of Business first broached the topic of bad leadership in 2006 when they undertook a study that revealed that one way people get ahead in the business world is by making their subordinates miserable.

Almost two-thirds of the 240 participants in their initial survey indicated that the local workplace tyrant was either never censored, or was promoted for domineering ways.

Their initial research made headlines around the world, in 2007 they conducted a broader, a more quantitative follow-up survey to determine the extent of bad leadership in organisations, and the common characteristics of a ‘bad boss’.


Method - Over 1,000 people, online questionnaire about their current boss.

Dr Erickson says that while there has been plenty of research into what makes a good leader,
the ‘dark side’ of leadership remains relatively unexplored.

"If this was medicine, it would be like studying health without looking at disease;" he explained.

"We need to be able to recognise the characteristics of bad leaders – what are the causes of their
adverse behaviour and how do we fix it?"

"The results of this survey will contribute to the development of new theory on bad leadership
and a greater understanding of leadership overall," Dr Erickson said.


"The fact that 64.2 per cent of the respondents indicated that either nothing at all or something positive happened to the bad leader is rather remarkable - remarkably disturbing," wrote the study's authors, Anthony Don Erickson, Ben Shaw and Zha Agabe.

Despite their success in the office, spiteful supervisors can cause serious malaise for their subordinates, the study suggested, citing nightmares, insomnia, depression and exhaustion as symptoms of serving a brutal boss.

The authors advocated immediate intervention by industry chiefs to stop fledgling office authoritarians from rising up the ranks.

"As with any sort of cancer, the best alternative to prevention is early detection," they wrote.

They faulted senior managers for not recognizing the signs of workplace strife wrought by bad bosses. "The leaders above them who did nothing, who rewarded and promoted bad leaders ... represent an additional problem."

The study will be presented at the annual meeting of the Academy of Management, a research and teaching organisation with nearly 17,000 members, from Sunday to Wednesday in Philadelphia.


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