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Can leaders undermine cooperation in groups led by them?

Posted January 7, 2015
Teamwork. Image credit: U.S. Navy/Public domain

Teamwork. Image credit: U.S. Navy/Public domain

Leaders are needed to maintain cooperation among members of a collectivity. But what happens when personal ambitions do not coincide with interests of a group? A new study carried out by American researchers reveals how bosses can undermine cohesion of their organization in order to maintain their power.

“Four experiments supported the hypothesis that, when they perceive their power to be threatened, leaders create divisions among their subordinates in order to protect their power and reduce threats posed by potential alliances among those subordinates,” Charleen R. Case and Jon K. Maner say.

Previous studies indicate two main paths allowing to gain influence in the group: dominance and prestige. Dominance paves the way to leadership with the help of coercion and exploitation. This mechanism is prevalent not only among humans, but also among other primates, such as chimpanzees.

“Hierarchy. The second route—prestige—represents a strategy through which people attain high status by garnering respect, admiration, and appreciation from group members. Unlike dominance, prestige appears to be a uniquely human component of social groups,” the scientists say. While some individuals tend to adopt dominance-motivated strategies, others rely on prestige-driven strategies. When some are thinking about their power, others seek for admiration.  Study shows that these personality differences manifest in the leader’s treatment of talented personalities.

“Dominance motivated leaders in these studies sought to divide highly talented group members from other subordinates as a way of protecting their power. Just as alpha male chimpanzees divide beta from gamma males to prevent them from forming alliances, dominance motivated leaders prevent talented subordinates from forming positive relationships with other group members, even though doing so could ultimately detract from the well-being of the group as a whole,” authors of the study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology report.

In contrast, individuals who care about their prestige did not hinder interactions among the group members and even tried to foster communication between talented individuals and others. In addition, those persons who use dominance strategy and do not care about opinion of others are especially Machiavellian. Interestingly, dividing techniques were targeted only towards most skillful persons, who probably were identified as posing the highest threat.

Article: Case, Charleen R.; Maner, Jon K., 2014, Divide and conquer: When and why leaders undermine the cohesive fabric of their group., in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 107(6), 1033-1050, source link.

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