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The purpose of the present research was to investigate if and when leaders’ trait-like tendency to experience contempt would result in a lack of constructive attitudes and behaviors towards subordinates and an increase in destructive attitudes and behaviors towards subordinates. Previous research shows that increased power aligns individuals’ behavior with their trait-like tendencies. Accordingly, we hypothesized that leader contempt and power will interact to predict leaders’ people orientation, ethical leadership, dehumanization, and self-serving behavior. Across three studies, we indeed found that contempt was more negatively associated with leaders’ people orientation and ethical leadership, and more positively associated with dehumanization and leaders’ self-serving behavior, when the leader had higher levels of power rather than lower levels of power. These results are discussed in the context of corporate ethical scandals demonstrating leaders’ focus on personal gain to the detriment of the needs of their subordinates.
Power plays a role in all social contexts, and it plays a key role in organizations and work groups. More specifically, one might argue that the particulars of the social context largely determine the way that (lack of) power is experienced, the way that people think or feel about power (e.g., the positive or negative connotations of power), and the way in which power differentials manifest themselves (e.g., Tjosvold 1984, 1985; van Knippenberg et al. 2001). Because power derives its meaning from the social context in which it exists, we expect that factors that affect a person's relational or social orientation may greatly influence power processes. One of the central aspects of an individual's relationship with others is the individual's self-definition in the relationship. Therefore, this chapter focuses on the question if the extent to which a person sees himself or herself as a distinctive individual (i.e. differentiated from the other party) or more as psychologically connected to the other party (i.e. incorporating the other[s] into perceptions of the self) may affect power processes. We will use theoretical insights from the field of self and identity to present a framework to understand power processes in organizations. Building on prior research concerning the development of levels at which the self may be construed, and on the existing empirical work on the influence of (proxies and correlates of) self-conception on power and influence processes, we outline how theory development and research endeavors may benefit from employing a self-construal perspective to power.
Power is an inescapable feature of human existence. It plays a role in all social contexts and is particularly important in the functioning of organizations and work groups. Organizational researchers have certainly recognised the importance of power but have traditionally focused on its negative aspects. Yet power can also have very positive effects. Power and Interdependence in Organizations capitalizes on significant developments in social science over the past twenty years to show how managers and employees can manage power in order to make it a constructive force in organizations. Written by a team of international academics, the book explores both the positive and negative aspects of power, identifying opportunities and threats. It shows that harnessing the positive aspects of power, as well as controlling its more destructive effects, has the potential to revolutionise the way that organizations function, making them both more humane and productive.
The sole advantage of power is that you can do more good.
Baltasar Gracian, The Art of Worldly Wisdom, 1647
Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.
Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865)
Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Lord Acton, Letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton, 1898
Power pervades everyday life in organizations and society and can be highly constructive but also very destructive. The powerful overcome adversities to unite and liberate countries; the powerful also suppress and demoralize. Power can mobilize us to rescue people from tragedies but also to bring havoc. Power helps us get things done that we cannot do alone, for good and for evil. It affects our dealing with crises but also our everyday activities. Power is inevitable in our organizations: the issue we confront is to understand when it is constructive and when it is destructive.
Power plays a key role in organizations and groups, indeed in all social contexts. Organizations – with their hierarchical structure, interdependent relationships, and the potential goal incompatibilities of the parties – are major arenas where power processes occur. Chapters in this book explore the positive and negative faces of power and interdependence in organizations; they identify opportunities and threats. Together the chapters advocate the need to manage power in order to take advantage of it and guard against its destructiveness.
The need to manage power crosses all boundaries; we need knowledge developed worldwide to help us manage power constructively.