Five big discoveries about leadership

feature-gervais-200Bad management appears to be an epidemic in the United States (and international rankings put Australia even further below), costing the US economy a total of $360 billion every year in lost productivity. Sadly, 65% of employees say they would take a new boss over a pay raise, and three out of every four employees say relating to their boss is the most stressful part of their job.

It’s not like we’re not trying: according to the American Society for Training and Development, in 2011, US firms spent about $156 billion on corporate training. But there is good news: over the course of 2012, researchers uncovered many insight to help us improve the quality of leadership. Here are five of big discoveries:

1. Why incompetent leaders keep getting hired

There’s a reason we hire poor leaders. It’s not because of incompetent HR departments, or poor competency frameworks. According to a new study to be published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, narcissism increases one’s chance of acing a job interview. And the more extroverted someone is, the more likely they will be hired.

In short, we hire poor leaders because they interview better.

Unfortunately, narcissism doesn’t equate with leadership success. Studies suggest that overconfidence can often have a detrimental effect on an individual’s performance and decision-making. An arrogant boss is simply bad for business. This is because they do not mentor their employees nor do they motivate their team enough to benefit the organisation as a whole. This contributes to a negative workplace atmosphere. Organisational psychologist and professor Stanley Silverman of The University of Akron and Michigan State University developed a measure of arrogance, called the Workplace Arrogance Scale (WARS) to help organisations differentiate between narcissism and competence before they experience a costly impact.

If overconfidence is a natural tendency for some, employers must recognise this as a potential flaw rather than an asset. Good interviewers look out for these tactics, and know how to look past them.

2. More women increase a team’s smarts

“Collective intelligence” is the study of how small groups make decisions and solve problems: literally how smart teams are and why. It turns out that teams have a relatively stable intelligence over time, just as individuals do, and this intelligence can be measured and compared.

A key researcher in this space is Dr Christopher Chabris of Union College. To measure collective intelligence, Chabris divided 700 volunteers into small groups to work on tasks that required collective decision-making and collaboration. In the end, three factors were found to be consistent in the teams with the highest rate of intelligence: the ability of group members to read and respond to others’ social cues, an open climate with an even exchange of ideas from all members, and lastly, the number of women in the group. Groups with more women were found be more intelligent due to the fact that women tend to be better at reading social cues.

While teams can impact an individual’s performance negatively – with increased costs of collaboration, invisible delays, conflicts with formal work processes – the reality is that much work today requires a team. Understanding the elements that make teams (rather than individuals) smarter may be a key to improving the quality of management.

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