When Bosses Feel Inadequate & Incompetent

David and Saul

David and Saul (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A 2007 study done by Workplace Bullying Institute and Zogby International revealed that 37 % of American workers—roughly 54 million people have been sabotaged, bullied, and verbally abused by their superiors.

When and why do bosses seek to harm subordinates – the classic Saul and David situation? Researchers Nathanael Fast (U.Southern California) and Serena Chen (U.C.Berkeley) examined the idea that aggression among the powerful is often the result of a threatened ego. They found in 4 separate studies, they concluded that high self-perceived incompetence was associated with aggression among high-power individuals.This means that power and incompetence leads to aggression. They also found that participants who were incompetent in a high-power role were likely to display greater aggression than those who were competent in a high-power role, as well as incompetent but not in a high-power role.

They concluded that the self-perceived lack of competence elicits defensive aggression among those in power or the elite, but not among the powerless. This is perhaps due to the position of power increases the degree which causes one to feel that one ought to be competent. It is also not true that power is likely to cause one to attain a derogatory position over others. On the contrary, it is personal incompetence of a person in power that makes him aggressive as he seeks to protect both the position and the ego. This is perhaps also why subordinates tend to resort to flattery to artificial assist the power holder to maintain the ego, but this is likely to also cause his demise as he quickly gets out of touch with reality, and may become deluded.

The actual article is published by the Association for Psychological Science (Nov 2009, Vol 20, Issue 11)


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