To Keep Mighty From Falling, Pair with Less Powerful
A new study on leadership illustrates the benefits of pairing risk-taking leaders with employees who are more likely to measure possible pitfalls.
Powerful leaders tend to leap without looking, according to a new study by Brigham Young University researchers. They are more prone to ignore potential risks when making business decisions as opposed to employees with less influence.
The study’s findings, while not terribly surprising, underscore the importance of pairing higher-ranking, big-ideas people with less powerful, more risk-averse counterparts.
“In business settings you need both,” Katie Liljenquist, one of the study’s coauthors, said in a statement. “You need the people with that unfettered confidence and optimism and the willingness to take big risks, but you need those low-power individuals who say, ‘Hey, wait a second. Let’s identify the pitfalls.’”
To conduct the study, researchers gave participants a goal—traveling to the Amazon—along with a set of goal-constraining and goal-facilitating statements, such as “You are afraid of some of the native animals” or “You have prior experience visiting jungles.”
The more powerful participants were less likely to remember the goal-constraining statements when planning their trips to the Amazon than less powerful participants. In a second part of the experiment, participants were asked to make up the ending to a fairy tale, and researchers found powerful people did not imagine possible threats in their narratives.
“Power often perpetuates itself and can lead to great things, but when powerful people are blind-sided by unexpected challenges, they may crash and burn,” Liljenquist said.
That’s where less powerful employees come in. They can point out the crash-and-burn scenarios.
Twenty-first century leaders can’t know it all because things are happening too fast, said Rhea Blanken, president of the consulting firm Results Technology, Inc. There needs to be a blending and appreciation of different leadership and management styles—mixing the big-ideas people with others who can facilitate those ideas.
“In association management, we want staff and we want our volunteer leaders to think past the edge,” Blanken said. “But they’re rarely the ones who are going to implement and manage.”
With so many different styles of leadership and management, what you really need to have are partnerships, Blanken added: “There’s no one way.”
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