Is Your Leadership Power Making Your Team Speechless?

“Why would anyone want to be led by you?” is a dreaded question for most (aspiring) leaders. Usually, team structure is good for team performance (i.e specialisation, hierarchy and formalisation enacted by the team, specific to the team, and emerging from team specific tasks). However, there is a caveat when it comes to a team leader’s power (part of hierarchy and formalisation).

How is power influencing you as a leader?

Power can lead “holders” to objectify others, less adapt to understanding others, more likely to stereotype others, and less likely to listen to others…

Tost, Gino and Larrick measured the effect of power in team leaders on team performance. They argued that formal leader power can increase the leader’s amount of talking. This in turn would negatively influence team openness and communication. Consequently, this would influence team performance.

To prep the leaders in these experiments they were either primed with a high-power or a neutral-power assignment. The data gathered confirmed:

  • formal leaders in a high-power condition talked for a higher percentage of the time (32%) compared to neutral-power (19%);
  • team members with leaders in high-power condition reported lower perceptions of openness;
  • teams achieved higher performance when leaders were in neutral-power condition;

However, does it matter whether leader has formal authority or not in these effects of leadership power? DEFINITELY!

  • informal leaders in a high-power condition did not talk more compared informal leaders in neutral-power;
  • team members with informal leaders in high-power condition compared to neutral-power reported similar perceptions of openness;
  • teams achieved near similar performance whether informal leaders were in high-power or neutral-power condition.

Screen Shot 2013-10-22 at 12.25.38

Based on this research we can argue that the way you deal with power as a formal leader can make your team literally speechless. And, the performance consequences are dramatic!

How “quiet” is your team?



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