Leader Power and Leader Self-Serving Behavior: the Role of Effective Leadership

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Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 46 (2010) 922–933

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Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
j o u r n a l h o m e p a g e : w w w. e l s ev i e r. c o m / l o c a t e / j e s p

Leader power and leader self-serving behavior: The role of effective leadership beliefs and performance information Diana Rus a,⁎, Daan van Knippenberg b, Barbara Wisse c
a b c

University of Groningen, Grote Kruisstraat 2/1, 9712 TS Groningen, The Netherlands Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University Rotterdam, PO Box 1738, 3000 DR Rotterdam, The Netherlands University of Groningen, Grote Kruisstraat 2/1, 9712 TS Groningen, The Netherlands

a r t i c l e

i n f o

a b s t r a c t
In this research we investigated the role played by leader power in determining leader self-serving behavior. Based on an integration of insights from research on the determinants of leader behavior and the powerapproach theory, we hypothesized that with higher leader power leader self-serving behavior is determined more by internal states like effective leadership beliefs and less by external cues like performance information. We found support for this prediction across two experiments and one organizational survey assessing leader behavior along a self-serving–group-serving continuum. Overall, these results suggest that whether leaders benefit the collective or act self-servingly is not a function of their power per se but rather that leader power determines the extent to which internal belief states or external cues influence leader selfversus group-serving behavior. © 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Article history: Received 12 February 2010 Revised 30 May 2010 Available online 27 June 2010 Keywords: Power Leadership Self-serving behavior Leadership schemas Performance information

Recently the popular media has become replete with headlines decrying top executives' lofty bonuses and profligate spending at a time when taxpayer money was used to protect their companies from insolvency. For example, John Thain, the ousted CEO of Merrill Lynch, spent $ 1.2 Million on redecorating his office, as the company was firing employees and was on the brink of bankruptcy. Needless to say, this lavish spending of company money at a time when rank and file employees were losing their livelihoods drew the ire of the general public and the body politic. Next to the popular outcry against leaders' blatant misallocation of resources, numerous studies have shown that leaders who distribute resources to their own advantage harm group interests (Aquino & Reed, 1998) and are less effective than those who prioritize their group's well-being (Choi & Mai-Dalton, 1999; De Cremer & van Knippenberg, 2004). Because self-serving leader behavior can engender a host of negative consequences such as decreased leader effectiveness, public embarrassment, and even organizational collapse, it seems essential to understand why some leaders act self-servingly and fill their own coffers while others act to benefit their groups. Evidence of leader self-serving behavior is probably nowhere more blatant than in the manner in which leaders distribute scarce resources such as pay increases and bonuses, but also other types of assets such as office space, parking lots, and recognition. Because these resources are limited, the more of the resource the leader allocates to one person (for ⁎ Corresponding author. University of Groningen, Grote Kruisstraat 2/1, 9712 TS Groningen, The Netherlands. E-mail addresses: d.c.rus@rug.nl (D. Rus), dvanknippenberg@rsm.nl (D. van Knippenberg), b.m.wisse@rug.nl (B. Wisse). 0022-1031/$ – see front matter © 2010 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2010.06.007

instance to him or herself), the less is left over for the others. But how do leaders decide upon such resource allocations? Previous research has identified effective leadership beliefs (e.g., Rus, van Knippenberg, & Wisse,...
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