A psychologist has tried to find out why small bosses are still at the top of the pyramid. It may well be that our view of success is at the heart of the problem.

Bad managers have been the subject of many pixels in recent years. Probably probably probably because they ruin the lives of – many – people. And because they are sometimes very public. Many researchers have been working on the subject to try and get to the bottom of this mystery. One recent study, for example, observed the disastrous consequences of toxic management on organisations in the United States, another the equally harmful effects on employees’ mental health. We even recently asked Harvard researcher and teacher Julie Battilana if it is possible to take power without abusing it (answer: it’s complicated). After all these years of studying them, how can we still let these tyrants climb the ladder in organisations, and more importantly, why are there still so many of them?

Dysfunctional leadership
“Toxic leaders do not advance in their careers despite their problematic behaviour. They succeed because of it”. This is a phrase coined by organisational psychologist Mary-Clare Race. Since her studies, she has specialised in personality disorders at work. She is now the Director of Innovation and Products at LHH, an HR company with 8,000 employees worldwide.

She says the problem of dysfunctional leadership stems from how our society views career progression and how companies support these people once they are on the leadership track. In short, we value leading people as a factor in social success. So, better (or worse), we encourage these behaviours within companies.

The psychologist’s interest in toxic companies began during her PhD at University College London. She initially focused on large financial institutions. “Many of them knew they had a problem with toxic workplace behaviour and dysfunctional leadership, but they didn’t always want someone to come in and lift the lid on it because they would have to deal with it.” Edifying.

She has observed that people promoted to manager “feel more willing to take risks” in these large companies and others. Understandably, this uncomfortable and risky position justifies promotion. But the psychologist points out that their decision-making ability can negatively affect others. An impact is far from their concern if it translates into good results for the company – at least in the short term.

You will be a manager for my son and my daughter.
In addition to excessive risk-taking, which is rewarded in companies with a promotion. The psychologist questions the very nature of the promotion. For example, if an employee achieves excellent results, the company rewards them with the supervision of several people. The result is a higher salary and a higher social status. Except that the same person may not be suited to supervise others. “Some bright individuals should be able to continue to do what they do well, and be rewarded appropriately, without having to take on the very different task of being responsible for the careers or welfare of others,” says Race. “The qualities that make a great heart surgeon do not make a person a good manager. Worse, they can even be abusive. Except that it is the only way for companies to reward their employees or see them progress…

And Mary-Clare Race concludes: “Why can’t we have a path to the top of a career that doesn’t involve managing other people? You have 4 hours.


  • Sunita Sehmi

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