Power really does go to people's heads … at least when it comes to decision-making, new research finds.
That research found that people in powerful, leadership positions are likely to project their own attitudes and characteristics onto other members of the group they are leading.
Leaders who have a self-centered attitude and project their own characteristics on others risk influencing other members of the group. That can muddy the decision-making process of the group as a whole, researchers warn.
"While powerful people’s increased self-anchoring can speed their decision-making, it can also leave them oblivious to their group and complacent about how well they represent it," writes lead author Jennifer Overbeck of the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah. "People in power don’t want to think they are calloused or self-centered, so it is more palatable to think that their views represent the group. Rather than simply saying, 'I want this, so I will do this,’ they can think, ‘I want this, and it clearly reflects what the rest of the group wants, therefore I will do it.'"
Leaders were more likely to share negative attitudes, the researchers found.
"The most surprising aspect of the studies was this particular effect involving negative traits and feelings," Overbeck said. "It appears that managers are most likely to project their own experiences when those experiences may not reflect positively on them — perhaps they want to say, ‘Yes, I’m not the greatest person, but everyone in my group is just like me.’ That may excuse the negativity, or give it an acceptable context."
The research can also serve as a warning for business leaders and owners, particularly about influencing others with their own attitudes and projections. To help prevent bosses from playing an active role in the decision-making process, the researchers suggest that leaders participate in training measures to help managers realize how they project their feelings and attitudes onto others. Those exercises can pay off, particularly when looking at groups and their ability to come to a consensus decision.
The research was a part of the paper "One for All: Social Power Increases Self-Anchoring of Traits, Attitudes and Emotions" and is set to be published in the fall edition of the journal Psychological Science.