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Generous Bosses Perceived as Weak

business-of-good-110524-02 Credit: Dreamstime

It might be tempting to think that being a generous boss means you'll be revered and loved by your employees, but the fact is, it will make them think you're weak.

That's the finding of new research that asserts that generosity in leaders affects their ability to be perceived as dominant.

"People with high prestige are often regarded as saints, possessing a self-sacrificial quality and strong moral standards," said Robert Livingston, assistant professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. "However, while these individuals are willing to give their resources to the group, they are not perceived as tough leaders."

In times of competition, individuals who are less altruistic are seen as dominant and more appealing as leaders .

"Our findings show that people want respectable and admired group members to lead them at times of peace, but when 'the going gets tough,' they want a dominant, power-seeking individual to lead the group," said Nir Halevy, lead author and acting assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

"Being too generous often comes at a personal cost to one's position of strength or power," Livingston said.

"This research begins to explore when 'nice guys' finish first and when they finish last, depending on the group context," Halevy said. "'Nice guys' don't make it to the top when their group needs a dominant leader to lead them at a time of conflict."