Does Power Help Leaders Perform Better ?

All leaders, of course, have some power (we’ll consider power in the next chapter). But how do differences in power between leaders affect how they do their jobs? Most of us probably think that when leaders obtain more power, they relax and “rest on their laurels”—or worse, they abuse it.

Several recent studies, however, suggest that this is not quite the case. Power actually can help a leader do his or her job more effectively. In a series of experiments, researchers found that when individuals were given power as leaders, they performed more effectively. Why? Power gives leaders a greater sense of responsibility toward their group—as a result, powerful leaders were more likely to exert effort and make sacrifices than those with less power. If you’re powerless (or think you’re powerless), after all, why bother?

Interestingly, though, the research also suggested that if leaders happen to see a task as beneath them, they will disregard it. Thus, if leaders are given more power, it’s important that they don’t use it to dismiss as trivial the duties that truly matter. Of course, we don’t really know whether these experimental results generalize to more realistic settings, or whether power has long-term corrupting effects. But the findings do suggest that giving leaders more power is not always a bad idea.


Source: C. N. DeWall, R. F. Baumeister, N. L. Mead, and K. D. Vohs, “How Leaders Self-Regulate Their Task Performance: Evidence That Power Promotes Diligence, Depletion, and Disdain,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 100, no. 1 (2010), pp. 47–65.