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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Failure at the top: How power undermines collaborative performance

  • Author(s): Hildreth, J. Angus D
  • Anderson, Cameron
  • et al.

All too commonly, we see groups of leaders fail to accomplish their stated goals when working together – legislators who cannot agree on a bill, heads of state who cannot draft meaningful environmental policy, or boards of trustees who make disastrous decisions for their school. The current research examines whether groups of leaders fail as often as they do in part because of the power each leader is accustomed to possessing. Multiple studies found high power individuals , when working in groups, performed worse than did other groups : individuals randomly assigned power in an initial task were less creative when they then worked together in groups on a subsequent task (Study 1A) . Individuals with higher power who worked together in groups were also less likely to reach agreement on a difficult negotiation task , whether these groups comprise d actual executives from an extant organization (Study 2) or students randomly assigned power in the lab oratory (Study 3). Mediation analyses suggest that groups of high power individuals performed worse because they fought over their relative status in the group , were less focused on the task, and shared information with each other less effectively

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