Letting a powerful boss intimidate you does a disservice to your team. This is the conclusion of fascinating new research into the effects of power in teams.
The traditional hierarchical notion that you probably grew up with is that power is useful in driving performance. You defer to your boss because that’s how the hierarchy works. It creates clarity, alignment, and keeps things moving.
But the authors of this study argue that in our innovation economy, where tasks require creative problem solving, information sharing, and collaboration, we need to get the value of all the members of a team—not just the limited perspective of the boss.
The research bares it out. When team members interpret the dominant contributions of their leaders to mean that they aren’t open to or interested in the ideas of team members, they shut down. And when they shut down, the quality of the teams’ solutions goes down—way down. (In one of the studies, only 25% of teams with dominant leaders got the right answer versus 75% of teams where leaders didn’t dominate.)
Fortunately, you can impact this very important team dynamic. The research showed that when team members ignored the signals that the team leader was closed-minded and contributed anyway, the teams were protected.
There is a growing body of research that shows that power changes people—it changes their thoughts and their behaviors. I say that not to scare you off, but to encourage you to have some empathy for your leader. The dominant behavior is probably less about being a bad or malicious person and more about the natural response to being given authority.
But now that you know that your team leader’s dominance is bad for your team, you need to help counteract it. Don’t be intimidated when your leader is overpowering—stand your ground.
Try the following:
If your team is accountable for brining innovative new solutions to your organization, you need make sure that you bring your full value—and that of your teammates—into team discussions. In the moment, that might feel like you’re standing up to your boss, but remember, you’re helping her look good in the long run.