Understanding self-serving behavior in leaders

Understanding self-serving behavior in leaders

July 24, 20181 min read

In a new research paper, Melissa Williams, assistant professor of organization & management, developed a framework to better understand when and why leaders use their power for personal gain. She discovered that a variety of traits, characteristics, and values, such as feeling less of a sense of guilt, made leaders more likely to exhibit self-interested behaviors. Individuals who were more narcissistic, less humble and honest, and generally less agreeable also had an increased chance of abusing their power. Leaders with an individualistic and competitive streak as well as those with a lower sense of morality were also more likely to act on self-interest. Threats to power especially increased self-serving behavior for those with a propensity for it. Williams added that “because positions of leadership are desirable and hedonically pleasurable, leaders facing threats to their power will prioritize self-interested actions that secure their own power over behaviors that serve shared goals.” Interestingly, for the individuals who did not have self-interested traits and values, power actually decreased the likelihood that they would become self-interested.


Connect with:
  • Melissa Williams
    Melissa Williams Associate Professor of Organization & Management

    Expert on social identities (gender, race, culture, stigma) and workplace hierarchies.

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