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Prof. Peus, Dr. Pircher Verdorfer and Dr. Schmid on Exploitative Leadership

In spite of new leadership methods, many employees are still feeling exploited by their supervisors who especially focus on their own needs. Prof. Dr. Claudia Peus, Vice Dean of Executive Education and Chair of Research and Science Management,  and Dr. Ellen Schmid as well as Dr. Armin Pircher Verdorfer, both Senior Researcher at the Chair of Research and Science management, examined such a leadership style’s impact. Their results were published in the Journal of Management.

The study made use of various surveys from different contexts of employees from different sectors.

Ultimately, they extracted 5 categories of exploiting leadership:

  • Selfish behavior: For the executives, employees are only a means of achieving personal aims. Eventually, they see the employees’ application exclusively aimed at the supervisor’s benefits.
  • Taking credit for the work of others: Supervisors present employees’ success as their own.
  • Manipulating employees: Exploiting executives are not afraid to make mischief between employees in order to get higher chances of implementing their own aims.
  • Putting employees under pressure: Executives purposely expose employees to a workload which is too high for them to motivate them to perform better.
  • Sub-challenging employees: Also permanent underload is a means of exploiting employees, for example when the executive needs someone to carry out routine tasks which actually are under the qualification level of the person affected.

As for the reasons for such behavior, Prof. Dr. Peus, Dr. Schmid and Dr. Pircher Verdorfer found out the following three:

  1. People in leading positions automatically tend to overestimate their resources and to award themselves more than they actually are entitled to get. This behavior happens at the expense of the employees, for which consequently less resources are available.
  2. One further factor in the question whether an executive shows exploiting behavior or not is the executive’s personality. For example, narcissists tend to let others work for them, as they feel they are better than others and therefore have the right to behave this way.
  3. In the end, also the framework conditions which executives operate in influence their actions. For instance, in some companies, executives are actively encouraged to put employees under pressure, as this is being presented as the only way to achieve the high aims executives are being given. The company’s only aim is to increase profit.

The research project shows that exploiting behavior mainly leads to dissatisfaction regarding the employees, which then results in negative evaluations for the employer and rather low commitment. Furthermore, employees feeling exploited have less problems to disrespect the company’s norms and to use the company’s resources for themselves.

When trying to prevent such a leadership style by the companies, it is of high relevance to consider the above-mentioned reasons. Already at the time selecting new executives, the decision-makers’ sensibility for certain tendencies such as narcissism plays a central role. Further possibilities are changes in terms of the companies’ reward structures and a specific manager training. Both actions aim at achieving that executives treat their employees more value-oriented, but on the other hand also receive the necessary means to do so.

The article in the Journal of Management can be downloaded here.

The full version can be ordered here.

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