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Why Bad Bosses Sabotage Their Teams

Yevgenia Nayberg

The dreaded Bad Boss comes in many varieties. There are the incompetent ones, the lazy or defensive ones, the ones who claim your work as their own, or those who prefer to rule through intimidation.

Jon Maner, a professor of management and organizations at Kellogg School of Management, has studied a specific breed of bad boss—those who intentionally sabotage their teams’ cohesion in order to protect their own status as leader.

Maner’s research shows that leaders will intentionally sideline high-performing team members, limit communication and social bonding among team members, or compile ill-matched teams if they think it will help ensure their own place at the top.

Emphasizing a “calculative mindset” encourages people to act more selfishly and less ethically when making decisions.

The danger of this type of bad boss is significant.“It can cause the group to fall apart at a basic level,” Maner says. “If you have people who don’t like each other and aren’t allowed to communicate effectively with one another, then really, you don’t have a group at all anymore.”

Maner and collaborator Charleen Case, a doctoral student at the Kellogg School, found that leaders who were driven by a desire for power (or dominance motivated) were more likely to undermine a group’s communication and cohesion than those who were motivated by a desire for respect (or prestige motivated). Those power-hungry leaders were most inclined to behave this way when they were told that the power hierarchy in the group was unstable and they may lose their position at the top. And they were most likely to undermine group cohesion by isolating the one highly skilled member of the group.

Read more: Why Bad Bosses Sabotage Their Teams – Bosses who crave power but fear they might lose it can undermine their teams’ productivity.

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