Career Testing
Career Testing
Career Testing
LEADERSHIP / SEP. 21, 2014
version 6, draft 6

5 Important Research Findings on Leadership


Bad leadership is one of the most common sources of stress in the office. Many employees don’t like their boss, simply because they lack leadership skills. 65% of employees say that they would rather get a new boss than have their salary raised. According to recent estimates, inefficient leaders also cost the global economy some $300 billion every year. So, what can we do to produce better leaders? Let’s review five recent research findings that address this topic.

#1 Incompetent leaders are hired for wrong reasons

There are two findings that explain why HR officers often hire inept leaders. First, it is because people often (unconsciously) assume that there is a connection between attractiveness and competence, and get tricked by people’s looks. They end up hiring people because of the way they appear, not because of the way they perform. This was concluded after participants in a study looked at the pictures of candidates for French parliamentary elections and judged how competent they appear. The results showed that candidates who were rated as looking most competent were the actual candidates that won the elections. 

#2 Men do not possess qualities to lead organizations in a crisis

The majority of big companies are headed by men. When women are chosen for a leadership position, it is when the organization is faced with a serious crisis. This phenomenon is known as the glass cliff, and the explanation behind it is that in crisis people tend to reconsider what makes a good leader, and then men start not to fit anymore. How did researchers come to this conclusion? A study presented participants with different newspapers articles about an organic food company and then found that they were more likely to select a fictitious female candidate to take over the company, if it was described as being in a crisis, despite the fact that all her predecessors were male. “It may not be so important for the glass cliff that women are stereotypically seen as possessing more of the attributes that matter in times of crisis", said the researchers, "but rather that men are seen as lacking these attributes.” 

#3 Sharing of information is necessary for engagement

Companies often have many secrets and their employees live in constant fear that they are being tricked. What some companies are doing now is to utilize ‘open book management’ through which all finances become available to everyone. Surely, this makes employees feel much safer and makes them more likely to be engaged with their job. How is this claim supported by science? According to the findings of the NeuroLeadership Institute, our brains work best when we no longer feel the need to hide, cover up our mistakes, or dwell on errors. Thus, when companies become ’transparent’, we get more productive. 

#4 Leadership should not be cold and hard

Many leaders have a harsh attitude. They think this is the best way to push people to do well. But this is utterly wrong. According to recent research, employees need to feel secure and comfortable in order to be productive, and having a boss that makes them feel as if they are in prison only costs the overall productivity. It is necessary for the employees to be treated with a warm and supportive attitude.

#5 Bosses experience stress the least

Recent research reveals that the higher position people have, the less likely they are to be stressed. This was concluded by comparing leaders’ and non-leaders’ levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and the finding contradicts the widespread belief that bosses are stressed out the most because they have so many responsibilities. In reality, they have all the autonomy they need and this makes them feel relaxed. It is the subordinates that stress themselves the most, and it is important for leaders to acknowledge this.

What we can learn from recent leadership studies is that people shouldn’t be hired on the basis of their looks, women should lead in crisis, engagement can be increased by sharing information, and that leaders should be warm and acknowledge employee stress. If we were all to apply some of these findings, bad leadership would no longer be a major source of work stress.

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