Rendered Speechless: Too Powerful Leaders Stymie the Team - Ideas for Leaders
Idea #063

Rendered Speechless: Too Powerful Leaders Stymie the Team

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We have all seen it happen; a newly promoted leader monopolizing more and more ‘air time’ in meetings. It seems to be an occupational hazard: when leaders experience heightened power, they are compelled to demonstrate it with verbal dominance. This compromises and even stymies good team communication. The good news is that this effect can be virtually eliminated by taking steps to protect an egalitarian culture. 


Open communication is extremely important; it must exist for both employee input and successful team performance to take place. But does leader power diminish open communication?

Through three studies, the paper attached shows that; yes, increased leader power can have a negative and damaging effect on team performance within an organization. Further findings including the following:

  • Power leads individuals to dominate social interactions and to engage in increased amounts of talking, which inhibits input from others.
  • Power decreases perceptions of leader openness and diminishes team performance.
  • Members of teams with high-power leaders are more likely to keep quiet in meetings, not only because there's not much time for others to talk in the presence of such leaders, but also because of the perception – fair or not – that powerful people aren't interested in anyone else's ideas.
  • These effects on individuals impact the entire group in which the individual is situated. Thus, the effects transmit beyond the individual level and to the team level.

Important here is the observation that there is no direct relationship between the amount of power a leader is given and productivity; high productivity depends on how that leader wields the power they are given.

Similarly, they also found that when leaders were informed that other team members were holding back information that was critical to the organization’s success, these effects did not emerge, which supports the contention that team member instrumentality motivates high power leaders to overcome their tendency to discount others’ perspectives and input. By simply becoming aware of the instrumentality of their team members, high power leaders are more encouraging of others’ input. Thus, the negative effect of power on team open communication is minimized.


Though this paper highlights that the expression of power can have a negative effect on team communication and productivity, the good news is that these effects can be virtually eliminated by making it clear that every team member is individually instrumental to any given task at hand. It is important to do this, as open communication is vital to any project and perceptions related to leader power can seriously hurt team performance; for example, a shortage of ideas during brainstorming sessions can occur.

Do not let leaders render the team speechless by considering the following:

  • Minimize the psychological experience of power among leaders by maintaining a relatively flat organizational structure and egalitarian culture.
  • Alternatively, organizations may intervene at the point of the mediator, training leaders to cultivate high levels of leader openness and to encourage open team communications.
  • Organizations may institute practices and policies that serve to remind leaders of the important contributions their subordinates have the capacity to make, thereby reminding leaders that those around them are instrumental to the pursuit of collective goals.



When Power Makes Others Speechless: The Negative Impact of Leader Power on Team Performance, Tost. L.P, Gino. F, Larrick. R.P, Harvard Business School Working Paper 11-087 (2011)


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Idea conceived

January 1, 2011

Idea posted

Jan 2013
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