Why Do Some Leaders Abuse Their Power

Introduction: There are many definitions of power. In social science it can be thought as the capacity to control or influence others by providing rewarding or administering punishment. When leaders in organizations abuse power, power will become evil or unjust. In the last decades ,the pervasiveness of ethical lapses of corporate villains has been astounding such as Unethical CEO behaviour, white-collar crime, property deviance, employee grievances and lawsuits. In this essay I will mainly focus on analysing the causes of the toxic leaders’ deviant behaviour, the consequences it will trigger and how should followers survive in the dilemma.

It is often heard that there is a series of organizational formula or principle in the corporation,or some other institutions. For instance,managers manage subordinates and serve owners, shareholders elect their representatives to the board of directors. Winners and losers are decided by free market. All the processes are trying to show that the corporation has its reasonable principles and make us believe that the corporation is accountable and efficient. Ironically,the truth of the matter will make us disappointed with the surface of the scandals related to the “prestigious”corporations.

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Indeed, managers have run the show. Shareholder meetings have been well prepared ceremonies. People who have served as directors on boards have usually been friends of the boss. Proxy votes have become rituals as the result has already been foreordained. (Ralph Estes ,1995,P32)What roles are these leaders playing in the organization on earth? 1. Why do some leaders abuse their power? There are many factors interactively cause some leaders to abuse their power at risk of being guilty. There is a paradigm proposed by Stephen K.

Henn in his book”Business Ethics” which is called “The fraud triangle” that can briefly explain the reason why people behave badly. Opportunity Pressure Rationalization Opportunity simply means the environment element, Pressure is the trigger that causes bad behaviour, Rationalization is the core of the decision-making process when it is time for a “go” or “no go”. (Stephen K. Henn , 2009,P61) It is a good paradigm. However, I will analyse the causes in details from internal and external dimensions respectively. 1. 1 External factors 1. Environmental factors Things will not happen without external elements which are related to the environment and situation. There is an environment where there seems to be safe when you do something wrong or even illegal. It ‘ s exactly the one of the most important reasons why some leaders can abuse their power recklessly. Ethical lapses in corporate and society occur frequently. Numerous examples of ethical lapses in business and politics can be found these years. Martha Stewart, a US domestic style guru, was under suspicion in an inner trading scandal.

Six former executives of Australian Wheat Board (AWB) were charged with a bribery of $300 million to Sandam Hussein’s Iraqi government and were likely to be fined $14. 4 million by the Australian Securities and Investments Commissions in civil proceeding as well. It seems that nobody has taken an effective action to prevent these wrongdoings. What are the factors that impede people to reveal the truth and reality? How could it be possible that the nation’s regulatory and supervision departments fail to figure out these severe problems for such a long time?

What are the loopholes and inadequacies of regulatory bodies that indirectly “help” these ethical lapses? There is no simple answer to these questions,but there are several factors that creat situations in which individuals really do not know enough to take action. 1. 1. 1. 1 The diffusion of responsibility for seeing and acting. Social psychologist Bibb Latane and John Darley launched a series of experiments in which participants heard the sounds of people in distress under different conditions. The studies showed that as the number of by-standers increased,the likelihood that anyone would help decreased. i. e. eople were more likely to help when they were alone. When others are present ,people assume someone else will act. (Robert Gandossy ,Jeffrey Sonnenfeld,2004,P. 7) Moreover, projects are frequently divided to several tasks and distributed to different departments or organizations. Specific divisions only possess the information relevant to specific tasks. As a result, the asymmetrical information shared by different divisions restricts people’s control and understanding of the whole picture, which makes it difficult for specialists to figure out a fraud or misconduct early or to find out enough evidence to verify the illegal activities. . 1. 1. 2 The social and organizational culture that is not supportive of whistleblowers. The courage of individuals who know about improper behaviors in organizations is challenged by the threat of harassment, rumors, slanders, relegation and even dismiss. People often find they are put in a dilemma, wandering between right and wrong. One senior executive who revealed a colleague’s million-dollar fraud scheme reflects:”The path I chose was brutal on my family and lost me tens thousands in income. It also meant that I’d never again work in a corporate environment.

You can negotiate a “golden handshake”, but it doesn’t guarantee a reference. You will always see the raised eyebrow, the inflection that means” well, if you want to know… “( Robert Gandossy ,Jeffrey Sonnenfeld,2004,P12)Under such unfriendly environment which is full of intrigue and prejudice, with a lack of accountability and financial considerations, more and more people choose to ignore a crime. 1. 1. 1. 3 The problems of financial institutions In some cases,auditors often suspected earlier, but no investigation followed due to complexity of the accounting system and poor responsibility of auditors.

Accounting system really has its weakness and those evils will exploit the loopholes to realize their personal greedy. Moreover, sometimes the financial institutions changed their position from supervising to colluding. Take an example with Enron again, you may not believe but unfortunately it is true that before Enron’s collapse, senior executives at the American most prestigious financial institutions has conspired with Enron’s top leaders to help them hide debt and exaggerate revenues through fictional oversea special-purpose entities.

These financial institutions’ help create an easy way for those who want to have a good performance on book. Based on these factors,it is difficult for individuals to become a whistle blower which encourages these villains to go further. 1. 1. 2 High pressure from scorecard As we all know, corporate organization form separates ownership and control of the company, which distances shareholders from operation. Managers are charged with the responsibility for managing the business of the corporation by shareholders and should try their best to maximize the interest of shareholders.

However, due to the unfair and ineffective performance judging system, managers in many organizations are clear that the only dimension on which they are being evaluated is their scorecards no matter how good the other subjective criteria are. Under the high pressure of unemployment, it can be argued that managers can pursue their own aims with impunity. The possibility arises that managers become entrenched and pursue improper goals that serve their own interest rather than the interest of shareholders as long as the numbers on their scorecards can be more “charming”.

A convicted division vice president once claimed:”I think we understood it was against the law, but the moral issue did not seem to be important at the time. ” As a(Robert Gandossy ,Jeffrey Sonnenfeld,2004,P12) result, it is more likely for managers to get caught in various misconducts and unethical lapses when the fringe benefits and promotion opportunities are directly related to these objective performance measures on the scorecards. 1. 1. 3 Organizational value system Organizational value system might be factor for the widespread of these unethical and illegal activities.

Leaders of organizations have a great influence on employees’ understanding of success and attitude towards illicit behaviors. How leaders judge their subordinates’ performance will directly determine employees’ behaviors and value of worth. Leaders should clarify that profits or rate of return is not the only judgment of success. One of the largest shareholders and board members of a fortune 100 company once said:”we did not do anything wrong, but it was not right either. It was wrong, but it was not purposefully wrong. “(Robert Gandossy,Jeffrey Sonnenfeld. 004, P12)In this sense, benefits achieved through injustice and indecency should be strictly banned and avoided by leaders; otherwise, employees will only pursue interest by fair means or fouls, leading to various frauds, scandals, stock market manipulations, and so on. 1. 2 Internal factors 1. 2. 1 Moral sense Leaders with poor moral sense are often unethical and having poor or no social responsibility. I totally agree with Henry Ford’s century-old comment which is still meaningful and applicable to today’s poor moral climate:”For a long time people believed that the only purpose of industry was to make a profit.

They are wrong. Its purpose is to serve the general welfare. “(Richard L. Daft,Andrew Pirola-Merlo,2009,P165) On the contrary, those unethical leaders tend to be self-centred. Tyco’s CEO ,Dennis Kozlowski,and CFO Mark Swartz were charged of diverting $ 600 million of corporate funds to support their extravagant lifestyle. Enron Corporation, a notorious American energy company, manipulated their accounting report, trying to cover up their deficits and poor financial conditions resulted from their imprudent investments. Arrogant, ambitious, self-serving, unfair,dishonest” are exactly the matching words to describe them. Unethical leaders are usually unfair,they are likely to deal things unfairly. When things are going wrong,they are easy to shift blame to others . In comparison,when the goals are achieved,they often take all the credit. They can ‘ t endure that somebody else, especially their subordinates, overtake them in any performance. Once they find there is an outstanding person in the organization. , they will feel insecure and look the person as a potential threat to him or her.

And then they will try to oppress the person by hook or even find some excuses to dismiss the person . These workplace unfairness are prevalent which sets the obstacle of new employee’s development. Unethical leaders have poor moral codes which has been aforementioned,such as dishonesty. Having this trait,they are more likely to cheat in the difficulties instead of facing the reality and fighting a new way to be better off. Consequently these unethical leaders put self-interest on the highest position and leave the corporate and social welfare behind. 1. 2. 2 Narcissistic personality Personality decides your fate. “This sentence is just a prevailing philosophy for life, however, in my opinion, it is reasonable to explain the human behaviour as well. Leaders who have narcissistic personality are easy to abuse their power to fulfill their own ego. Narcissism is the personality trait of egotism, often used as a pejorative, denoting vanity, conceit, egotism or simple selfishness (Retrieved April 3 2010, http:// en. wikipedia. org/wiki/ Narcissism )Among chief executive officers, a flight into grandiosity,vanity,and greed certainly is no exception.

Vivendi s J6M:Jean-Marie Messier,Moi-Meme Maitre du Monde which roughly means “master of the world”. (Robert Gandossy,Jeffrey Sonnenfeld ,2004, P51) However, every personality has its own strengths and weaknesses as well. The positive side of narcissism brings people confidence, courage and perseverance. Learning to love yourself is the premise of everything, and I believe it is one of the important character traits of a leader. On the other side, too much narcissism leads to egotism, selfishness, apathy and arrogance. Overmuch self-love ruins the essence of narcissism.

People are immersed in the pursuit of lust, power and prestige while neglecting the rights and feelings of others. Laws, social obligations and morality are consigned to oblivion. They regard themselves as the king of the world and make their own rules to match their “glorious” images and dreams while disregarding the conventions of social structure. They are eroded by the possession of unlimited power and lose their ability to make a distinction between right and wrong. With the interaction of the external and internal factors,the deviant behaviour are easy to happen. 2.

The consequences of organizations led by leaders who abuse their power. “Leaders make the future”,( Bob Johansen,2009)i. e bad leaders make the bad future for organizations. When any group of people work together to achieve specific goals,the context in which they work could be called an organization. As the core role of organizations, leaders’ behaviour has the significant influence on the organization which is the most element for any organization to achieve its goal. I will analyse the consequences from two aspects which are how they treat their subordinates and how they deal with regular work or issues respectively. . 1 There is no leader without followers. While bad leaders tend to make their subordinates become their slaves or blind followers which will cause serious result for organizations. 2. 1. 1 Organization will be inefficient with leaders who are tyrannical A responsible leader should make decisions on the basis of transparent discussions and sound reasoning. However, dictatorial supervisors usually stick to their own points without giving reasonable explanations, which makes subordinates feel a lack of accountability.

Such supervisors convince people only through their power and authority, thus leading to a hidden danger of illicit activities in the long run. Some leaders even enforce exact obedience through abrasive threat and harsh force. In order to consolidate and expand their prestige, they do not mind playing contemptible trick on others as long as it makes them look more powerful. People who are led by this kind of supervisor are hesitated to do things because they are afraid of being blamed which make them do things inefficiently.

Only those cowards and incapable people will follow this type of leader which will negatively influence the efficiency of an organization and make goals unachievable. 2. 1. 2 Organization will lose their competitive edge with leaders who are jealous More competitive employees are important and necessary for the brilliant future of an organization. A leader of an organization is responsible for the training and future development of his or her employees. However, some leaders who are jealous only care about their own interest. They try their best to expel competent subordinates from the group so that their position will not be threatened.

In reality, the world changes so fast that we can not follow its step without continuing absorbing new information or knowledge. We need fresh blood to enrich our organization. However,with this type of so called leader organization will suffer from poor performance due to members’ lack of continuing learning or training. 2. 1. 3 Organization will become sluggish with leaders who are arrogant and poor at communication skills Many people have the mistaken idea that talking is the synonym of communicating. Actually, communication is a bilateral process which is composed of both listening and talking.

You need to collect feedback so that you know your audience have received your message and the whole communicating process is effective. That is why listening is also a critical factor of communication. However, some arrogant leaders, regarding themselves as leading authorities, never give their subordinators chances of speaking. They force their opinions upon others and never waste their time on listening and considering other ideas. As a result, employees will be reluctant to take part in such unilateral and dictatorial communication.

In the end, constructive suggestions, ideas and proposals which are useful for an organization’s success will dry up. 2. 2 Leaders’ behaviour in dealing with regular work and handling issues and the consequences has great influences on the performance of an organization. 2. 2. 1 Organization can not make progress with leaders who never take responsibility Good leaders will continually perfect themselves from mistakes while irresponsible ones never admit their own faults because they believe that such admission is an insult to their power and positions.

They take the credit themselves but shift the blame to other shoulders when things are going wrong. Led by such unethical directors, employees will certainly lose the courage to correct mistakes and the enthusiasm to work hard because of the lack of incentives. In this sense, the organization will by no means benefit from harmonious working environment and high productivity of employees. 2. 2. 2 Organization will be creativity deficient with leaders who lack openness to new ideas or suggestions.

With increasing competition and quick development in business world nowadays, stability is an outdated word. Creativity implies more opportunities. A leader open to changes and challenges will bring more vitality to an organization. Encouragement of brainstorming and adoption of new ideas make an organization superior to other competitors. In reverse, the pursuit of steadiness or the block of creative suggestions is no longer applicable in today’s society. Such organization are not able to survive long in today’s business environment for the block of new ideas and suggestions. 2. 2. Organization will suffer ultimate failure with leaders who forget the moral code to achieve the goal Moral character of leaders is vitally important to an organization. Some dishonest leaders violate their commitments to employees, suppliers, customers, shareholders or even government regulatory bodies. They can always find excuses for their unethical behaviours. For example, they are just following the crowd; such behaviors are not against the law; nobody else will find out as long as they fill the loophole quickly. When small mistakes accumulate, these leaders are seriously corrupted and morally degenerated.

The lack of integrity and credibility will not only cost them the trust from their partners, but also bring great damage to an organization’s reputation and benefits. To make matters worse, when they lose credibility from others because of their misconducts, they have no choice but continue to deceive for further interest, such as manipulating financial reporting by taking advantage of accounting loopholes. Self-centered leaders give priority to their own interest while ignoring the rights of shareholders, employees and customers.

Their conscience has been eroded by money and power, their eyes have been blinded by greed and lust and their unethical pursuit of self-enrichment cost various companies and families incalculable loss. There were many examples to exemplify this phenomena which has been mentioned before such as Australian Wheat Board(AWB),Arthur Anderson,child labour abuse,and the disaster of 2003 crash of the space shuttle Columbia. With this kind of vicious circle,the organization will be destined to walking into the hell. 3. Followers’ response to leaders who abuse their power

As followers , when we are controlled by leaders who abuse their power, we will find it really difficult for us to survive in the dilemma. People is not easily or even impossible to be changed, furthermore we are facing our leaders. When we have to challenge our leaders , we should identify the situation first and then decide what to do. 3. 1 Change yourself or tolerate continually If your boss is not so bad but hard to get along with due to the personality like introvert, a bit tyranny, or a little narcissism, you should adjust your mind to accustom yourself to his/her attitude since everybody has his/her own characters.

But to make life easy,you should do some homework to know the boss deeper and do things in a way that he/she likes, hence you maybe get his/her trust. If it does not work, but you are comfortable with other things, you can choose to tolerate because you can not choose the leader. Albeit you can change a job, who can guarantee you a leader you like? Don ‘ t be impulsive, measure the gain and loss, then decide what to do next. 3. 2 Think about to leave It is more miserable if you serve a leader who is jealous. He/she will envy your ability, furthermore he/she will inhibit your individual development.

Under the control of such kind of leader, you can not get more training and development in the organization which is not good for your future career. You should think about to find another job unless you just want this job and do not want to have further development. 3. 3 Communication is a two way process If your leader is poor at communication, there will be obstacles for you to continue your work. Maybe you can not change your leader’s communication skill, however you can change your way of communication. People usually have the same reaction to what others say.

Learn to think from the position of your leader, and change your way of reaction which is different from what he is imagining, it is possible for you to break the unpleasant situation and improve the communication between you two. 3. 4 Topple or leave The most serious grief is that your leader is a toxic leader who not only do things in improper or illegal way but entice you to join them as well. You will be trapped in real dilemma. These toxic leaders often promise followers the grand illusions to tempt the followers to do things which are immoral and even illegal.

While we human being sometimes are vulnerable to resist the lure. As a result,the conspiracy between leaders and followers make the organization step forward to the destruction including all people involved. The real tragedy of the human condition is not that we all must die, but, rather, that we choose to live by grand illusions,rather than to face our fears. Hence, we fall into the clutches of toxic leaders who promise us the moon, knowing full well they cannot deliver. (Jean Lipman-Blumen,2005,P. 5) In reality, the “moon” is too far to achieve and it is not suitable for human to live on.

We should identify the wrongdoing from right doing and keep ourselves cool that there is no free lunch in the world. We should say no to deviant command, otherwise we will finally culminate in tragedy. There are two basic options you can choose to escape the clutches of toxic leader, one is to capsize the leader, another is to leave. Before you decide to topple the leader you must know it is a very tough task. You need an elaborate plan and accurate documentation with supplementary and supportable data to persuade others.

And you also should know the relationship between the toxic leader that you want to topple and the board members who you want to reveal the fraud to. When you find all your effort ends with nothing,you should consider the only left way that is to leave. Leaving is sometimes an rational strategy,particularly when you feel that the physical or psychological impact grows too great to bear and there is no opportunity for you to blow the whistle successfully and defeat the evil. At that time,leaving becomes the only way to preserve your integrity and protect your family, it’s probably the time to go.

It is really a hard way for followers to go forward when their leaders indulge themselves in abusing their power. Conclusion: The organizational objective can not be achieved without power. However, organizations with leaders abusing their power are doomed to collapse . There are many challengers and temptations in the world. Whatever circumstances we are facing,we should always keep the moral code and basic values in our mindsets Once you cross the line,things are destined to be ended with tragedy.

There is no fluke in the world,the truth will come up to surface sooner or later. The most safety way is that we must play all the games in principles and always remember not to cross the line. Albert Schweitzer said:”You don ‘ t live in a world all your own. Your brothers are here, too. “It tells us that everybody should burden the social responsibility to reward the world without which we can not live. Social organization should make an effort to stop the dysfunctional consequences of toxic leadership.

It is valuable that some options are advocated by Jean Lipman-Blumenin such as term limit of leadership, Periodic 360 degree reviews of individual leaders, Respectable departure options, Open and democratic leadership selection processes, Constituencies educated to deal with their anxieties, protective mechanisms for whistle blowers. (Jean Lipman-Blumenin,2005) As followers we should have the courage to say no to those leaders who are unethical,irresponsible and abuse their powers. We should insist on principles and believe that integrity plus hard-working can conquer all dilemmas. Jon M.

Huntsman ,the chairman and founder of Huntsman Corporation which is the world’s largest privately held chemical company wrote a book “winners never cheat”. This simple sentence tells us the unique way to achieve the perpetual success. Book References: 1. Richard L. Daft,Andrew Pirola-Merlo(2009). The leadership experience. Cengage Learning Australia 2. Robert Gandossy ,Jeffrey Sonnenfeld(Eds). (2004) Leadership and Governance from the inside out. John Wiley,Inc. 3. Jon M. Huntsamn(2009). Winners never cheat even in difficult times. Wharton School Publishing 4. Ana Maria ,David Crowther(2008).

Ethics,Psyche and Responsibility. Ashgate. 5. Stephen K. Henn(2009). Business Ethics. John Wiley,Inc. 6. Robert Wearing(2005). Case in Corporate Governance. Sage publications. 7. Terry L. (2006) . Understanding Ethical Failures in Leadership. Cambridge university press 8. Vanket R Krishnan(2003). Power and moral leadership: role of self-other agreement. MCB UP Ltd. 9. Ralph Estes(1995) ,TYRANNY OF THE BOTTOM LINE why Corporations Make Good People Do bad Things,Berrett-Koehler Publishers. 10. Bob Johansen,2009,Leaders make the future . Berrett-Koehler Publishers Electronic References: . Kellerman, B. (2004). Bad Leadership: What It Is, How It Happens, Why it Matters. Retrieved March31 2010 from Harvard Business School www. hbsp. harvard. edu/ 2. Kimberly Alyn(2005). Top 10 signs of a bad supervisor. Retrieved April 2,2010,from www. Kimberly Alyn. com 3. Jean Lipman-Blumen(2005). The Allure of Toxic Leaders: Why Followers Rarely Escape Their Clutches. Retrieved April 2 2010, from www. iveybusinessjournal. com Website references: 1. http://www. enron. com 2. http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Narcissism 3. http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Power_(philosophy)


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