Power “paired with a lack of self-perceived competence” can lead to aggression at work, conclude professors Nathanael J. Fast (USC) and Serena Chen (UC-Berkeley), co-authors of a piece in Psychological Science, that examines “when and why” those in power may “seek to harm other people” (link here).
From the abstract of their article:
When and why do power holders seek to harm other people? The present research examined the idea that
aggression among the powerful is often the result of a threatened ego. Four studies demonstrated that individuals with power become aggressive when they feel incompetent in the domain of power. . . . Taken together, these findings suggest that (a) power paired with self-perceived incompetence leads to aggression, and (b) this aggressive response is driven by feelings of ego defensiveness.
Counseling may help
Their findings probably aren’t all that surprising to many who have experienced bullying and abusive supervision on the job. However, the research is noteworthy in finding that boosts in self-worth can eliminate aggressive behavior, thereby raising the possibility of counseling as an effective remedial tool.
Go here for UC-Berkeley press release, containing remarks from both professors.