It’s often said that you don’t tend to leave your job as much as you leave your boss. It underlines the crucial role your boss plays in your engagement at work, which with levels as they are is perhaps not a good indictment of management levels.
A new study suggests however, that a bad boss is not always a bad thing. It suggests that having to suffer through the stress and productivity falls of a bad boss can nonetheless provide the silver lining of bonding a team together like nothing else.
The study saw participants placed in a somewhat awkward situation. They were led to believe they were recruited to solve certain tasks, but were actually left waiting around idle for sometime whilst their supposed manager showed up.
When he did eventually arrive, he gave an apology to half of the participants, whilst the other half were fobbed off with a rather insulting put down.
At the end of the experiment, all of the participants were asked to rate how good their manager was. Not surprisingly those who were fobbed off didn’t think much of him, but interestingly, their ratings were much more aligned with that of their peers than the group with the good boss.
So what caused this?
The researchers believe it was all to do with cognitive dissonance. When we’re presented with a situation that doesn’t align with our beliefs it causes us a degree of cognitive distress. One way of overcoming this is to seek some level of solidarity with others in the same boat.
So if we’re sad, we often tend to seek the company of others who are similarly sad. Or, as in this instance, if we believe we’ve been treated unfairly, we seek to align ourselves with others sharing our feelings. It turned out that the greater the sense of injustice, the greater the subsequent bond between the team.
Suffice to say, this shouldn’t be taken as a reason to encourage bad bosses, for I strongly suspect that their negative contributions far outweigh this positive one.
Indeed, the study did show that in a follow up task, those with the bad boss spent much more time trying to make sense of the bosses behavior than they did actually doing the work they were asked to do.
This kind of feeling of injustice can also prompt more mendacious behavior. I wrote recently about the spread of misinformation, with a primary cause or motivation for doing so often being treated poorly by a colleague or boss.
The study does however underline that excellent team spirit within a group may not always be a consequence of a great leader.