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Could you become a destructive leader?

Destructive leadership in the workplace – many workers could identify a time where they think they’ve experienced this.

As part of his Antecedent Project, Peter Crellin, a doctoral researcher in the Institute of Work Psychology at Sheffield University Management School, sought to answer the question, ‘what causes destructive leadership?’.

With the certainty that the behaviour of followers, or fellow workers, could have something to do with the emergence of destructive leadership, Peter has set up a virtual workplace simulation to test users’ behaviour against his ideas.

Peter said: “After a couple of fruitless tests, the question became ‘how can we easily immerse people in an experience that will allow them to behave genuinely’. The answer was a Computer Simulation of an Actual Workplace (CSAW) – the product of several months of tailored graphics creation and programming.”

The CSAW is designed to create specific work scenarios that players react to. Peter created scenarios that were designed to see if he could elicit potentially destructive behaviours – the user assumes the role of ‘leader’ in a team of four followers, and is randomly allocated to a situation to do with popularity, workload or staff productivity. These scenarios were variable, so for example sometimes they were popular, other times there was low productivity amongst followers. The programme allowed users to communicate with their staff through emails.

Peter continued: “Users connected emotionally with the programme, through systems such as the emails. For example, if they were unpopular in the office they received three emails, two of which explicitly excluded them from social situations and one which directly outlined how much the player was disliked by their team.

“On top of that, each player had to make a number of choices regarding rewards – promises of promotion, training opportunities, bonus increases, positive appraisals, drinks rounds, and chocolates – and punishments – redundancy threats, reduced training, bonus decreases, lunch hour reductions, and negative appraisals – whilst monitoring operational and logistical matters, and incoming emails. Players were also free to write to their staff viaemail if they wanted to, and had to choose to make one member of staff redundant at the end of the working day.”

The programme collects a great deal of data which Peter is still analysing, but it has become very clear that engagement from users has been much higher than with previous test attempts. Users quickly attributed personalities to their followers as well as reasons for their behaviour, both of which were created by the computer so therefore should ignite no reason or discernable traits.

Peter concluded: “We are delighted with results from the CSAW – it has opened up a new avenue for research in this area. Users’ behaviour moved quickly and they were very much immersed in the virtual world – they agreed that they were drawn in and that they had experienced genuine emotional reactions to the simulations.”

For more information on Peter Crellin’s projects, visit: http://destructiveleadership.wordpress.com/

See the programme in action:


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