Business Psychology

Article No. 348
Supervision Findings, by James Larsen, Ph.D.

What Not to Do

New research focuses on the negative, but it does provide insights for managers.

If you want to lead a rousing discussion about what not to do as a parent, raise the subject with high school students. They'll eagerly produce a list and offer their own parents as vivid examples. Listening to them, you'd think that the only thing that has happened in their young lives that is worse than their oh-so-imperfect parents is acne. Thankfully, if and when such discussions do occur, parents usually aren't invited to attend.

A focus on the negative, whether in parenting or any other human activity, can be disheartening, but it can also be instructive. At least that's the philosophy that has guided a group of researchers who study what managers do wrong. It's also a question that every manager who has ever lost his/her job asks: "What did I do wrong?" A vast literature exists, and the lists that have been created over the years are too long to be useful. Marisa Carson, from Strategic Management Decisions in Charlotte, North Carolina recently made a contribution attempting to correct this.

In 1945, Karen Horney, an influential psychoanalyst of her time, created a list of interpersonal tendencies she felt were dysfunctional including Moving Away from People and Moving Against People. She listed several thinking patterns she felt comprised each one. In the 1990s, Robert Hogan and his wife, Joyce, built on Horney's work and developed a survey. They named it after themselves: The Hogan Development Survey. It poses 154 questions that ask how people typically interact with family, friends, and coworkers. This survey results in 11 scores which are organized under the categories Horney proposed in 1945. The Hogans believe these 11 scores identify dysfunctional tendencies - patterns of thinking and acting that provoke others to react negatively.

In 2009, Marisa Carson, a Ph.D. student at the University of North Carolina, discovered a rich resource: records of 28,786 managers working in a large, global retail organization. From this large group, she identified 1,796 who had completed the Hogan Development Survey. They had also been through 360-degree evaluations in which subordinates, peers, and supervisors provided ratings of six derailment potential behaviors important in this company: under-delivering results, betraying thrust, avoiding change, excluding others, avoiding decision-making, and under managing (losing track of details). Next, she examined personnel records and identified managers who had been terminated since completing these measures.

With a little data analysis, Carson learned which of the dysfunctional tendencies measured in Horney's survey led to the worst 360 degree evaluations and to subsequent termination. She found that the 11 scores vary considerably in their prediction of management failure. Indeed, only 4 of the scores in the category Moving Against People demonstrated a significant interaction with termination.

Four dysfunctional tendencies comprise Moving Against People: bold, mischievous, colorful, and imaginative. Boldness includes self-confidence, a high estimation of oneself, and feeling entitled. When you first meet such people, they seem confident, courageous, and charismatic. In time, you find they are unable to admit mistakes. Mischievous includes risk-taking and excitement seeking. When you first meet such people, you find them willing to take risks and charming. In time, you find them manipulative, dishonest, and exploitive. Colorful includes dramatic, animated, and a desire to be the center of attention. At first, such people are entertaining, flirtatious, and engaging. In time, you find them impulsive, attention-seeking, and looking for crises. Finally, imaginative includes distractible, unpredictable, and odd. At first, they are visionary. In time, they become fanciful and erratic.

Going back to 1945, Karen Horney wrote "people with moving against tendencies have 1) a need for power, 2) a need to exploit others, 3) a need for personal recognition, and 4) a need for personal achievement. In 1997, Hogan adds "such people exhibit excessive pride, impulsivity, and selfishness," and in 2012, Carson points out that these qualities serve managers well at the beginning of their tenures as they seek and receive attention, but they serve them poorly as they advance in their careers and must build and work through collaborative teams.

Moving against people, with it's four component tendencies are the answer to the question, "What did I do wrong?" They are perceived by others as aggressive qualities, and subordinates, peers, and superiors react in kind. For managers who are perceived this way, the exit door is often just around the corner. Managers, take stock and beware.

Carson's work is a vivid reminder of the cooperative nature of management work. Success or failure is usually determined by how those who are managed react.

Reference: Carson, Marisa Adelman, Linda Shanock, Eric Heggestad, Ashley Andrew, S. Douglas Pugh, and Matthew Walter (2012) The Relationship Between Dysfunctional Interpersonal Tendencies, Derailment Potential Behavior, and Turnover. Journal of Business and Psychology 27 (3), 291-304.

© Management Resources

See Also:
Managing Failure

Back to home page