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Home > Research Articles > Study Says Anyone Can Be a Boss


Monday, July 7, 2003

Associated Press - July 04, 2003

BOSTON (AP) - A new study released by Northeastern University this week found that anybody can be a boss.

According to the research, which will be published in the October edition of the Journal of Personality, most people can fit comfortably into a leadership role, but not everyone is cut out to be a subordinate.

``People who don't want to be in a lower role are going to fight against it,'' said Judith Hall, a Northeastern psychology professor who conducted the study.

The research was conducted by pairing 138 undergraduates with another person of their same gender for a role-playing exercise involving the management of an art gallery. Each person was asked whether they would prefer to play the role of the art gallery owner - the boss - or the owner's assistant - the subordinate.

The participants were then assigned randomly to their roles, meaning that some would-be bosses had to slum as subordinates, while some natural born second-fiddles were asked to take the leading role.

The pair then had to work together to choose a painting to hang in the mock art gallery.

The people who were thrust into the boss position against their wishes were assertive and behaved much like those designated bosses who had asked for the responsibility.

The unwilling subordinates, however, chafed at being placed in the lower position and tried to act dominant even though it was not their job. This finding, according to researchers, could give managers insight about office dynamics.

``If people who aspire for a higher status position behave relatively dominantly, such people may become particularly aggressive if they do not get their wished-for promotion,'' Marianne Schmid Mast, a pschology professor at the University of Zurich, said in a statement. ``They could easily be involved in power struggles and that might burden office relationships.''

Bosses, said Hall, should not take offense at the study, which finds just about everyone could step into their shoes.

``We didn't actually measure the quality of the performance,'' Hall said.

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed