Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it

Past event — 22 October 2019

Kühne Logistics University
Grosser Grasbrook 17, 20457 Hamburg, Room Faculty Lounge

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Prof. Ed Sleebos

Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, NL


Power is generally valued as it offers access to numerous tangible and intangible benefits. Fear of losing it might therefore initiate behavioral responses aimed at capitalizing on those benefits while it is still possible. In the work I present we propose that leaders’ fear of losing power may sway them to engage in self-serving behavior. Moreover, we argue that this effect is particularly strong in environments characterized by competition and rivalry, given that such environments foster opportunistic self-interested behavior. The results of two field studies among organizational leaders and their subordinates (one multi-source dyadic study and one multi-source team study) and a scenario experiment indeed show that fear of power loss is positively related to leader self-serving behavior. Moreover, as predicted, the results of our studies show that this relationship is stronger in organizational climates that are more competitive. I will conclude that the potential effects of (anticipated) power loss deserve more research attention than previously awarded.


Ed Sleebos is associate professor of organizational behavior at the Department of Organization Sciences at VU University Amsterdam. He studied, and received his Ph.D. in Social and Organizational Psychology at Leiden University (2005). His research interests include among others the psychology of respect, social identity, and leadership. His latest research mainly focusses on the dark side of these research topics (i.e. disrespect, fear of power, and dark trait leadership).

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Birgit Kappert

Program Manager