Why Do Leaders Ignore Advice?

Some leaders take advice from the experts. They listen to their colleagues. They even listen to subordinates.

Other leaders only seem to value their own opinions.

We know that this has something to do with power. In general:

  • People in low-power positions are more likely to take advice.
  • People in high-power positions are less likely to take advice.

 

But why does this happen? And why does it only happen with some leaders?

The answer might actually surprise you.

 

Power and “gut feelings”

There is a common intuition that leaders ignore advice because of their “gut feelings.”

For example:

  • Taking advice can make leaders feel less powerful.
  • Unilateral decisions can make leaders feel more powerful.
  • And of course, leaders might ignore advice because they feel so confident about their own ability to make decisions.

But this common intuition about power and “gut feelings” is probably wrong…

…maybe not 100% wrong, but it’s only a small part of the story.

 

2 ways of thinking about power

The key difference seems to be how leaders think about their own power.

A recent series of studies differentiated 2 ways that leaders tend to see things:

 

1. Some leaders see their power as a personal opportunity.

Leaders that see power as an opportunity are significantly less likely to take advice from anyone.

They’re less likely to take advice from experts. They’re less likely to take advice from peers. They’re less likely to take advice from subordinates.

 

This isn’t because they feel more powerful. And it’s not because they feel more confident.

Leaders who see power as an opportunity are less likely to take advice, because they’re less likely to think that advice would actually be useful.

 

2. Some leaders see their power as a responsibility.

Leaders that see power as a responsibility are significantly more likely to take advice.

They don’t tend to feel any less powerful or confident because of it.

When leaders see their power as a responsibility, they’re just more likely to see the value in listening to other people.

 

 

Image Credit: https://unsplash.com/

  1 comment

  1. Avatar Selma Sheridan   •  

    Nice work, Dr. Willard!

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