Re-thinking Upper Management

Niels Van Quaquebeke during an interview

Latest KLU research results show why top performers actually have no right to special privileges

Managers who consistently deliver outstanding performance and are paid accordingly by their companies can take many liberties when it comes to the way they deal with subordinates. A friendly conversational tone, understanding for employees’ concerns, and respect for their achievements – it seems to be generally accepted that these requirements do not necessarily apply to top performers. How wrong!

A recently published study by Niels Van Quaquebeke, professor for leadership and organizational behavior at Kühne Logistics University in Hamburg, and Catharina Decker, one of his PhD students, shows: “When top managers behave respectfully towards subordinates, these subordinates are strongly motivated – but an obvious lack of respect triggers subordinate resistance. They are less motivated and play with the idea of leaving the company more frequently.” In comparison the “average” managers does not have this effect on his subordinates. “This means that top performers have a very special role. Their behavior determines what the atmosphere in the company is like and the level of employee satisfaction as well,” says Van Quaquebeke.

Most people show mutual respect in two different ways. On the horizontal level – between people of the same standing – they do this primarily by dealing respectfully with each other. On the vertical level between managers and their subordinates, employees often hold their managers in high esteem  due to their special competencies and achievements. But the logical consequence is not that top managers are free to behave as they please toward their employees. On the contrary, “Of all people, top performers cannot be allowed to deviate from the norm when it comes to interpersonal relationships, since their employees tend to overinterpret what they say and do,” said the behavioral expert in summary of his findings. Van Quaquebeke’s recommendation is clear: “A compensatory logic like ‘The boss is so good that he can allow himself an interpersonal blunder from time to time’ is false. This is precisely what he should never do.”

Link to the study.

More information about Niels Van Quaquebeke.

More information about Catharina Decker.