Ashford introduced the concept of tyrannical leadership. He defined it as a description of leaders who “lord their powers over subordinates, by self-aggrandizement, belittling subordinates, behaving in arbitrary ways, showing non-contingent punishment, discouraging initiative, and showing a lack of consideration.” The concept of petty tyranny focuses on sustained hostile and belittling attitudes of superiors against their subordinates by generalized workplace abuse, bullying, destructive leadership and abusive supervision. Petty tyranny is found to occur in both teams and dyadic relationships which means that interpersonal issues might be at work.
By definition, petty tyranny is an aggressive behavior directed towards people in an unequal power setting environment that can cross the lines of culturally acceptable behavior. It doesn’t mean petty tyranny is associated with reactive or proactive aggression. Petty tyranny is a descriptive leadership quality irrespective of what drives it.Hogan and Kaiser claim that managerial failure is related to leaders having more undesirable qualities rather than having less good ones. Trait anger here is defined as the relatively stable individual’s “disposition to perceive a wide range of situations as annoying or frustrating, and the tendency to respond to such situations with more frequent elevations in state anger”. In this definition anger “refers to an emotional state that comprises of feelings that vary in intensity, from mild annoyance or aggravation to fury and rage”.
Hypothesis 1: High levels of self-reported leader trait anger directly correlates to high levels of subordinate-reported petty tyranny.Leader trait anger as a predictor of petty tyranny:Trait anger may lead to several repeated instances of petty tyranny towards subordinates. If trait anger causes similar reactions in all subordinates even if they are not targeted personally, they will feel that the leader is exhibiting petty tyranny.Subordinate trait anxiety as a predictor of petty tyranny:Through their actions, character, or appearance, subordinates may provoke petty tyranny in their superiors. Leaders may react upon certain subordinates more than others through, for example, an increase in petty tyranny. Subordinates high in trait anxiety may, of course, be more sensitivethan those low in trait anxiety, and may therefore perceive leader behavior differently—a proneness to perceive “situations as dangerous or threatening” is at the very core of the concept.
Hypothesis 2: Subordinates high on self-reported trait anxiety will report higher levels of exposure to petty tyranny than do subordinates low on self-reported trait anxiety.The third aspect of leadership follows the relationship of the leaders and followers together.Due to misfit personalities, there may be a poor relation between leaders having high anger trait and subordinates having low anger traits. Temperamental goodness-of-fit provides an ambiguous framework of a relationship between subordinates and leaders. Mirror theory suggests that it is enough for leaders and subordinates to just observe each other to find out if they are a perfect fit temperamentally or not. Misfit or dissimilarity would lead to worse outcomes or more trait- anger fueled petty tyranny in our case.Hypothesis 3: Higher levels of self-reported leader trait anger will interact with lower levels of self-reported subordinate trait anger to increase subordinate-reported petty tyranny.
In short: the relationship of leader trait anger and petty tyranny will be strongest for low trait anger subordinates.Leaders may need to act tough at times, even display anger but they shouldn’t pass the line to the improper category. Inappropriate displays of power often occurs in real life and is a possible problem in work environments.The study revealed, in line with hypothesis 1, that higher the trait anger in a leader, higher was the reported subordinate anxiety. It was found that it may be hard for leaders to act aggressively within reason and without crossing any limits or go over the line by affecting unwanted targets.
It has also been found that only individual subordinates suffer from petty tyranny.Highly anxious subordinates report more incidents of petty tyranny as compared to subordinates displaying lower levels of anxiety. Workplace abuse and victimization thus correlates with petty tyranny.It is not possible to be adamant about the direction of the causality, such incidents can be the product of the mistreatment of subordinates and a possible antecedent as well as a consequenceof working in a vicious circle.Petty tyranny increases in dyads if trait anger of subordinates differ from the leaders’.
The main effect of leader trait anger on subordinate-reported petty tyranny had a substantial between-team variance component, indicating anger-fueled petty tyranny to influence members of teams somewhat differently.The results of this study shows that the petty tyranny has dyadic effects. It is of multi-levelrather than just a single level. It has individual effects of target selection and experience of leader behavior.Trait anger and trait anxiety are not only narrow-bandwidth concepts, they are primitive ones.
Trait anger is particularly stable among humans and a main component of misfit among dyads.Trait anger and temperamental misfit in dyads may precede many other antecedents and mechanisms involved in petty tyranny.Leaders should know their impact on their teams, on low and high trait anger subordinates and high anxiety subordinates. They should control their trait anger and limit it before it turns into abusive behavior. Their emotions need to be controlled at work for everyone’s benefit.
High trait anxiety subordinates: They should find ways to opt out of petty tyranny and should find better leaders. They should also develop confidence and personal strength.Low trait anger subordinates: They should find ways to reduce petty tyranny or find a low trait anger leader to complement their personality.High trait anger subordinates: They should realize their own high anger trait and its effect on petty tyranny. They must proceed with caution in their surroundings.Senior management: They must actively manage petty tyranny and execute operational procedures and policies to protect everyone’s rights and dignities, including procedures forstanding up against unfair treatment.