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Researchers discovered that when a leader exhibits poor behaviour, the distance between the leader and middle managers will have a direct impact on the extent to which the poor behaviour is copied and spread.
The saying that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery may need to be revised when it comes to office politics. Researchers at the Rotterdam School of Management have unearthed an interesting behavioural trait amongst middle managers, in particular those who are treated poorly by their own bosses.
The study looked at the way in which unethical behaviour is spread across organisations and the role which middle managers play as the ‘gatekeepers’ to the culture. Researchers discovered that when a leader exhibits poor behaviour, the distance between the leader and middle managers will have a direct impact on the extent to which the poor behaviour is copied and spread. It seems as though middle managers who are close to their leaders are more likely to mimic their behaviour. Conversely middle managers who are distant from their leaders are likely to become more ethical in contrast to their boss’s behaviour.
Gijs van Houwelingen who led the research recommends a number of remedies to avoid middle managers from becoming too close to their immediate boss, thereby helping to ensure that toxic cultures are not spread. Whilst physical separation is one remedy, so too is the sharing of reporting lines across more than one manager. Gijs van Houwelingen concludes that “Middle managers and members of staff with responsibilities to several managers and who look for mentoring to several mentors find it easier to find a good moral compass to follow.”