Great leaders may be considered creative, innovative, and inspiring. But when it comes to working in a team, they're just as bad (or worse) at collaborating as their employees are.

That's according to a new study out of the University of California Berkeley. The results, summarized in Harvard Business Review, indicate that leaders are less creative and experience higher levels of conflict when working together with other leaders.

Lead researchers Angus Hildreth and Cameron Anderson conducted four studies in total (one of which was split into two sub-studies) that tested how leaders and other high-power individuals within an organization perform in group work. In one of the most notable studies, Hildreth and Anderson examined how leaders performed when assigned tasks that tested creative thinking.

The study participants (174 in total, and all college students) were given two tasks to complete. First, they had to build a tower together with a partner. Then, they worked in groups of three to create a new organization and come up with a strategy to run that organization (this was the task that tested participants' creativity). 

In the first task, participants were assigned one of three power positions: They were given more power than their partner, their partner had more power than them, or both partners were given equal power to build the tower. For the second task, the participants were assigned to work with two participants who were given the same amount of power in the first experiment.

Independent judges rated the group of high power individuals as having the least creative ideas. Meanwhile, the two groups that were given little or an equal amount of power came up with ideas that received similarly high ratings on creativity. And the groups of high power individuals had more inter-group conflict while completing the task than the other two groups.

What was striking about these results is that prior research indicates that leaders perform better on creative tasks when working alone, according to Hildreth and Anderson. But as they wrote in Harvard Business Review, their four studies indicated that when leaders "worked together on tasks that required more coordination with others, those same powerful individuals performed worse than others." 

This research sheds a statistical light on why even the best leaders fail to come up with good solutions sometimes. As Hildreth and Anderson point out, this could be the reason why the U.S. Congress experiences so much dysfunction.

"I think they're looking for verification of their status," Hildreth told Inc. "There are so many top dogs, maybe that provides uncertainty, and so they want their voice to be heard."

While you can't train leaders to give up their type-A management styles overnight, making businesses aware of how leaders interact with one another could help them create more efficient groups within their organization.

Published on: Mar 1, 2016