Anybody Can Be a Boss – But Everyone's Not Cut out for Following: Study

July 7, 2003 ( - A new study released by Northeastern University last week confirms what many have mumbled under their breath for years - anyone can be a boss.

According to the research, which will be published in the October edition of the Journal of Personality, most people can adapt to a leadership role, but not everyone is cut out to be a good subordinate, according to an Associated Press report.

The research paired 138 undergraduates with another person of their same gender for a role-playing exercise involving the management of an art gallery. Each person was asked whether they would prefer to play the role of the art gallery owner, or the owner’s assistant. Participants were then randomly assigned roles, paired up, and challenged to work together to choose a painting to hang in the mock art gallery.

The study found that those who were thrust into the boss position against their wishes were assertive and behaved much like those who had asked for the responsibility. However, the participants that had asked to be a boss and were assigned to be a subordinate were resentful at their relegation to a lesser role. The researchers say that these unwilling subordinates tried to act dominant even though it was not their job.

“People who don’t want to be in a lower role are going to fight against it,” said Judith Hall, a Northeastern psychology professor who conducted the study.

“If people who aspire for a higher status position behave relatively dominantly, such people may become particularly aggressive if they do not get their wished-for promotion,” Marianne Schmid Mast, a psychology professor at the University of Zurich, said in a statement reported by the AP. “They could easily be involved in power struggles and that might burden office relationships.”

However, bosses should not take umbrage at the study results. “We didn’t actually measure the quality of the performance,” Hall said.