¶ … Leadership
Perceptions of what makes a leader
Possessing leadership qualities entails more than simply having a leadership position with a title. In fact, some of the most effective organizational leaders may have no official designation as a leader at all; rather their source of leadership arises from the personal qualities which they radiate and their willingness to take effective action to realize organizational goals. Leadership is essential for the organization to function and to define its future path so most firms engage in leadership training and cultivation. However, the characteristics which define leadership can be extremely controversial and organization-specific. Leadership can be elusive and subjective in quality; although all organizations ultimately want leaders to help achieve their goals on one hand, on the other hand factors such as perceived dominance, the gender of the leader, and the organizational culture can all impact leadership perceptions.
One common concept of a leader is that the leader inevitably dominates group settings by the force of his or her personality. In fact, according to Anderson & Kilduff (2009), there are some indications that simply having a dominant personality can increase one's perceptions of being competent, in contrast to other group theorists which suggest that more subtle and intangible qualities are needed, including higher levels of competence and commitment. Dominance is defined as "the tendency to behave in assertive, forceful, self-assured ways" and "to be more active in groups, speak assertively, and make direct eye contact" (Anderson & Kilduff, 2009, p.491). Although groups are more likely to be successful in meeting their goals if the most competent individuals rise to levels of leadership, in actual practice, individuals with dominant traits (regardless of their level of expertise) "speak more, gain more control over group processes, and hold disproportionate sway over group decisions" (Anderson & Kilduff, 2009, p.491). Task competency is still necessary to motivate individuals to perform above and beyond their capabilities and to unify as a group on some level but leaders with dominant traits are perceived as being more task competent, regardless of whether this is actually the case.
The degree of dominance in terms of personality traits vs. task competency may also vary depending upon the personality and the perceived needs of the group. Engineers are more likely to view task competency as an essential component of success while individuals in other professions are more likely to prioritize less tangible skills and attributes (Anderson & Kilduff, 2009, p.491). This is not entirely surprising, given the need for specific, technological competencies to succeed in a scientific discipline such as engineering vs. A more subjectively-based arena such as advertising. One study of Israeli military leadership recruits and the degree to which informal leadership was influential in shaping their experiences found that social skills were extremely important in fostering comradery amongst the soldiers. "Whereas in some situations, in order to emerge as leaders, individuals would need to rely on their technical skills, in others, like ours, social skills are more crucial" (Luria & Berson, 2013, p.1009). Homogeneity of background, age, and motivation may also have been a factor in emphasizing the social bonding component of conveying leadership authority.
But while different social contexts will perceive certain attributes (character vs. competence) as important to a greater or lesser degree in leadership, overall dominant behavior also enhances the perception of the individual's confidence and thus his/her right to exercise leadership. In one study of small group dynamics by Anderson & Kilduff, (2009) "group members would perceive individuals higher in trait dominance as more competent along task and social dimensions and that these perceptions would mediate the link between trait dominance and influence" (p.491). Although few people would openly assert that dominance itself was a desired quality and intrinsic to competence, competence perception and dominance are linked.
Perceptual bias vs. actual, demonstrated competence by dominant...
On one hand, this suggests that individuals that want to be perceived as leaders may need to cultivate more dominant traits to ensure that their competence is acknowledged and observable to the outside world. Leadership qualities are viewed more and more in most organizations as something to be cultivated and not something innate to the individual. Learning to enhance such perceptions may be an essential quality to motivating individuals, particularly in small group sessions. It is important to remember that dominance does not necessarily mean being bullying and aggressive. In fact, these traits can actually make someone look weak, given that they can clearly be read as obvious social anxiety regarding one's status on a hierarchy more than the actual ability to demonstrate competence. Dominant types ascend "group hierarchies by appearing helpful to the group's overall success as opposed to aggressively grabbing power. Indeed, it seems that dominance leads to influence at least in part because it entails more confident and initiative-taking behaviors, such as putting forth answers to problems before others do" (Anderson & Kilduff, 2009, p. 500). On the other hand, studies have found that a "high positive correlations between dominance, and hostility and negative outcomes, and between dominance and narcissism" which suggests that in the long-term, dominance may not serve the common, organizational interest as a whole (Luria & Berson, 2013, p.997).
A reluctance to assume leadership can cause group members to turn to dominant personalities to fill the void. But organizations may need to be better able to identify hidden leaders and to encourage organizational members to be less impressed by dominant characteristics and more by actual competence. Learning to communicate and to work better together is an important step in this process. And even dominant personalities may find that they are better able to reap the benefits of their dominance if they acquire the skill set of being able to use that dominance to work well in conjunction with others. "Individuals who are highly motivated to lead will seek to influence peer members in order to establish their status as leaders" but this requires cooperation from the other parties, particularly if the leadership is being exercised on an informal basis and is not derived directly from a formal position of leadership (Luria & Berson, 2013, p.999). Finally, although dominance may be the preeminent motivation for most would-be leaders, it may not necessarily be for all leaders or there may be other motivating factors at play as well. "Motivation to lead may arise from a number of influences, including "affective-identity motivation" or a personal need for power, "social-normative motivation" which arises from a sense of duty, and "non-calculative motivation, where individuals are motivated to lead not as a result of cost -- benefit calculations" (Luria & Berson, 2013, p.997). Non-calculative motivation may derive from the fact that the individual simply believes that his or her position is correct or an innate desire to pursue excellence.
Once again, organizational attitudes may have a strong influence in the degree to which certain behaviors are and are not accepted of potential leaders. In highly competitive organizations, aggressiveness may be rewarded and would-be leaders are likely to mimic such behaviors; also, more aggressive individuals in general are apt to be drawn to more confrontational workplaces. In organizations where collaboration is genuinely embraced (versus mere lip service being paid to the notion) and teams rather than individuals are graded in terms of performance measurements, members may be more willing to listen to leaders that exhibit stronger interpersonal skills and higher degrees of emotional intelligence, versus pure aggressiveness.
Leadership is thus a mix of being competent and knowing what to do and 'selling' that competence to others in a preferably positive fashion, versus motivating other individuals by fear and intimidation. Ideally, the organization wants to support those who can command the attention of others and motivate them while still justifying their leadership positions with competence and actual knowledge. Training leaders while also encouraging others to recognize that leadership is essential given the extent to which subjective perceptions of leadership may be biased. However, simply defining leadership solely in terms of current standards can be problematic. Not only by displays of dominance, but also cultural preconceptions of what constitutes a leader, including gender, can impact leadership perceptions in a negative way. On one hand, leaders need to be trained to make their voices heard. On the other hand, simply defining leaders according to those perceptions can reinforce existing social prejudices. "Only 3% of the top management positions in the United States are held by women (Adler, 1999), and only 11% of the directors of Fortune 500 companies are women (Brett & Stroh, 1999)" (Neubert & Taggart, 2004: 175). Women may be perceived as less dominant and thus less competent even if the same behaviors were exhibited by a male.
It should be noted that not all leadership studies have linked dominance and leadership ability. Of the 'Big Five' personality traits, according to Neubert & Taggart (2004) in a multiple regression analysis of various trait-based studies, only "agreeableness, and to a lesser extent, extraversion, were significantly related to leadership," i.e.…
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