Category: leadership

We Feel More Empathy Towards Citizens Of Countries With Good, Popular Leaders

By Emma Young

We could all name groups of people who we know to be suffering right now; some in distant countries, some in our own. Research shows that we feel less empathy for people in other countries — and so are less likely to support them by protesting, say, or donating money. Meital Balmas and Eran Halperin at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem now report a factor that can influence this, however: our feelings about the national leader. The pair’s study in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggests that a leader who is perceived as “good” and popular at home elicits more empathy, and even greater tangible help, for their struggling citizens.

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Self-Reflection Can Make You A Better Leader At Work

By Emily Reynolds

What does being a good leader mean to you? Having tonnes of charisma? Being intelligent? Encouraging fairness and participation in the workplace? Whatever combination of qualities you value, it’s likely that your vision of good leadership is different from your colleague’s or your manager’s, who themselves will have a highly personal vision of who they want to be at work.

A new study from Remy E. Jennings at the University of Florida and colleagues, published in Personnel Psychology, looks closely at this individualised idea of leadership — our “best possible leader self”. If we focus and reflect on this best possible self every morning, they find, it could help us behave more like a leader in the here and now.

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Leaders Can Feel Licensed To Behave Badly When They Have Morally Upstanding Followers

By Emma Young

Countless studies have investigated how a leader’s behaviour influences their followers. There’s been very little work, though, on the reverse: how followers might influence their leaders. Now a new paper, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, helps to plug that gap with an alarming finding: good, morally upstanding followers can create less ethical leaders.

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People Who See God As A White Man Tend To Prefer White Men For Leadership Positions

By Matthew Warren

When you picture God, who do you see: a young black woman, or an old white man? Chances are it’s the latter — and a new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that that image has its consequences.

Across a series of seven studies, at team led by Steven O Roberts at Stanford University found that the way that we perceive God — and in particular our beliefs about God’s race — may influence our decisions about who should be in positions of leadership more generally. Continue reading “People Who See God As A White Man Tend To Prefer White Men For Leadership Positions”

Leaders Show Distinct Body Language Depending On Whether They Gain Authority Through Prestige Or Dominance

I've always been confident in the success of this companyBy Emma Young

All kinds of animals use their bodies to signal a high social rank — humans included. But a growing body of research suggests that, for us at least, there are two distinct routes to becoming a leader. One entails earning respect and followers by demonstrating your knowledge and expertise, which confers prestige. An alternative strategy is to use aggression and intimidation to scare people into deference — that is, to use dominance instead.

These two ways to the top are very different. And, to get on with their leader, an inferior-status individual would have to respond to these two types of leadership differently, too. So, reasoned, Zachary Witkower and Jessica Tracy at the University of British Columbia, and colleagues, rather than a single human high rank, “power” display, perhaps there are two distinct patterns of non-verbal behaviour that communicate to other individuals exactly what kind of leader someone is.

Their new paper, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, reveals that this is indeed the case. This is important for understanding how we display rank, and perceive and respond to it. It could also explain why studies into “power posing” have produced conflicting results.

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Crying Or Kneeling Can Help You Make A Public Apology — But Don’t Expect Faster Forgiveness

President of troubled Tokyo Electric Pow
Representatives from Tokyo Electric Power Co. apologise to evacuees after the Fukushima disaster in 2011. Credit: YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images

By Emma Young

Public apologies for misdeeds can be tricky. The usual advice to companies, politicians or celebrities is to acknowledge what you’ve done wrong, express regret, and promise never to do it again. However, the public can still often be sceptical and not particularly forgiving. Matthew Hornsey at the University of Queensland and colleagues wondered if it makes a difference if remorse is also conveyed non-verbally — by dropping to the knees, perhaps, or wiping away tears, as for example when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a “tearful” apology to indigenous Canadians in 2017.

The team’s set of six studies, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Interpersonal Relations and Group Processes, shows that such “embodied remorse” can go down quite well — at least, among some groups. However, a consistent finding across the studies was that such gestures don’t actually improve levels of public forgiveness.

These results are important in part because while some public apologies are minor — of the “TV star admits drug use” type — they are also considered to be an essential part of the process of reconciliation after gross violations of human rights, and even genocide. The public response to such apologies can clearly have huge ongoing implications.

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Political and business leaders who change their moral stance are perceived not as brave, but hypocritical and ineffective

GettyImages-172229879.jpgBy Alex Fradera

Many commentators considered President Obama’s reversal on same-sex marriage an act of courage. But this isn’t how the public usually perceives moral mind-changers, according to a team led by Tamar Kreps at the University of Utah. Their findings in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggest that leaders who shift from a moral stance don’t appear brave – they just look like hypocrites.

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Male and female bosses share the same “classically masculine” personality traits

GettyImages-505412656.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

You may have seen the recent viral TV interview in which the Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson claimed that an important part of the reason there are fewer women than men in leadership positions is to do with personality differences between the sexes. Specifically, he said that women on average score lower than men on traits, such as assertiveness, that are known to be associated with reaching senior roles, and higher on others that work against promotion, especially agreeableness and emotional sensitivity.

While these observations are largely backed by evidence, what’s far less clear – because the question simply hasn’t been studied much before – is whether women who reach senior management tend to share the traits of men in these positions, or if instead female bosses have a contrasting personality profile, indicative of an alternative, “feminine” route to the top.

These are pertinent questions for any one who would like more gender diversity in leadership roles because the findings could point to clues for how to ease the promotion path for women. For a new paper in Journal of Vocational Behaviour, a team led by Bart Wille at the University of Antwerp has investigated.

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Very intelligent people make less effective leaders, according to their peers and subordinates

By Alex Fradera

Highly intelligent people tend to make good progress in the workplace and are seen as fit for leadership roles: overall, smarter is usually associated with success. But if you examine the situation more closely, as does new research in the Journal of Applied Psychology, you find evidence that too much intelligence can harm leadership effectiveness. Too clever for your own good? Let’s look at the research.

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Can evolutionary psychology and personality theory explain Trump’s popular appeal?

GettyImages-632198430.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

One year ago today, Donald J Trump, a man with no political or military experience, defied expectations, winning the election to become the 45th president of the United States. Nearly 63 million voted for him, including, and in spite of his reputation for sexism, over half of all white women. In an open-access paper in Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture, Dan McAdams, one of the world’s leading experts in personality psychology, proposes an explanation for Trump’s popular appeal that is grounded in evolutionary psychology, personality theory and the social psychology of leadership.

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