Leaders come in all shapes and sizes. Political leaders cater to constituents, lobbyists, and policy makers. Church leaders work to gain the trust and confidence of their congregations. And successful business leaders must be able to motivate and inspire their employees. One of the challenges every leader faces is being able to identify with the people they lead. In business, managers are trained to not only lead and manage their subordinates but also to connect with them in ways that help bridge the gap that so often occurs in social hierarchies. But not every manager is able to do this. Understanding what personality styles and management styles enhance group identification and leadership success is imperative for developing successful training strategies. To get some insight into what makes a good leader, Russell E. Johnson of the Department of Management at Michigan State University recently led a study that looked at how different leaders identify with their coworkers.
Johnson evaluated 53 managers at three time periods. First, the managers were interviewed as they participated in a continuing education class. They were asked about their work history, average work hours, and other demographic particulars. The following week, the managers were instructed to report their leadership behaviors on a daily basis for 2 weeks. Finally, peers and subordinates of the managers were contacted via email and asked to report how effective they thought their leaders were.
The data were analyzed for group identity, individual identity, transformational behaviors, consideration, and abuse. At the end of 3 weeks, Johnson reviewed the data and found that the leaders with the highest levels of individual identity were the most self-serving and more likely to act in abusive ways when compared to leaders with higher levels of group identification. The findings revealed that the leaders who identified most with their subordinates were more considerate and empathetic than those with individual identities. Although it is important to consider the identity of the followers when measuring leadership success and effectiveness, Johnson believes the impact of leadership identity cannot be understated. He added, “The interplay between leadership and identity is likely broader than what is currently believed, and it is our hope that this study helps spark further research on these topics.”
Johnson, R. E., Venus, M., Lanaj, K., Mao, C., Chang, C.-H. (2012). Leader identity as an antecedent of the frequency and consistency of transformational, consideration, and abusive leadership behaviors. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029043
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