leadership prototypes

As we have previously discussed, several traits and individual characteristics are common among leadership prototypes (one’s image of a typical leader), including intelligence, kindness, honesty, and charisma (Lord et al., 1984). However, recent research also suggests that more embodied aspects of the person, including one’s facial structure, tone of voice, body posture, and physical height, are included within leadership prototypes (Giessner & Schubert, 2007; Huang, Galinsky, Gruenfeld, & Guillory, 2011; Menon, Sim, Fu, Chiu, & Hong, 2010; Wong, Ormiston, & Haselhuhn, 2011). Of the prototypical leadership traits identified, evi- dence from Lord et al.’s (1986) meta-analysis suggests that perceived intelligence is most strongly correlated with leadership per- ception, and is therefore, a crucial attribute in most leadership prototypes. Recent findings also support the relationship between intelligence and both leadership emergence and effectiveness (Judge et al., 2004), which may be perhaps unsurprising if one con- siders the complex roles leaders have in modern day organizations (Kirkpatrick & Locke, 1991).

The connection between traits and prototypes becomes important in understanding leadership perception when we consider that prototypes provide amechanism bywhich a leader’s behavior is interpreted and generalized by others (Lord, 1985). Although the pro- cess of perceiving a leader appears to be straightforward by requiring that a simple match be made between a target and a leadership prototype, theories of perceivermental structures suggest that leadership perception is farmore complex. This is because the structure of leadership prototypes appears to operate like a connectionist networkwhere traits are each represented as nodes that are connected to other closely related traits (or nodes) by systems of network pathways. In this way, leadership prototypes are dynamically derived and can be adjusted to many contextual features upon use (e.g., organizational culture, task characteristics, and characteristics of the perceiver) as sensory input causes different sets of nodes to become active (Foti, Knee, & Backert, 2008; Hanges, Lord, & Dickson, 2000; Lord et al., 2001). The result is that across different situations, certain individuals may be more (or less) likely to emerge as leaders based on how contextual features constrain which parts of the connectionist network becomes active or suppressed (Lord et al., 2001; see also Sy et al., 2010). In a competitive environment, for instance, leadership prototypesmay centermore on individual char- acteristics that emphasize ‘dominance’ and ‘aggression.’However, in contexts that center on cooperation, a different type of leadership prototype may become active — e.g., one that views traits such as being ‘sensitive’ and ‘generous’ as being important leadership characteristics.

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