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Do opposites attract in the workplace?


In the dating world, it’s frequently said that opposites attract.  Whilst I suspect this is little more than an old wives tale, it is nonetheless one of the more enduring myths surrounding relationships.  Whilst there is little to suggest the saying has much romantic validity, a new paper suggests it may have some validity in the workplace.

The study, conducted by Benjamin Hermalin, explores whether we respond better to leaders who have similar or different personalities to ourselves.  At the heart of the study is the notion that leaders often resort to emotional appeals to their employees only when the facts on their own are likely to do little to motivate employees.  When those facts of the matter are enough, then they are often delivered as is.

The paper contends that most employees are aware of this fact, and therefore understand that when an emotional appeal is sent their way, it’s likely to be masking some bad news.  That may seem logical enough.  The punchline of the paper however, is that how pessimistic we are about this charade is largely controlled by the charisma of the leader.

It goes on to say that the charismatic leader is likely to make their emotional appeal on the basis of ceteris paribus, thus rendering their appeal likely to be more successful than when a less charismatic leader delivers the appeal.

“So, even though not directly influenced by emotional appeals, sober (rational) responders work harder in equilibrium in response to an emotional appeal from a more charismatic leader than in response to such an appeal from a less charismatic leader,” it suggests.

Therefore, rational employees offer greater effort under a charismatic leader who appeals to them on an emotional level, and tend to prefer charismatic leaders to their more mundane peers.

“Although organizations can do better with more charismatic leaders, charisma is a two-edged sword: more charismatic leaders will tend to substitute charm for real action, to the organization’s detriment. This helps explain the literature’s “mixed report card” on charisma,” concludes the paper.

It’s certainly an interesting theory.  What are your experiences of this in the workplace?  Do you tend to work better with leaders that are different to yourself?

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