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Is a gadget all you need to be a leader?


Earlier this month I looked at some new research exploring the role of leadership, and in particular the way that leadership is something that isn’t bestowed by the titles we have, but more the way we behave.

So it was interesting to read another piece of research on the same kind of topic, this time from researchers from Vanderbilt and North Carolina State College.  With technological gadgets increasingly pervasive in the workplace, the researchers wanted to test what kind of impact these gadgets had on our perceptions of their owners.  Alarmingly, the impact seems quite significant.

“Familiarity with and usage of new high-tech products appears to be a common manifestation of innovative behavior,” say Steve Hoeffler, associate professor of marketing at Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University, and Stacy Wood, professor of marketing at Poole College of Management at North Carolina State College.

“Those who are tech savvy are also perceived as authoritative on other subjects and as leaders,” they write in a recent study published in the Journal of Product Innovation Management.

The research consisted of interviews, whereby actors played out various workplace roles, with numerous variances in their looks and behaviours.  For instance, one variable was in how they took notes, with some of the actors using an old fashioned calendar, whilst others used a smartphone.

When participants then viewed the video interviews, they overwhelmingly regarded those using the electronic gadgets as being more authoritative than those using more traditional tools.

To further test their theory, the researchers compiled a number of CVs, which were identical bar for the hobbies listed on them.  These hobbies varied from high-tech ones to more rustic pursuits.  Once again, the high-tech candidates came out on top in terms of their perceived ability.

In an interesting twist, it emerged that this technological boost was more pronounced in female participants than it was for their male counterparts.

“This finding runs counter to the backlash effect typically found in impression management research in business settings,” Hoeffler and Wood write. “Female job evaluations typically suffer after engaging in the same self-promoting impression management strategies that benefit their male counterparts.”

What’s more, it seems that knowing how to actually use the devices you own isn’t all that important, as the mere fact of holding one is sufficient to give your abilities a perceived boost.

Now of course, it should be said that these findings are very superficial, and they don’t look at any kind of longer term impact of using technology on leadership perceptions.  It’s quite possible that this initial boost will wear off if your more substantial behaviours don’t match those initially inflated expectations.  Nevertheless, if you want to get off to a good start, maybe you need to get yourself a gadget.

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