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What we want from our leaders

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I’ve written a few times recently about hierarchy, after a number of studies have revealed the benefits of it.  For instance, one study found that we don’t mind hierarchy providing it’s fair.

Another study found that hierarchy inevitably formed amongst mountain climbers, with both positive and negative consequences.  That hierarchies have been shown to form in minutes amongst groups of young children suggests that it is something that is perhaps inbuilt in us as humans.

If that is indeed the case, what is it that tends to make leaders stand out from the pack?  A recent study set out to explore what it is that helps to define a leader, and whether the characteristics that do so are also helpful in other walks of life.

The authors suggest that we appear to be unduly influenced by the physical appearance of the leaders we choose, although this is often a reflection of the circumstances we are in, with peaceful times delivering very different leaders to tumultuous ones.

The paper suggests however that our preference for particular appearances is not simply rooted in the circumstances, but also our perceptions of social conflict.  They also wanted to see whether our choice of leader differs significantly from our choice of friend.

We want our friends to be more submissive

They suggest that, by and large, we don’t tend to like people who are excessively dominant.  Indeed, when we look for friendships, we tend to go in the opposite direction.

They suggest this is because we are usually much closer to our friends, and therefore more vulnerable to exploitation by people who are unreliable or self-absorbed.

So, our friends tend to be more submissive and cooperative folks.  What about leaders though?

Well, the authors suggest it depends on the circumstances.  If we’re battling an enemy, then we tend to go for a dominant sort of character.  If we’re fighting nature however, as with the climbers mentioned earlier, we tend to go for someone who can bring the team together and encourage strong relations between everyone.

Ideology also matters

The paper also observes an interesting quirk around our ideology and how that influences our choice of leader.  For instance, more conservative types tend to view the world as quite competitive, and therefore require a leader that reflects those values.

A liberal leaning person however might view the world as a cooperative place, and thus places greater store on their leader being of like mind.

Choosing your friends

When it comes to picking your friends however, there appeared to be no such ideology based flavoring, nor indeed any consequences of the circumstances one finds themselves in.  People nearly always wanted to choose a non-dominant person as a friend.

I’ve asked previously whether it’s good to be friends with ones colleagues, and whilst the general perception was that it is, this latest paper suggests that such courtesy would not extend to your boss.

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