Implicit Leadership Theories

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Implicit Leadership Theories

Since the beginning of leadership literature, many researchers and studies tried to explain effective leadership from different perspectives. Early studies focused on the identification of traits that distinguished leaders from followers. Despite many studies have been carried out in the field, there was no universal list of traits presented containing characteristics that would guarantee success of leaders (Lussier & Achua, 2004). This failure led to the shift of attention towards behavioral leadership theories. Researchers tried to identify differences in the behavior of effective and ineffective leaders. Although several widely-used behavioral models have been built up, such as Mintzberg’s leadership theory, there was no ultimate agreement among researchers of the field, because studies generated mixed results (Lussier & Achua, 2004; Kenney et al., 1994). As a result, scholar’s interest turned towards contingency leadership theories, which aim to explain the required leadership style, given certain leader traits and/or behaviors, followers and situation (Lussier & Achua, 2004). More recently, Implicit Leadership Theory (ILT) have been used to demonstrate the relationship between the perception about leaders and leader performance (Kenney et al., 1994). According to ILT “individuals have implicit beliefs, convictions, and assumptions concerning attributes and behaviors that distinguish leaders from followers, effective leaders from ineffective, and leaders from evil leaders” (House & Javidan, 2004, p.16). These beliefs, also referred to as prototypes (Foti & Lord, 1987; Phillips, 1984; Lord et al., 1984; Kenney et al., 1994), mental models (Dorfman et al., 2004), schemas (Epitropaki & Martin, 2004; Foti & Lord, 1987), cognitive categories (Foti & Lord, 1987; Lord et al., 1984), and stereotypes (Dorfman et al., 2004), are assumed to affect the acceptance of leaders and the subordinates’ reactions to leader behavior (Dorfman et al., 2004). The process of categorization can be described in a step-by-step procedure. Observers compare the potential stimulus to an already existing category (prototype, schema). This category was formulated based on the similarity in the attributes of its members. Categories not only provide shared systems of names, but also help individuals to simplify the external world. This simplification is especially important, since individuals are incapable of remembering on all the relevant information observed about an individual. When the stimulus had been compared to the potential preexisting categories, and placed in one of the categories based on the similarity to its members, in the following the characteristics of the category, not the observed information itself helps the individual to interpret the stimulus’ behavior. With other words, categorization helps the organizational sensemaking process (Lord et al., 1984; Foti & Lord, 1987; Phillips, 1984; Kenney et al., 1994). This is why ILTs do not represent objective realities (Epitropaki & Martin, 2004). According to Lord et al. (1984), the matching process of the stimulus to the preexisting categories is an automated, unconscious process. While simplifying the concept of ILTs, Kenney at al. (1994) acknowledge that leadership lies in the eyes of the observer. As they explain, follower responsiveness is the key to effective leadership. In order for a leader to be able to utilize his or her power, the significant moderating effect of leadership perception needs to be considered. Keller (2003) also points out that the importance of ILTs originates from its potential influence on the leader-follower interaction. Keller (2000, 2003) mention in her studies that the formulation of the schemas are not only affected by early childhood experiences, parent-child relationships, and parental traits and behaviors, but personality traits of the observer (Lord et al., 1999) as well. Although this suggests that there might be...
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