Leadership is one of those fascinating topics that never ceases to intrigue. We’re living in an era where flat organisations and a lack of hierarchy are as popular as they have ever been, yet our workplaces still retain a large dose of it. Indeed, previous studies have suggested that employees quite like hierarchy providing that it’s a fair and just one
Another study showed how hierarchies inevitably emerged among teams of mountain climbers in the Himalayas, albeit with rather mixed consequences. This natural formation of a hierarchy has been reflected in studies of school children, where a leader and a hierarchy are shown to form in a matter of minutes.
If hierarchy is something that is perhaps inbuilt within us, therefore, is there something about a leader that makes them stand out? Do we want the same leader in all circumstances?
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. However, 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.
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.
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 one’s colleagues, and while the general perception was that it is, this latest paper suggests that such courtesy would not extend to your boss.
Are you good friends with your boss? Are you the dominant or submissive person in the relationship? Your thoughts and comments below please...