Two Versions Of The Perfect Leader Go Head-To-Head. Who Wins?

With all the talk of presidential candidacy in the air, it seems like a good time to revisit an enduring question – what kind of leader do people want?  Moreover, what kind of leader should I be if I want to rise to the top?  Research suggests two different and somewhat contradictory answers.

According to one theory, people want a leader who is “one of us.”  In other words, they want someone representative of the group or organization to which they belong.  Representative leaders draw their power from successfully conveying the sense that they will protect the group’s core values.  (This turns out to be particularly desirable in “us vs. them” situations, when one group is competing against or is threatened by another.)  They inspire liking, loyalty, and a sense of connectedness.  These are the leaders you “want to drink a beer with.”

Many argue, however, that what people really want is someone exceptional, rather than representative.  They want a bold, charismatic visionary who wants to take the group in a new direction.  Visionary leaders don’t blend in - they stand out.  They are risk-takers and innovators.  They have strongly-held views on what the group should be doing differently.  They offer “change you can believe in,” and can be very inspiring.  

So, which kind of leader rises to the top?  Do people want a leader who focuses on who they are, or who they could be?  Psychologists Nir Halevy, Yair Berson, and Adam Galinsky set out to find the answer in a series of new studies, pitting one style of leadership against the other to see which style is generally preferred, and why.

They found, across five studies, that people overwhelmingly prefer visionary leaders – particularly when there is a crisis creating high levels of stress, like a natural disaster, a recession, or looming takeover. 

Visionary leaders attracted more followers, made people feel more strongly identified with the group, and inspired more collective action.  They also helped group members channel their negative emotions more effectively, and enabled them to find their work more interesting and enjoyable.

For instance, in one study, participants were able to choose from two potential leaders to handle a crisis situation.  Those who chose the visionary (but not representative) leader reported an immediate decrease in feelings of fear and helplessness, while those who chose the representative (but not visionary) leader did not – in fact, they felt even worse after making their choice. 

In another study, participants were asked to imagine that much of their town had just been destroyed by a fire, and were then given one of two statements from the town Mayor. The statement from the representative Mayor talked about being a “proud member of the community,” and stressed the importance of demonstrating “who we are and what we stand for.”  The visionary Mayor wrote that he was “filled with hope for the future, “ and assured the townspeople that “I know where we are headed and I know that we will get there.”  

The researchers then asked participants how many hours (from 0-15) per week they thought they would volunteer in response to the Mayor’s call to action. Visionary mayors inspired nearly two more hours per week on average than representative mayors.

In their final study, MBA students with a minimum of three years work experience reflected on the last business unit leader they worked under.  Those who described that leader as visionary indicated that they were more effective, inspiring, and able to effect change than those who had a representative boss.

So “who we can be” trumps “who we are” when it comes to inspiring action.  Particularly in a time of crisis, people want visionary leaders who will offer up novel solutions.  Of course, as the researchers point out in the conclusion of their paper, we don’t necessarily have to choose one form of leadership over the other.  The most effective leader may well be the one who combines aspects of both, by being representative of who the group is now, but visionary with respect to the future – in other words, someone who is one of us, but believes we can become much more.


Guest Post: The 3 New “R’s” of Back-To-School Success

I'm so thrilled to bring my readers this guest post from Amy McCready, founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and author of If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling.  Amy's advice is always practical, effective, and grounded in compelling research.  

The 3 New “R’s” of Back-To-School Success

Now that school’s back in session, kids are busy learning the fundamentals of “reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic.” But when will they learn to grab a raincoat on the way out the door, or to remember their library books, or to tell you they need a ride to soccer practice more than 15 minutes before it starts?

If these common conundrums have you dreading the school year even more than your third-grader dreads spelling tests, it’s time to learn the 3 “R’s” of school-year success: Routine, Responsibility and Ritual.

Getting the kids out the door every morning seems so simple—but clearly, it’s not. From dragging them out of bed to pushing them out the door, parents face battle after battle. Does it have to be this way?

Not when you set up a When-Then Routine. This type of routine structures your kids’ mornings so that the “yucky stuff” is out of the way before the “good stuff” happens. You can tell your kid, “When you’re dressed, your hair is combed, your bed is made and your backpack is ready, then you are welcome to have breakfast (or TV time, or playtime, etc.). But remember, the kitchen closes at 7:15 so we can get out the door on time.” No nagging required.

Yes, you may face the tough job of sending Max off to school without his usual bowl of cereal, but you can rest assured he’ll survive until lunchtime—and it’ll only happen once.

A When-Then Routine works because it gives your kids the power to manage their morning on their own terms, but within your limits—which makes for a happier, more peaceful home.

A big part of making your When-Then Routine successful is to hold your kids responsible for managing their own routine—make it their job, not yours, to get through it in time. This empowers children to be more independent and develop self-motivation, all while keeping you from being the “bad guy.”

Make sure you reinforce responsibility by implementing a “no rescue” policy. If your kids are constantly forgetting their music for piano lessons, for instance, warn them in advance: “You’re old enough now to take responsibility for your own music, without me reminding you or driving it to you if you forget.” Then, to help them get off on the right foot, you can say, “What ideas do you have to help you remember on your own?” Anything from a special cubby for school items and sports equipment to a checklist by the door might do the trick, and put the power in your child’s hands.

Doesn’t it seem that as the school year gets into full swing, schedules get out of control? How’s a family to keep track of all the band rehearsals, math tests and carpools, let alone connect and actually have fun together?

A weekly Family Meeting can help you do all of the above, and also address other important topics your family faces—such as how to keep Lego blocks out of the garbage disposal, and the best way to potty train a new puppy. Once you initiate Family Meetings, they’ll become a welcome ritual for parents and kids, and will add a little structure to a hectic week.

Family Meeting rituals also help your kids learn important skills like communication, cooperation and respect, while the other “R’s,” Routine and Responsibility, will train your kids in managing their own lives, and how to hold themselves accountable for their own success. You’ll find that your kids will take these skills with them to school and beyond, long after the last carpool has been driven. 

Help Yourself and Help a Military Family
When you purchase your copy of If I Have to Tell You One More Time…  you can Pay It Forward to a deserving military family. For each book sold, Amy McCready, in partnership with Blue Star Families, will donate Positive Parenting Solutions Online training to military moms and dads who sacrifice every day to protect our country.  Learn more about Pay It Forward Parenting and how your book purchase makes a difference!


How Wanting Love Makes Girls Bad At Math

Despite the best efforts of today’s educators, women are still woefully underrepresented in the math, technology and science fields (and while we’re at it, women are underrepresented at the highest levels in business and government, too).   A recent review argues that the problem is no longer simply a lack of opportunity or encouragement - in a nutshell, girls just seem to prefer other subjects.  The question is, why?

It’s true that women are still, to some extent, stereotyped as being less capable in these fields, and certainly this (baseless and false) belief plays a role.  But new research suggests that girls may prefer to study language, arts, and humanities over math and science for another reason:  they believe, often on an unconscious level, that demonstrating ability in these stereotypically-male areas makes them less attractive to men. 

Most of us, especially in adolescence, want very much to be romantically desirable.  Girls in particular are socialized to see this as an important goal, and both sexes  attempt to achieve the goal by conforming to cultural norms of what women and men are “supposed” to be like.  Women are expected to be communal and nurturing, and to pursue careers that allow them to express those qualities – like teaching, counseling, and of course, nursing.   Men, on the other hand, are supposed to be dominant, independent, and analytical – qualities well-suited to business, finance, and science. 

Unfortunately, it’s not enough to know that women and men can be equally competent in any field.  Stereotypes exert much of their influence on an unconscious level, as these new studies illustrate.  When pursuing romantic goals, we  automatically (below awareness) inhibit conflicting goals that might interfere. For women, that appears to mean choosing love over math.

In one study, male and female undergraduates saw images related to either romance  (romantic restaurants, beach sunsets, lit candles) or intelligence (eyeglasses, libraries, books), in order to get the students thinking about their romantic or achievement-related goals.  Later, they rated their interest in math, technology, science and engineering.  The researchers found that among men, interest in these subjects was not influenced by the images they had seen.  But among women, those who viewed romantic images expressed far less interest in math and science.  (Interestingly, women who viewed intelligence images expressed the same level of interest as the men!)

A second study activated goals a different way (i.e., by having participants “accidentally” overhear conversations between other undergrads, about either about a recent date or a recent test), and observed the same results.  When women had romance on their minds, they liked math a lot less.

In a third study, female undergrads filled out a daily diary over three weeks, reporting on the goals they pursued each day and the activities they engaged in.  The researchers found that on days when women pursued romantic goals – like being romantically desirable, focusing on a current relationship, or trying to start a new relationship - they engaged in significantly fewer math-related activities, like attending class, studying, or doing homework.  (On days when they pursued academic goals, the opposite was true.)  So women don’t just like math less when they are focused on love – they also do less math, which over time undermines their mathematical ability and confidence, inadvertently reinforcing the stereotype that caused all the trouble in the first place.

Of course, this research has interesting implications for men as well.  In pursuit of romantic love, men may feel discouraged from pursuits that are stereotypically “female” – those that involve being nurturing and communal.  In other words, love doesn’t just make girls bad at math – it may also make boys act like selfish jerks, all in the service of conforming to a (largely unconscious) romantic ideal. 

It’s a little troubling to think about how our past choices may have been influenced in unexpected ways by our desire to loved. (As a former chemistry major who ultimately turned to psychology, this research has certainly given me a lot to chew on.)  But more importantly, I think, it gives us insight as parents and teachers into the kinds of messages our children need to hear.   It’s not just that men and women can succeed in jobs that aren’t “traditionally” associated with their sex – kids today already know that.  What they need to understand is that breaking out of a stereotype won’t keep them from finding the loving relationship they also desire.   Only then will they feel free to go wherever their interests and aptitudes may take them.