Prestige, dominance and future leaders

Prestige and dominance may indicate future leaders, new research has suggested. To be published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the study found the person who attracts the most eyes in a crowd are likely to be chosen as leaders further down the line.

Investigators from the University of British Columbia highlighted prestige and dominance as the two sets of behaviour that accurately predict these individuals.

While the former relates to the appearance of skill and competency, the latter regards the capacity to impose ideas on others through means such as intimidation.

A total of 260 individuals took part in the study and Joey Cheng, lead author of the report and a PhD candidate in the Department of Psychology at the learning institute, said: "There are really two ways to top the social ladder and gain leadership - impressing people with your skills or powering your way through old-fashioned dominance."

Professor Nigel Nicholson from London Business School, a Fellow of the British Psychological Society, comments:

"It is good to see research confirming this proposition about the duality of paths to leadership. However, it is also important to understand the co-evolutionary argument that what this means is highly context dependent.

"First, dominance does not always mean “intimidation” – it can connote powers of influence and persuasion such as is associated with charismatic leaders.  Second, prestige can be based upon whatever is prized within the community, i.e. what helps the group to survive and adapt in its environment, so the skills and qualities can be social, technical, cognitive, emotional according to the needs of the group and the challenges it faces.

"This good research should not lead us to assume that there is a single set of universal leadership qualities.  We need to see what works for the time, place and people.  This argument is developed in my forthcoming book, 'The 'I' of Leadership: Strategies for seeing, being and doing' (Jossey-Bass)."