‘The Vision Thing’

This point is clearly relevant to debates that are regularly conducted in newspapers when details of the remuneration packages awarded to company chief executives are released. Does the fact that these executives routinely receive pay rises that far outstrip those of their employees have any impact on those employees’ motivation and performance? Yes it does. As the influential management theorist Peter Drucker has observed “Very high salaries at the top disrupt the team. They make even high-ranking people in the company see their own top management as adversaries rather than as colleagues ... and that quenches any willingness to say "we" (1986, p.14). 

This point is confirmed in some of our empirical studies which show that an increase in the disparity between leaders’ remuneration and that of followers does nothing to enhance leaders’ motivation but has a demotivating impact on followers (Haslam & Platow, 2001a). It also fits with previous work by Edwin Hollander (e.g., 1995) who notes that, at a national level, the gap between executives’ salaries and those of average workers tends to be negatively correlated with overall company performance. Thus he notes that in countries where there tends to be a smaller disparity between executives and workers’ salaries, the overall productivity (and satisfaction) of the workforce tends to be higher.

3. Leaders need to stand for ‘us’ rather than ‘them’

The previous point suggests that differences between leaders and followers can be problematic if they violate the sense of shared social identity that locks group members into any collective enterprise. In this way, followers’ support is conditional upon their appreciation of a leader’s qualities within a particular social context. This means that the attributes that ‘count’ as good and worthy in a leader are partly determined by the leader’s capacity to define the ingroup clearly and positively in the specific situation that the group confronts. What leaders stand for and the properties they evince thus need to contribute to a context-sensitive definition of the ingroup that allows ‘us’ to be construed as different from, and better than, ‘them’ — whoever they might be. So, for example, we have found that while people may generally be disposed to favor leaders who are intelligent, if an organization is entering into competition with a group that prides itself on its intelligence, then the leader of that organization has to be careful to differentiate the organization’s intelligence, and his or her own, from that of the outgroup (Turner & Haslam, 2001). 

Evidence of these dynamics at work is also revealed during the various rounds of the US presidential election. During the Primaries, when members of the same party are competing with each other to exemplify what it means to be a member of that party, they need to espouse different views than they do during the General Election when they need to exemplify what it means to be a ‘good American’ more generally. Indeed, one explanation for Hillary Clinton’s unexpectedly poor performance in the 2008 Iowa primary (where she came third to Barack Obama and John Edwards), is that she and her advisors had their sights set on the general election and were making statements with this context in mind — a factor which tended to undermine her credentials as a ‘good Democrat’. More generally too, the fact that incumbent Presidents do not have to make the case for their leadership credentials in these two very different contexts is one reason why they are at an advantage when running for a second term.

4. Leaders need to ‘do it for us’

The above analysis gives some insight into the way in which structural features (e.g., selection processes, salary schemes, the nature of competitors) can impact upon a leader’s effectiveness. It is obviously true, however, that leadership is contingent upon what a leader actually does. In this regard, a major implication of our analysis is that leaders’ capacity to marshal support for their plans will be enhanced to the extent that they are able to advance the collective interests and aspirations of the group they lead. Moreover, because much of the demand for leadership emerges in competitive contexts it also follows that this will often involve promotion of the ingroup at the expense of an outgroup

Again, though, the key to leadership lies not in getting followers to say that they agree with a vision, but in enticing them to do the work that helps make that vision a reality. Many a leader’s grand designs have been left in tatters because the support that they initially elicited was never translated into anything concrete. Followers’ words of support are cheap; what counts is their sweat and toil (and sometimes their blood and tears). Accordingly, these are more dearly sought, and less easily bought. 

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