Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

To Change or Not to Change: Examining the Perception of Political "Waffling"

Academic journal article North American Journal of Psychology

To Change or Not to Change: Examining the Perception of Political "Waffling"

Article excerpt

Employing the two-step model of attributional processes (Gilbert & Malone, 1995), this experimental study examined the perception of waffling on college students' (N = 125) impressions of a political candidate and voting inclinations. This study also examined whether individual differences factored into participants' attributions for the political candidate. Perceived wafflers received fewer votes than candidates who were perceived as appropriately changing their views. Democratic candidates were more likely to be perceived as wafflers and received fewer votes than Republican candidates. However, wafflers were not attributed less desirable traits and individual differences played no role in the perception of waffling. These findings support the two-step model and the key role that decisiveness plays in the perceptions of leaders.

"The gift that kept on giving."--Karl Rove's response to John Kerry's statement, "I actually voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it," explaining his vote for additional support for the Iraqi war.

Leadership is by its very nature a perceptual process. How followers perceive a leader has important implications for organizations. Leaders who are perceived as competent are likely to be retained or even advanced to higher positions while those who are perceived as incompetent are apt to be replaced (Yukl, 1998). Additionally, leaders who are judged by others as effective tend to gain more influence and have more degrees of freedom to make changes in organizations.

It is clear that we possess stereotypes and implicit theories about the characteristics that connote effective leadership (Lord & Maher, 1991). There have been dozens of characteristics linked with perceptions of effective leadership, including such traits as self-confidence (Bass, 1990), an internal locus of control (Miller, Kets de Vries & Toulouse, 1982), emotional maturity (McCauley & Lombardo, 1990), integrity (Cox & Cooper, 1989), and decisiveness (Stogdill, 1974).

The current research focuses on decisiveness. Consider a leader such as the President of the United States. The President must constantly make appraisals of situations, examine data, understand the significance of the data, and make appropriate decisions (Renshon, 1998). Typically, successful leaders are viewed as individuals capable of both making decisions and sticking with them. As Crosby (1994) puts it, "Nothing destroys the effectiveness of a leader like gaining a reputation for vacillating on decisions" (p. 33). This is particularly the case when a crisis looms. A leader who can act decisively is viewed as very effective whereas one who falters in his/her decision-making in an emergency is considered less capable (Yukl, 1998). Consistent with this, when US presidents are ranked by historians, one of the critical components is their ability to make a decision and stick with it (Crosby, 1994). Presidents who acted decisively in crisis situations (e.g., Washington, Lincoln, and Roosevelt) are typically viewed very favorably by historians (Schlesinger, 1997).

Thus, decisiveness is a key leadership quality and may, in fact, be a central part of individuals' implicit leadership theories (Eden & Leviatan, 1975). Consistent with this, research by Okechuku (1994) found that in multiple international samples of managers, there were six key characteristics linked with perceptions of managerial effectiveness including supervisory ability, achievement motivation, intellectual ability, self-actualization, self-assurance and decisiveness.

In line with these findings, leaders who try to see every side of an issue are sometimes viewed as having a difficult time making up their minds (Crosby, 1994). A leader who is influenced by others' viewpoints may foster the image that he or she holds the same opinion as the person he or she spoke with last. In other words, the leader can be seen as "waffling. …

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