Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Are Leaders Smarter or Do They Just Seem That Way? Exploring Perceived Intellectual Competence and Leadership Emergence

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Are Leaders Smarter or Do They Just Seem That Way? Exploring Perceived Intellectual Competence and Leadership Emergence

Article excerpt

Both intelligence (Bass, 1990) and self-monitoring (Cronshaw & Ellis, 1991) have been shown to be strong individual predictors of leadership emergence in small groups. The present study proposed a potential mediator in the leadership emergence process. Specifically, it was hypothesized that perceived intellectual competence would mediate the emergent leadership process. Undergraduate business students (N = 347) from a large mid-western university participated in an academic assessment center in conjunction with an organizational behavior course. Findings indicated that the proposed model fits the data quite well and mediator analysis demonstrated that the perception of intellectual competence might be an important mechanism for leadership attainment in small groups.

Recently, there has been a resurgence of interest in explaining leadership emergence via leader traits (Foti & Gershenoff, 1999; Kickul & Neuman, 2000; Kirkpatrick & Locke, 1991; Taggar, Hackett & Saha, 1999). This study attempts to extend that literature by examining a potential perceptual mechanism by which two important traits, intelligence (g) and self-monitoring (SM), may influence leadership perceptions and emergence.

We begin by reviewing the leadership perception process. Next, we review the two traits of intelligence and self-monitoring and show how they have individually predicted leadership emergence. Further, given that both self-monitoring and intelligence are strong individual predictors of leadership emergence, they may act together to create a perception of intellectual competence. Finally, we argue that the perception of intellectual competence is an important mediating mechanism by which leadership status is conferred in small groups.


Unlike some appointed/formal leaders, emergent leaders exert influence through the willing support of other group members (De Souza & Klein, 1995). The leadership emergence phenomenon is addressed well by implicit leadership theory, which focuses on followers' perceptions of the leader. When followers perceive that an individual possesses the traits that match the followers' leadership prototypes, the followers infer that the individual is a leader (Lord & Maher, 1991). In other words, individuals seem to share a common understanding about the traits that leaders possess and these traits are used as benchmarks for deciding emergent leadership. Some of the traits that comprise the leadership prototype have been identified in previous research. Lord, De Vader and Alliger (1986) performed a meta-analysis to reexamine the relationship between personality traits and leadership using data from Mann's (1959) review of the leadership literature. Lord and his colleagues contended that group members' leadership perceptions were directly related to the personality traits of the perceived leader. Results indicated that the personality traits of intelligence, masculinityfemininity, and dominance were all significantly related to leadership perceptions. Therefore, Lord et al. concluded that, "traits may be important organizational constructs for perceivers" (p. 408). Later work by Zacarro, Kenny and Foti (1991) and Taggar, et al. (1999) showed that 59% and 31% of the variance in leadership emergence respectively could be accounted for by traits.

Recent work on emergent leadership (Foti & Gershenoff, 1999; Kenny & Zaccaro, 1983; Zaccaro, Kenny, & Foti, 1991) argues that perceptions of leadership may be far more important than actual leadership measured by group effectiveness. Consistent with this recent research, Lord, et al. (1986) asserted that leadership perceptions are important and allow a perceived leader to exert a great deal of influence among followers. Geier (1967) commented that the leader of a group is actually the member who was perceived by fellow members as having made the most successful attempts to influence the group. …

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