What makes a great leader?

11 Aug 2021 | News

The Conundrum of Leadership


Sliced Bread or The Millennium Dome?

Why is it that two people can look at the same leader and one can think they are the greatest thing since sliced bread, and the other can look at them and think they are the biggest waste of space since the Millennium Dome ? We see this all the time in politics. Why do characters like Margaret Thatcher, Martin McGuinness, George W Bush, even Nelson Mandela have such split opinions on their ability as a leader? The answer is Implicit Leader Theory (ILT).

What is Implicit Leader Theory?

First, we have to understand the Implicit Leadership Theory. ILT is a schema-based theory, that has its roots in cognitive psychology. A schema is a cognitive structure or concept that helps people organize and interpret information. Schemas represent categories of experience, which can include descriptions of people, objects, and events. ILT is a schema that is specific to leadership perceptions. Individuals hold implicit leader profiles composed of ideal leader behaviors as implicit leadership theory. Equally, every leader and follower has their own implicit theory of leadership.

Implicit Leadership Theory & You

ILT focus on the social context in which leadership occurs. A match between a person’s ILT and his or her self-concept facilitates the taking on of a leader’s identity. Similarly, the acceptance of someone as a leader is only possible if there is a match between the ILT of potential followers and their actual perception of that person.  Taking on an ILT is not a conscious decision.

What traits make a good leader?

ILT is part of the dyadic leadership process. The better the behaviour shown by a leader, the more someone evaluates their leader’s efficacy in their favour. Research on positive traits in a leader and predictors of leadership perceptions showed that intelligence was most favoured. Intelligence was followed by outgoingness, verbal skills, understanding, determination, and aggression. However, despite intelligence’s high correlation to leadership perceptions, research has shown that in some leader’s intelligence can be lacking if there are other traits present. There is no prerequisite single trait that must be present for leadership emergence, it is a combination of traits.

Unique Leaders

A key outcome of understanding ILT is that there can be no one rule of what effective or “good” leadership is.  And that ILT depends more on individual, social, and cultural constructions than on the characteristics and behaviours of the leader.

We are products of our genetic makeup but also of our environment. This combination fuels our perception of what a great leader should be. If you grew up in a world where you saw autocratic people as successful leaders, chances are that is what you think a leader should be and you will want to follow people who exhibit these traits, you may aspire to be that type of leader. However, when you end up working for someone who isn’t autocratic but perhaps more diplomatic you think they are weak and don’t want to follow them. The person sitting beside you may think about this leader in the opposite way and that’s why modern leadership is so tough.

It is tough because no matter how hard you try you can never please everybody so don’t try. All you can do is be authentic to yourself, be the leader you want to be.

If you are interested in learning more about leadership and how to live up to your unique leadership potential, why not enroll in Smart Choice our online leadership training.