Forget Likability — Leadership All About Power and Prestige Credit: Leadership Image via Shutterstock

Identifying leaders may not be as big of a challenge as previously thought. New research has found that groups are able to predict who will be a leader based on their prestige and dominance.

Not only were participants able to predict who would emerge as a leader from a group, but they were able to do so in two minutes or less. Researchers found that participants were able to do this by looking for the appearance of prestige and dominance in people. In other words, people identified leaders as being people who had the appearance of both skill and competency and also the ability to impose their ideas on others. However, participants were more likely to choose dominance over prestige when choosing a leader.

Those findings in part show why more aggressive leaders continue to populate both the realms of business and politics, the researchers say.

"Our findings suggest 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," said Joey Cheng, lead author and Ph.D. candidate in University of British Columbia's department of psychology. "By measuring levels of influence and visual attention, we find that people defer to and readily spot the prestigious and dominant leaders."

The research also throws some cold water on the thought that likeability is an important factor in finding leaders. Instead, researchers say that their findings show that prestige and dominance are more important than likeability in finding and identifying a leader.   

The research was based on the responses of 260 participants in two studies and will be published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.  Cheng conducted the research with co-authors Jessica Tracy, Alan Kingstone, Joseph Henrich of the UBS and Tom Foulsham of University of Essex.

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