Claremont Symposium on Applied Social Psychology

When Near is Far and Far is Near: Distance in Leader-Follower Relationships


Leading in a Digital Age: What's Different, Issues Raised, and What We Know
Surinder Kahai, Center for Leadership Studies, SUNY-Binghamton

Information technology is rapidly changing the context for leadership. Leaders today touch a worldwide audience which not only includes immediate and remote workers but also other stakeholders such as customers and the general population. The communication with these stakeholders is not one-sided; these stakeholders often provide very quick feedback to business leaders via a variety of Internet-based media. Additionally, leaders are now in charge of workers who are increasingly engaged in virtual work. Leadership in this new context demands new skills in addition to old ones. Most organizational leaders have yet to understand what this new context is and what it means for leadership. This talk will focus on describing this new context and the issues it raises for both practice and research. It will also cover what we know from practice and research about how to lead in this new context.


The Role of Distance in Leader-Member Exchange (LMX)
Birgit Schyns, University of Portsmouth, UK

Leaders’ personality characteristics impact the relationship between leader-follower distance (or “span of control”) and relationship quality (Leader-Member Exchange, or LMX). Span of control is generally greater in larger groups, but leaders’ personalities can still foster good quality relationships. For example, leaders with different attachment styles may vary in the degree to which they can uphold relationships with followers. Similarly, leaders with certain “Big Five” personality traits will find it easier to have many high quality relationships: this is especially true for leaders low in neuroticism, high in extraversion, and high in agreeableness. On the basis of these considerations, consequences for managing relationships within the workplace will be outlined. Depending on a leaders’ personality, larger spans of control may be more or less viable.


Women As Leaders: Negotiating the Labyrinth
Alice Eagly, Northwestern University

In many nations, women have gained considerable access to leadership roles and are increasingly praised for having excellent skills for leadership. In fact, women, somewhat more than men, manifest leadership styles associated with effective performance as a leader. Also, the cultural model of good leadership has become more androgynous. Nevertheless, more people prefer male than female bosses, and research has demonstrated that women can still face impediments to attaining leadership roles and barriers to success as occupants of these roles. This mix of women’s apparent advantages and disadvantages reflects progress toward gender equality as well as the lack of attainment of this goal.


Distance from the Leader: Psychological and Follower-Centered Considerations
Boas Shamir, New York University

In this presentation, we will re-visit Dr. Shamir’s 1995 work on social distance and charisma that suggested that charisma exists most easily when there is social distance between a leader and his or her followers. These arguments will be extended thanks, in part, to recent studies of psychological distance (e.g. Liberman & Trope, 2008). Dr. Shamir will discuss how and why psychological distance is created between leader and followers. Distance is not only a contextual moderator of leader-follower relationship, but also something that leaders and followers create. Some implications will also be suggested, along with challenges and dilemmas that distance poses for leaders and followers.


Creating Awareness Among Followers of Leaders at a Distance
Suzanne Weisband, University of Arizona

Leadership plays a central role in the success in many forms of distributed and online collaboration. These include being able to solve problems quickly, to effectively coordinate behavior and activities among interdependent group members, to inform others about the work progress, and to anticipate others’ needs or actions to achieve successful outcomes. When there is a lack of information about others’ activities, technology designers and researchers have long considered ways to create awareness to help leaders and their followers reduce the effort to coordinate tasks and resources. This presentation reports empirical work on how awareness is maintained in distributed teams. One goal is to understand how team leaders sustain or increase awareness by informing others about how the work is progressing, who is doing their part and who is not, and otherwise moving the team toward product completion. A second goal is to present technology design challenges to successfully lead at a distance and to recommend technologies that may help to reduce the effort required to coordinate tasks, resources, and people who work at a distance.


The Far Side of Leadership
John Antonakis, (speaking virtually from the University of Lausanne, Switzerland)

We will discuss two roads to legitimization of leaders. The “long-road” has to do with what the leader is really like in terms of intelligence, personality, or other factors that are important for leader success. This road is difficult to travel, however, because it is not easy to gauge these characteristics of leaders, particularly in distant situations. Instead, followers use the second road, which Dr. Antonakis calls the “shortcut” road. This road is much faster and is based on simple markers of effective leadership, which individuals associate with leader success (e.g., physical appearance, sex, performance cues, and other factors). Although the shortcut road is a sure way for leader emergence, it does not guarantee that the leader will be effective. Thus an integrated model, the attribution-actuality trait theory, will be presented to explain how leaders are legitimized as a function of distance.