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What Makes a Good Leader?
Fairness, Selflessness
, Reuter's Health

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Leaders who want to inspire members of a group to cooperate would do well to appear willing to sacrifice their own wants for the good of the group, new study findings show.

Alternatively, Dr. David De Cremer of Maastricht University in the Netherlands and New York University in New York and his co-author found that leaders can inspire cooperation in group members if they simply treat everyone fairly, and give group members a voice in decision making.

"These types of leader characteristics are able to influence people's motives in such a way that they no longer care only about their self-interests, but also the goals of the group and the organization," a transition that is crucial to the success of the entire group, de Cremer told Reuters Health.

The researcher added that this study was designed to apply to small groups, teams or businesses, but may also hold meaning for leaders of relatively large, international organizations.

De Cremer and his colleague Dr. Daan van Knippenberg of the University of Amsterdam obtained their findings from a series of experiments designed to determine which leader characteristics inspired the most group cooperation.

In one experiment, 62 students were told they were members of a group that had to make decisions about how much of their own money to invest in an investment plan. If the group as a whole contributed enough money, students were told the money would double and become equally divided among them. In this situation, the dilemma focuses on how much individual group members are willing to contribute of their own money, knowing that if they give more than another person but the group as a whole gives enough, each person will receive the same amount in return.

The students were then told that they had a leader, and received descriptions about that person. Some were told the leader would spend a lot of his or her own time on the project, while others learned their leader would likely receive a promotion as a result of the project, and may withhold money from the project to pay his or her expenses. Some students learned the leader would ask them their opinion about decision making, and others were told they would have no say in the process.

The investigators found that people tended to contribute more money when they were told their leader would ask their opinion when making decisions than when they were offered no option to contribute. Participants also gave more money when they learned the leader would be self-sacrificing, and may not benefit personally from the project.

Interestingly, de Cremer told Reuters Health in an interview that students did not contribute more money when leaders exhibited both of the positive characteristics (self-sacrificing and inclusive) than when the leaders had only one positive quality and another negative quality. These findings suggest that both characteristics encourage cooperation through the same process, and that both are not needed to achieve the same result, the researcher explained.

However, de Cremer noted that in real-life situations, there may be instances where people will prefer a leader who both is self-sacrificing and includes group members in decision-making to one who does just one but not the other. "I can imagine certain situations where both will be needed," he said.

De Cremer added that a leader who uses his or her personality to instill people with a personal motivation to cooperate can be more successful than one who relies on so-called "extrinsic" motivations, such as denying them a promotion or raise if they don't work for the group. In these situations, "they are just motivated to get around all these negative things," de Cremer explained, and once the penalties are lifted for not cooperating, people are often no longer inspired to do so.

SOURCE: Journal of Applied Psychology 2002;87:858-866.


Reference Source 89

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