Challenges of Implicit Leadership Theories for Management

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Challenges of Implicit Leadership Theories for Management


A leader’s efficiency is affected by the supporters’ approval of the front-runner as their leader. Supporters rely on their mental schema to assess whether somebody merits to be considered a leader. This logical schema is the implicit leadership theory (ILT) that persons have on the values of a leader. When front-runners are judged as compliant to this ILT, they are perceived as leaders, and supporters consent to their guidance efforts. Nonetheless, such implicit theories may have challenging impacts on management. This study examined the ILT challenges faced by employees and their leaders. The findings reveal that most leaders are associated with a distinctive ILT and demonstrate that social perception and self-serving biases, generalizability, leadership theories, and personality variables predict the disparity in ILT.

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Leadership has been a vital but occasionally contentious topic in managerial research. Leaders are regularly perceived as actors singularly responsible for the process of leadership. However, further research indicates that leadership results from contact between frontrunners and supporters, as well as their surroundings. This idea of contact produces the question of what this contact relies on. Namely, the origin of behavior that makes a good leader and the reason of supporters’ response are brought into discussion. One of the ways to approach this discussion is to consider implicit leadership theories (ILTs), which are the views that people have on a day-to-day basis about what leaders are and what constitutes an ideal leader. They are individual perceptions of leaders that govern a person’s behavior toward leaders and as leaders themselves. These perceptions have a lot in common with stereotypes, since they are only triggered when a person, whose features and behavior match the memorized perception, appears. The study of implicit leadership theories can, therefore, assist in identifying the reasons of the frontrunners’ and supporters’ behavior. By scrutinizing the ILTs in details, we can unearth challenges associated with the theories. As such, the challenges of ILTs are examined in detail by ILTs measurement and the impact on validity, ILTs generalizability, social perceptions, and self-serving biases. The criticisms associated with the culturally endorsed implicit leadership theories, which include situational leadership and transactional leadership theories, are also relevant to the discussion. The following essay represents the detailed assessment of the abovementioned factors aiming at analyzing the challenges of ILTs for management.

Leadership Theories

Workers’ opinions, prior anticipations, and cognitive models concerning the leadership practice have ruled part of the management literature.  It has been determined that employees use their past interactions with frontrunners to build their own ILTs, or “individual expectations about the qualities and capabilities that depict a perfect corporate leader” (Schyns, Kiefer, Kerschreiter, & Tymon, 2011). ILTs stem from mental organizations that stipulate personalities and behaviors that a model leader must show according to the supporter. They are kept in the recollection, and when supporters intermingle with the individual in a management position, such schemas trigger a reaction. These governance schemas offer structural members with an intellectual foundation for understanding and reacting to manager conduct, and they are vital rudiments of “managerial sense-making.”

Implicit leadership theories (ILTs) are daily models that persons embrace about leaders in common (or perfect leaders) (Schyns et al., 2011). They are psychological depictions of leaders and impact how a person acts toward frontrunners or as leaders centered on these intellectual illustrations. These rational representations, much like stereotypes, are kept in reminiscence and will be stimulated when the individual meets a person whose features and conduct equals their embedded individualities.

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Leader models are founded upon schemas created in infancy, and there exists proof that they are closely bound up with matters of attachment and character. If adequate prototype-linked individualities/behavior are acknowledged in an individual, the viewer will inevitably allocate them to the leader group and will afterward be swayed by what is accredited to ‘the leader’ (Schyns et al., 2011). Regarding rational processing, classification heralds’ acknowledgment, and the real behavior of the leader is efficiently coded out of discernments, going unrecognized. It has been noted that similarity between perceiver ILTs and leader’s real, or alleged, behavior will impact the point to which supporters will even perceive endeavors at headship (Schyns et al., 2011). Management applicants who fail to match the model may, in dire circumstances, be reflected “illegal.”

Challenges of ILTs for Management

Other cognitive categorization theories, nonetheless, contend that grouping transpires as viewers equate impetuses with principles or definite instances kept in reminiscence. An ideal comprises features that group associates must show if they are to function as a representatives of the group. As such, a group associate prototypically upsurges with its likeness to the group’s ideal (Schyns et al., 2011). Thus, in some circumstances, groups might be ordered around perfect models rather than usual prototypes. For instance, a supporter may judge a leader founded on a perfect concept (ILT) when assessing whether a frontrunner is worthy of guidance. The move poses a challenge since individuals have different aptitudes. There can also be a response loop between the way an employee perceives a manager as adhering to his or her implicit profile and their opinions of the manager’s conduct.

A particular understanding of what leadership entails may effect the views on the real leader’s conduct, but the same can be said about an individual’s daily interactions with a leader. Implicit leadership models propose that perceiving leaders in diverse circumstances allows a person to increase an indulgence for how they should act if confronted with comparable circumstances. Leadership growth can consequently nurture inspiration for leaders to continue learning along the way. The finest leaders keep advancing their abilities and studying from preceding experiences. In general, the challenges posed by ILTs for management are best analyzed in the areas of validity and measurement, the generalizability of ILTs, social perception, and self-serving biases, as well as analysis of the leadership theories themselves.

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Measure of ILTs and Effects on Validity

No sole broadly acknowledged measure of implicit leadership models exists to date. Independent lists of features to measure ILTs have resulted from different studies, but they are seldom referenced in other studies and usually employ diverse collections of features. It is vital to note that general features and manners of conduct have been equally used to measure leadership tools (Schyns et al., 2011). Nonetheless, being intelligent, truthful, vibrant, and inspired appear to be strongly associated with leadership qualities according to any list, and most scholars distinguish between constructive (prototypic) and destructive (anitprototypic) features. Moreover, ILT characteristic lists may be fairly extensive. Namely, the attribute approach highlights characteristics of leaders such as character, drives, morals, and abilities, while the behavior method underscores the significance of what leaders do.

Generalizability of ILTs

An assortment of distinct variance variables has been reflected as hypothetically being linked to ILTs. If distinct variances do not upset ILTs, then an assumption can be made about the ILTs’ generalizability applicable to a number of various persons (Pless & Maak, 2011). Studies of such generalizability among individuals of different gender, occupation, and values contend that some differences do occur. For instance, even though different genders possess parallel discernment of leader prototypes, males rank qualities such as violent, modest, and not easily offended greater than females do. Females regard features such as being conscious of others’ moods, accommodating, and confident greater than males do. Therefore, ILTs vary across groups, which poses a challenge when generalizing leaders in management.

Also, there exists considerable inconsistency in ILT assessments in the multicultural works on leadership. For example, there exist dependable dissimilarities in the prototypical leadership opinions of associates from numerous countries. Such results are constructed upon other works declaring that insight is not exclusively an inherent, physical task of the rational process, but is similarly a personal procedure replicating the self, plus cultural context. Similarly, distinctive qualities of a leader as they are seen in one culture could be extremely dissimilar from prototypical features in an alternative culture. Hence, the generalizability assertions of ILTs seem inconclusive, but relevant facts may be missing. As such, additional study could overcome this challenge.

Additionally, other theories examining the degree to which persons employ ILTs as a standard to justify their manager’s conduct show that it can vary based on context. For example, a partial prototypical capacity has been used to assess management views and leader conduct. This idea recognizes humans’ inadequate reminiscence capacity and their dependence on “common rational simplification appliances” (such as ILTs) mainly in circumstances of great mental burden. Some evidence indicates that personnel in occupations of great demand is likely to rate the relationship they have with their leader based on their ILTs. Furthermore, workers in short-term exchanges would trust more in their ILTs when they rate the relationships between them and their managers than employees in long-term exchanges. The challenge posed by these demographic variations is great and requires their further study.

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Social Perceptions and Self-Serving Biases

People usually trust that their actions and contributions are vital. For example, works on optimistic self-illusions propose that persons may favor frontrunners parallel to the identity, since such people are inclined to hold impractical, positive impressions of the self. Supposing that becoming a forerunner and headship are interpreted as generally necessary, persons may retain impractical hopes of assuming a management position and project their individualities onto ideal management descriptions, which is a detrimental approach. In other words, as persons are inclined to perceive themselves in an exaggeratedly positive way, trusting that they could be frontrunners, they can be most content and most probable to want to keep working under the leadership of managers who are like them. They might perceive such frontrunners to be more real even when such leaders do not exhibit the necessary traits.

Every person devises a rational depiction of an ideal leader in a schema which is implicit to leadership theory. This schema, which comprises the perfect features and aptitudes of a leader, is stimulated when a person relates with a leader and performs as one, and therefore shapes the person’s views, conducts, prospects, and indulgences of the leader-follower contact (Felfe & Schyns, 2010). Persons advance implicit models about marvels in the outside domain so as to credit reasons and consequences to happenings, to see patterns and firmness to the domain, and to offer sense to their experience. A challenge arises since this reflex dispensation might be quashed by more measured mental processes, in which a person intentionally reasons and deduces leadership centered on actions and consequences; nevertheless, this measured processing necessitates rational means, which may not be obtainable to the person. Therefore, when facing a leader, employees may inevitably liken this leader with the leader model they have advanced, arbitrating whether this person can undeniably be renowned as a leader and whether this person is an active or unproductive leader.

Since diverse persons will have experienced the domain inversely, their inherent leadership concepts will not be equal. In fact, research has shown that implicit leadership theories may be swayed by numerous contextual variables, such as early infancy experiences, character personalities, and national values. As such, the challenge is for employees to generalize managers based on some inconceivable anticipations. Nonetheless, some persons may still assign the brand of leader to the similar being, as classification into models does not involve a flawless equal. Hence, simply a pattern of corresponding resemblances is essential for a group to settle upon the similar group. Also, classification is not the lone mental process that impacts discernment and ascription of leaders and guidance. For example, transfer, a relationship founded mental procedure, may likewise lead to the creation of rational depictions of how leaders ought to behave. In transference, nonetheless, the challenge arises since the rational representation is shaped not by a figurative ideal, but from reminiscence and exchanges with preceding leaders. Remarkably, transference procedures might impact approval of new leaders to a certain business, as associates would have had common preceding experiences with the identical leaders.

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However, the differences between their implicit leadership models may prompt altered conceptualizations of leadership, and members’ transference procedures would fail to elicit a mutual schema founded on collective experience. Learning how to overcome the challenge will be essential for the establishment of a mutual leadership theory at a managerial level. The factor acts as pragmatic proof put forward that happenstances with leaders, who have features comparable to a preceding leader, will be evaluated centered on the prior experience (transference) as an alternative of prototypes. Numerous factors have been shown to influence individuals’ implicit leadership theories. In general, these influences can either be attributed to characteristics of the rater or characteristics of the target leader. Characteristics of the later that have been examined include gender, religion, organization identification, personality (Felfe & Schyns, 2010), culture, and level of the organization.

Situational Leadership

Situational leadership theory (SLT) represents an approach to leadership founded on the idea that there is no solitary best leadership style. In its place, an actual leader amends his style to fit variables of a particular condition, comprising workers, work setting, and other situational features. It is centered on numerous noticeable leadership models. Notwithstanding its flexibility, there are adverse aspects of this method, which comprise poor perception from employees. Situational leadership approach advocates for a clear participation. SLT had been a prevalent notion of leadership before challenges with the hypothesis appeared. As such, SLT has at least three weaknesses dealing with its reliability, permanency, and conformity: lack of inner constancy, theoretical illogicalities, and uncertainties. Although studies have exposed that no specific leadership approach is operative, and behavioral models depend on abstract headship categories that are challenging to recognize, some contemporary studies use the situational leadership method.

Criticisms of Transformational Leadership

Pragmatic study backs the notion that TL impacts followers’ and managers’ performance. The underlying paradigm of leader control in TL is unclear, and there is lack of empirical studies that would comprehensively address how TL works in teams of various nature and organizations (Zhu, Sosik, Riggio, & Yang, 2012). The theory does not sufficiently explain how the effectiveness of leadership may be influenced by the situation and context. Thus, the challenge arises in trying to accredit implicit leadership theories.

Criticisms of Transactional Leadership

Another challenge facing implicit leadership theories is that transactional leadership undertakings lead supporters to the temporary association of exchange with the frontrunner. These associations incline toward shallow, momentary exchanges of satisfaction and regularly generate resentments between the members. Moreover, many academicians criticize transactional leadership model, as it employs a general method of implicit leadership theory creation that disregards situational and background issues related to managerial challenges. Pragmatic backing for transactional leadership characteristically comprises both transactional and transformational conducts.


Implicit leadership theories have been defined as concepts depicting individual expectations concerning the attributes of a perfect business leader. It is beyond doubt that implicit leadership theories impact management greatly. From the context of generalizability, social perception, and self-serving biases, measurement and impact on validity, ILTs plays a significant role. It is through that context that challenges facing management are encountered. However, leadership has been portrayed as a subject of debate in managerial studies. The factor is largely based on the impact that leaders have on the success and failure of their organizations. It is those leaders that have been observed that set a framework by which employees can follow and evaluate them.