On a self-managed team, someone will often emerge as an informal leader. Which kinds of people tend to take charge? Research on leadership emergence consistently indicates that extraverted people are most likely to take on leadership roles on team projects. However, the trait of extraversion is broad and encompasses a spectrum of characteristics like dominance, assertiveness, warmth, and outspokenness. In other words, extraverted people vary in their behavior based on their tendency to behave more warmly or more assertively. In a group setting, these behaviors could impact how extraverted people are perceived by their team members.
WHY DO EXTRAVERTED PEOPLE SUCCEED?
In order to successfully achieve high status and influence on a team, team members must demonstrate some type of competence. When extraverted people are warm, they may demonstrate social competence by being friendly and “getting along” with others on the team. The authors say that one way to evaluate this “getting along,” is by assessing how well-liked and popular a team member is.
When extraverted people are more assertive, they may demonstrate task competence by being confident in their ideas and by “getting ahead” of peers. The researchers say that one way to measure “getting ahead,” is by assessing whether people position themselves in an advice-giving role, which allows them to control the flow of information.
EXTRAVERSION AND LEADER EMERGENCE
The researchers (Hu, Zhang, Jiang, & Chen, 2019) conducted two different studies, one on students who were working on a project, and a second on intact work teams in the retail industry in China. After asking members of self-managed teams to rate their fellow team members on factors such as likeability and the extent to which they asked a team member for advice, the researchers measured which team members actually emerged as leaders.
The results indicated that warmth had a curvilinear relationship with being liked by peers. A curvilinear effect looks like an upside-down letter “U” when graphed. This curvilinear relationship indicates that when people are not perceived as warm, they are less likely to be liked. When people have moderate levels of warmth, they are more likely to be liked. However, people with a very high level of warmth are less likely to be liked. In other words, too much of a positive characteristic can become a negative characteristic. The researchers say this is because people who are too warm can be perceived as socially or emotionally immature. Results also indicate that people who were well-liked were more likely to emerge as leaders. Overall, it seems that healthy levels of warmth give people a good chance of emerging as leaders.
Similarly, results indicated that assertiveness had a curvilinear relationship with being asked for advice by peers. This curvilinear relationship indicates that when people are not perceived as assertive, they are less likely to be asked for advice. When people have moderate levels of assertiveness, they are more likely to be asked for advice. However, people with a very high level of assertiveness are less likely to be asked for advice. The researcher say that this is because people who are too assertive may be perceived as too dominating and bold. Results also indicate that people who were asked for advice were more likely to emerge as leaders. Overall, it seems that healthy levels of assertiveness give people a good chance of emerging as leaders.
THE ROLE OF PROSOCIAL TENDENCIES
One quality that may enhance the benefits of assertiveness and warmth is having prosocial motivation. People who are prosocially-motivated are focused on others and are willing to put the needs of others above their own. When combined with high assertiveness, prosocially-motivated people may be attractive leaders due to their ability to actively promote ideas that benefit other team members. People who are both warm and prosocially-motivated may also be effective leaders because they promote other members’ well-being in a friendly manner. Accordingly, researchers assessed whether extraverted people with a prosocial motivation had an even greater likelihood of being well-liked or sought out for advice, and thus more likely to emerge as leaders.
The researchers found that when potential leaders were more prosocially-motivated, the initial positive relationship between warmth and being well-liked was strengthened in both studies, and the relationship between assertiveness and being asked for advice was strengthened in one out of two studies. This demonstrates how prosocial motivation can combine with warmth or assertiveness to eventually make it even more likely that a person will emerge as a leader.
The researchers make a number of practical suggestions to better facilitate effective self-managed teams. First, team members should not assume that extraverted people will always emerge as leaders. Although extraversion may typically relate to leader emergence, there can be “too much of a good thing,” specifically if a team member has too much warmth or too much assertiveness. Second, it is important to recognize the important role of pro-social motivation and its ability to improve the effects of warmth and assertiveness. If team members recognize a pro-social motivation, then warmth and assertiveness are more likely to be perceived as suitable for leadership. Finally, the authors say that organizations can help themselves by selecting pro-social employees for self-managed teams, or by training extraverted employees on pro-social ideals, such as being open to the opinions and concerns of other employees.
Hu, J., Zhang, Z., Jiang, K. & Chen, W. (2019). Getting ahead, getting along and getting prosocial: Examining extraversion facets, peer reactions, and leadership emergence. Journal of Applied Psychology, 104(11), 1369-1386.