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Leader Emergence

As we have noted, the first research issue involved the ways in which leaders emerge from groups. To begin, it is clear that amount of communication is the most important factor in determining which group member will emerge. Most simply, the more a person communicates, the more likely it is that the person will emerge as leader. Reviews of literature by Stein and Heller (1983) and Mullen, Salas, and Driskell (1989) found that the amount that a person talks in a group correlates with group member judgments of task leadership in the range of .5 to .7. It should be noted that the correlation between amount of talk and maintenance leadership is far lower, at about .15. In the Bales groups discussed under the functional approach (Bales & Slater, 1955), the biggest talker was judged as "group leader" 50% of the time.

However, it stands to reason that what a person says should have as much impact on other group members' judgments of that person's leadership as how much that person talks. Surprisingly, many studies have found that the content of a person's talk has no effect on whether the person is judged to be a leader. However, most of these studies were performed in groups of students that were just formed into groups and were performing tasks that did not affect them, such as "Lost on the Moon" or a "human relations" problem. Other studies have been performed using groups that had existed for many weeks or months and were performing tasks that did affect them, such as groups of students who were working on a class project for which they would get graded. In these studies, not only how much a member talked but also the content of their talk was related to whether or not they emerged as a leader.

There is reason to believe that members are particularly likely to be viewed as leaders if they perform procedural functions during group discussion. Recall that in the Bales groups, the member judged as "guidance" specialist was also judged as "group leader" 78.6% of the time. Two other studies support this idea.

Baker study. Baker (1990) studied the first hour of discussion of eight groups of students in the process of performing two class assignments. She related the content of those discussions to judgments made by group members of who emerged as group leaders, who did not emerge as leaders but maintained high status within the groups, and who did not emerge as either leaders or high-status members.

Baker concluded that emergent leaders tended to be concerned with procedural matters during discussion. Sometimes they also contributed ideas to the group, but they tended to not offer their opinions very often. In contrast, those who had high status but were not considered the group's leader concentrated on substantive issues; they contributed ideas and opinions. Finally, members who were neither leaders nor high in status concentrated on opinion giving.

Ketrow study. Ketrow (1991) videotaped a three-member "group" trying to solve a problem about white-collar crime. Each member of the "group" had a pre-assigned role in performing their task. One member specialized in procedural work, one in substantive, and the third in maintenance. One hundred fifty research participants watched the videotape and then made judgments about the members of the "group." Of these participants, 128 chose the procedural specialist as the group leader. Although the substantive specialist was chosen as the most influential member by 95 participants, only 17 chose that person as the group leader.

Thus there is good reason to believe that verbal activity is related with emergent leadership. Of course, not every talkative person becomes a leader. As just described, the content of talk also has an impact on group member's judgments of one another's leadership. However, other factors may be involved. If verbal activity is associated with emergent leadership, perhaps nonverbal participation is too.

Baird study. Baird (1977) showed the plausibility of this proposal. He videotaped the interaction of 10 five-person groups. In doing so, he discovered that members' perceptions of leadership correlated with various nonverbal signals. With arm and shoulder gestures, the correlation coefficient was .45. In addition, the coefficient with vertical head movements was .27. There was a smaller correlation of .15 with shifts in posture, absence of horizontal or "no" head movements, and absence of frowns. Eye contact, smiles, and absence of hand or finger movement were also slightly related to leadership. These had a correlation of .09. Taken as a whole, it appears that groups judge people as leaders when their movement styles are active but not nervous. Also, group members believe that leaders give nonverbal signals that imply positive evaluations of the other group members.

Relevant Input Variables

The research we have discussed thus far shows that process (verbal and nonverbal communication) is related with output (leadership emergence). However, as we have discussed throughout this book, a valid theory of group discussion also needs to consider relevant input variables that affect group process. There are several input variables that can have an impact on the amount of leadership-relevant communication that occurs during group discussion. Next, we will consider three of these input variables; seating position, approval, and task-relevant knowledge.

Seating Position

Several studies have shown that seating position has an effect on emergent group leadership. For example, Strodtbeck and Hook (1961) performed research using 69 twelve-person mock juries. Those sitting at the ends of the jury table were the most talkative members of the groups, and were most likely to be chosen to lead the mock juries. Research has shown that people sitting in those positions also receive the most communication from other group members. It is clear that the ends or the "head" of a table are considered to be the "leadership seats" for a group discussion.

Seating position also has effects on the order in which group members speak. Steinzor (1950) examined the order in which members of two 10-member groups sitting in a circle spoke to one another. He found that, when a particular group member made a statement, the next statement tended to come from a group member sitting on the opposite side of the circle. Thus, comments are likely to go back and forth across opposite seating positions in the group.

Howells and Becker study. Howells and Becker used this idea in a study published in 1962. They reasoned that they could set up a "power differential" by placing fewer people on one side of a table than on the other side. They reasoned, as Steinzor had found, that comments go back and forth across a table. If this happens, the people on the less populated side proportionally receive and make more comments than those on the other side. The scientists formed 20 five-person groups. Two members, or 40 percent of the group, sat on one side of the table. Three participants, or 60 percent, sat on the other side.

If all else is equal in such a situation, we would logically expect that the number of leaders from each side should match their percentage in the group. Thus, among the 20 groups, 8 leaders should emerge from the less populated side of the table, matching the 40 percent. Similarly, 12 leaders, or 60 percent, should emerge from the more populated side. Did.this occur? No. Instead, only 6 leaders emerged from the more populated side. This was only 30 percent. In contrast, 14 leaders came from the less populated side. This was 70 percent, a great deal more than a logical prediction would have calculated.

Thus, the results supported the contention of Howells and Becker. They had been able to create a power differential. The less populated side did have participants who spoke more often than the other members. Consequently, the less populated side produced more leaders than a logical outcome would have predicted.

Thus, research has shown that certain seating positions can make it more likely that a group member will become a leader. Other studies, however, have shown that this effect is weak and can be canceled by more powerful factors. For example, Bass and Klubeck (1952) found that seating position had no effect on leadership judgments in discussion groups with preexisting status differences among members.


A second factor that can affect emergent group leadership is whether or not a member receives approval for what she or he says. A study by Pepinsky, Hemphill, and Shevitz (1958) shows this impact.

Pepinsky, Hemphill, and Shevitz study. Pepinsky, Hemphill, and Shevitz conducted a study with four-person groups. The groups task was to build "products" out of tinkertoys that could be sold at a "buyer's table." The group had to purchase the tinkertoys, build the products and sell them at a profit at the buyer's table.

Each group included two confederates who acted in either of two different ways. In one condition, the confederates waited until the real participants had taken some leadership actions and then disapproved of what they had done. For example, they would say that they did not like bossy people who told them what to do. In the second condition, the confederates showed approval of the real participants' actions. For example they would say that they liked people who could get things going and come up with a good plan. The researchers found that the participants whose actions had received approval from the confederates performed many more subsequent leadership actions than the participants whose actions who had been rejected.

Task-Relevant Knowledge A third factor that affects emergent leadership is whether group members have knowledge relevant to the group's task. Hemphill (1961) reported an unpublished study by Shevitz that demonstrated this effect. Shevitz organized three-member groups with two "experts" and a third, non-expert member. One of the experts was a member of the local Amateur Radio Association, and the other had experience in statistics courses. The group had two tasks; assembling the components of a circuit from a schematic diagram, and a statistics problem. The "radio" expert performed the most leadership acts during the first task, while the "statistics" expert did the most during the second.

Method for Assuming Leadership

Emergent leadership researchers studied a second issue. They wanted to know whether there are differences between groups whose leaders get their position in different ways. Does it matter whether leaders are assigned from the outside, elected by the members, or allowed to emerge from group discussion? Contrasting hypotheses could be proposed concerning this issue. It could be that groups with assigned or elected leaders perform better than groups with emergent leaders because emergent-led groups begin discussion without knowing who is in charge. It also could be that groups with emergent or elected leaders perform better than groups with assigned leaders because assigned-leader groups are not involved in the choice of leader and as a consequence are less satisfied with their leadership. Several studies have been performed that are relevant to this issue.

Mortensen study. Mortensen (1966) analyzed the leadership emergence process in six groups that met three times. Three of the groups had assigned leaders, and three did not.

The three assigned leaders performed the most leadership actions during the first group meeting. However, by the third meeting, only one on the three was still leading his or her group. In the other two, the assigned leader had been supplanted by another member to whom the group had responded more positively.

Mortensen concluded that the group's approval of an assigned leader is important. Assigned leadership can help a person quickly assume the leadership role, but only if the group approves of him or her. In contrast, assigning a leader can slow down a group and make it difficult for a leader to emerge if the group disapproves of the assignment. In this case, leadership emergence would have been faster if there had been no leadership assignment.

Goldman and Fraas study. Goldman and Fraas (1965) found that the way in which a group acquires its leaders is important to the group's performance. They assigned leaders to groups through four methods. One way was that the group elected a leader by vote. The second method was that the experimenters selected a leader based on the person's ability. The third way was that the scientists arbitrarily chose a leader, and the last method involved groups that had no assigned leader.

The researchers then had the groups play "Twenty Questions." They compared the success rates of each group. The researchers found that groups with elected leaders performed the best. The performance of groups that had leaders appointed based on ability was close to the best success rate. Leaderless groups were a distant third. The groups with the worst scores were the ones with arbitrarily appointed leaders.

Hollander and Julian study. Hollander and Julian (1970) decided to compare the performance of elected and appointed leaders. The researchers told groups and the leaders of the groups that one of two criteria had determined leadership. They led their participants to believe that either the group had elected the leader or the experimenters had appointed him or her. In either case, the leader supposedly had important abilities for the position.

Hollander and Julian found that "elected" leaders had slightly more influence on their group's opinions than "appointed" leaders. They also were far more willing to deviate from their group's ideas. However, their position was far more precarious. Members lost confidence in "elected" leaders if they failed or if the group considered them incompetent at their task. In contrast, "appointed" leaders had to both fail and have the group consider them incompetent before the group would reject them.

Larson study. Larson (1971) compared nine groups whose members agreed on whom they felt had emerged as leader with five other groups whose members did not agree on who led the groups. Larson called the first nine groups "stable leadership" groups and the other five "unstable leadership" groups. The stable leadership groups spent more time on substantive issues and less time on procedural and irrelevant topics than the unstable groups. Further, the leader initiated the most substantive ideas in the stable groups. In addition, the stable groups spent more discussion time, per idea, on the topic that the leader had initiated, in comparison with topics the other members initiated. Thus, it appears that groups with stable leadership were more prepared to take on the their task than groups with unstable leadership.

Looking at these studies as a whole, it appears that competence and group acceptance are the most important factors in how a group will behave with a certain leader. It does not necessarily matter whether a leader is elected, emergent, or appointed. A group can behave well and be successful under any of these conditions. As long as the group accepts the leader and he or she is competent, the group can function well with the leader.

Deviance and Leader Acceptance

As we have seen, the emergent approach emphasized the importance of a group's acceptance of their leader. Emergent leadership researchers studied a third issue. They attempted to describe how a leader can still be accepted by a group when he or she has performed deviant actions.

One of the most important influences on how much a group accepts any member of a group, including their leader, is the amount of conformity the member displays. When a group member regularly conforms to the group's norms, the other members come to think that the member has the group's best interests in mind. Therefore, the other group members will highly trust and accept the conforming member.

When a group is making a decision, however, an important part of its leader's job is to propose creative solutions.

Creativity and Deviance

Any act of creativity in a group setting goes against the norms of the group. As a consequence, by definition, creativity is deviant. Simply proposing a new course of action, for instance, is a deviant act. How can a group member be creative without having the group dislike his or her deviant ideas?

Researchers have long known that group members that create new proposals are highly respected by others in the group. However, the group respects these creative people only if they have shown enough respect for group norms in the past to have gained the group's trust. Experimenters have found that successful group leaders are both the greatest conformers and the most significant deviators when it comes to group norms. Hollander (1958) created a banking metaphor in an attempt to explain why this is so.

According to Hollander, a group member's positive status is a result of an accumulation of acts that the other members look upon highly. Most important among these valuable acts are those that conform with group standards. As a member conforms, he or she builds up a kind of "bank account" of status and trustworthiness in the eyes of the other group members. The account contains what Hollander calls "idiosyncrasy credits." The credits correspond to the amount of deviant behavior that the group will accept from a given member. A person "cashes in" the account when he or she wants to be deviant. The more credits in the account, the more a person can deviate without losing the group's trust.

For example, Jane is in a group of singers. She goes along with the group norms, singing what the leaders pick out and rehearsing as she should, for years. One year she wants to sing a certain song during a festival. The song does not appeal to the group, and they think that it would be strange to have it on their program. Jane very much wants to include it, and she stands her ground. Luckily, Jane has a lot of idiosyncrasy credits in the group. She has been a loyal and true member for a long time. People listen to what she has to say, even though she is being very deviant in her behavior. In the end, they decide that Jane must have a good reason for wanting the song so badly, and they do let her include it. Jane may have cashed in all her "credits," but the group listened to her and still trusted her when she was finished.

Thus, a person's conformity leads group members to trust him or her. They perceive that any deviance on the part of this person is sincerely intended to be in the group's best interest. However, a group can apply pressure on a deviant to conform if his or her account becomes "overdrawn." This can happen when the group members begin to doubt whether the deviant has allegiance to the group. For instance, Jane's "account" with her group may very well be overdrawn after her request for the song she likes. If she were to soon ask for another "odd" song, the group might reject her proposal and also pressure her to be a "good" member again. The successful leader is someone whose normal conformity is great enough to allow occasional but significant deviance. This leader is able to deviate when the situation calls for it and still keep the group's trust.

General Conclusions: Emergent Approach

As the research we described earlier shows, the emergent approach has had some success. It did leave behind some valuable insights into the process of leadership emergence. In addition, it was able to show how important it is that groups approve a leader. Rejected leaders have little legitimacy. The approach further revealed what can happen when leaders receive their positions in different manners. They can be elected, emergent, or appointed. The emergent research has shown how different circumstances can affect the success of leaders, based on how they have become leaders.


One of the most important legacies of the emergent approach is the idea that a leader has successfully emerged from a group when the members of the group believe that person to be the group's leader. Thus, the emergent approach emphasizes the notion that group members' perceptions about leadership are critical to the process of leader emergence.

The perceptual approach to leadership grows out of that notion. It is an attempt to understand how the average group member judges the leadership abilities of other members. Hence, it focuses on an important aspect of the leader emergence process

The perspectives we have discussed differ mainly in only one point. This is in regard to which factors they claim are important. Respectively, we have seen approaches toward leadership that maintain that a leader's success is due to his or her traits, his or her style, or the situation of the group. Further, we have discussed viewpoints that claim that the most important factors affecting leadership are the behaviors of all group members or the interaction between a leader's traits and the situation of the group. Despite these differences, scientists who advocate these approaches are united in their belief that they can objectively define "leadership" as a variable.

Advocates of the perceptual approach do not share this belief. They believe that leadership exists primarily within the mind of each group member. Thus they believe that the way to study leadership is to examine what group members think leadership is. It is consistent with the perceptual perspective toward groups that we discussed in Chapter 1.

Impression Formation Process

The perceptual approach views leadership as an "impression formation process." We discussed the process by which personality impressions are formed in Chapter 3. Let's review it now. For example, Sue wants to form an impression of Charlie; so she watches how he behaves. Sue particularly notices attention-grabbing, or salient behavior, on Charlie's part. Sue then decides whether his character is responsible for his behavior or if he is just reacting to the situation. If she decides that Charlie is responsible for the way he acts, she forms an impression of him. This impression starts with a trait that describes the behavior she has observed. The impression then builds, by adding other traits that Sue believes are associated with Charlie's first trait.

"Halo" and "Horns" Effects

If Sue observes something she believes is a "good" trait, she will tend to believe that Charlie has more "good" traits. Scientists call this tendency the "halo effect." If, on the other hand, Sue thinks Charlie has a "bad" initial trait, she will build up her impression by assigning more "bad" traits to him. This is the "horns effect." Finally, Sue will judge whether she likes Charlie based on her impression.

Biases enter into our impressions because of the halo and horns effects. As we have discussed, once we assign a trait to a person, we tend to further assign related traits. We can do this because we have a preexisting idea of which traits are associated. Such a process of judgment often can be wrong. It is not always true that clumsy people are stupid, for example. For instance, in Chapter 3 we described how the halo effect often causes people to make "good" judgments about persons who are physically attractive. People tend to say that attractive people are intelligent, mentally stable, and so on, without seeing any relevant evidence that this is true. Clearly, attractive people are not always "good" in all ways.

Impression Formation Process and Leadership

The way in which we form impressions and make judgments about the leadership ability of our fellow group members works in the same way as any impression formation process. First, we watch the other members of our group to see which leadership behaviors they generally exhibit. We are particularly attentive to the most salient of those behaviors. Next, we decide whether each person's character is responsible for any leadership behaviors or whether the situation is responsible. If we decide that a person is responsible for his or her actions, we form an impression of the person as a leader. Our impression will include not only the behaviors we have actually observed but also the traits that we believe are associated with leadership.

For example, we see that Joan speaks her mind readily. We think that is what a leader should do. We then may come to believe that Joan also has integrity, spirit, organizational skills, and other traits that we think leaders should have, even if we do not see her exhibiting them. We may then decide that Joan is truly the leader of the group.

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