Managers: Are You Dominant or Prestige-Motivated?

BY Kathy Crosett
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Managers, is your leadership style effective in helping your organization reach its goals? New research from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University reviews two well-​known leadership styles and when these styles can make the biggest impact. Most leaders can learn to employ these styles once they learn to identify them.

Two Leadership Styles

In their research Jon Maner and Charleen Case identify two established leadership styles:

  • Dominant – Managers using this style frequently coerce followers to behave in a desired way. They demand deference and use social coalitions to increase their power base. These leaders excel in a steep hierarchical organization.
  • Prestige-​motivated – Managers using this style rise to the top by being role models. They excel in flat organizations and are known to be knowledgeable. They also seek to create strong and lasting relationships.

In their structured testing, researchers found that dominant-​style leaders would specifically stifle talented subordinates if they felt these team members would outshine them. Dominant-​style managers would take this action even if the health of the organization was negatively impacted.

Conversely, prestige-​oriented managers take steps to allow their team members to shine. But, when these types of leaders are faced with the need to make decisions which negatively impact team members, but benefit the organization, they often fail to do so. They hesitate to make tough decisions, because they believe their power comes from being popular.

What Type of Manager are You?

If you’re not sure what motivates you as a leader, the researchers suggest paying attention to your behavior in meetings. Dominant leaders tend to talk, while prestige leaders tend to listen.

The researchers caution against presuming one type of leadership is better than another. Instead, you need to focus on when each specific leadership style is appropriate. For example, when your organization faces a threat from the outside, a dominant manager can bring their group to a successful outcome. If you’re in a situation that calls for creative solutions – such as developing a feature set for a new product or service – it’s time to rely on the prestige style of leadership.

You may well possess both types of leadership traits. As Maner says, “the key is knowing when to slip into each mode.” If you’re uncertain, it may be time to take a personality assessment to help you understand your natural tendencies and then work with a coach to develop your thought processes as you react to leadership challenges.