The follower map: Towards a theory of the roots of cultural variations in leadership ideals

Venue Change: Seminar will now take place in Pembroke College. Sandwiches will not be available this week

Three decades of research have documented substantial cross-cultural variation in the ideal attributes and behaviors that followers expect from their leaders in the domain of politics, business, sports and religion. In the East, employees tend to describe their ideal managers as more paternalistic and authoritarian than in the West, for instance. Furthermore, whereas only 5% of respondents in Sweden believe that men make better political leaders than women, in Egypt this is more than 80% (World Values Survey, 2022). From an evolutionary perspective, this variation seems puzzling because leadership ideals are thought to be regulated by universally shared adaptive followership mechanisms shaped by natural selection (Van Vugt, Hogan & Kaiser, 2008). I will argue that evolutionary and cultural approaches to leadership are not at odds but have something in common: An emphasis on the role of socio-ecological factors (e.g., climatic changes, resource crises, disease threats, demographic shifts, war-peace) in shaping culturally shared ideals of leadership. In the talk, I will introduce a novel evolutionary-ecological theory of leadership ideals which can makes several new contributions to the literature. First, I will review some key socio-ecological factors that might shape why and how leadership ideals vary across societies. Second, I will introduce two mechanisms through which ecology can affect leadership ideals, via (1) evoked and (2) transmitted culture. Third, I will discuss how an ecological framework advances new research questions and predictions related to changes in societally shared leadership ideals, enlarging the empirical toolbox available to leadership scholars. Together, these contributions provide a novel way of thinking about differences in leadership ideals across nations, regions, and organizations, offering various implications for leadership and followership theory and practice.