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Blazing the trail versus trailing the group: Culture and perceptions of the leader's position


  • Menon, Tanya
  • Sim, Jessica
  • Fu, Jeanne Ho-Ying
  • Chiu, Chi-yue
  • Hong, Ying-yi


Research suggests that power triggers assertive action. However, people from different cultures might expect different types of action from powerful individuals such as leaders. In comparing cultural differences in leadership imagery, we find that Americans represent leaders standing ahead of groups, whereas Asians also represent leaders behind groups. We propose that front versus back positions embody two faces of leader action: individual assertion versus group-focused action. Studies 1a and 1b respectively employed etic and emic methods to demonstrate that Singaporeans were more likely than Americans to represent leaders behind groups. In Study 2, Singaporeans evaluated back leaders more favorably than Americans did, and group focus mediated cultural differences. Simulating the conditions under which cultural differences arise, Study 3 demonstrates that a primarily Western managerial sample primed with threat (versus opportunity) preferred back leaders. By describing cultural variations in imagery, we reveal more nuanced implicit theories of leader action.

Suggested Citation

  • Menon, Tanya & Sim, Jessica & Fu, Jeanne Ho-Ying & Chiu, Chi-yue & Hong, Ying-yi, 2010. "Blazing the trail versus trailing the group: Culture and perceptions of the leader's position," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 113(1), pages 51-61, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jobhdp:v:113:y:2010:i:1:p:51-61

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Lee, Angela Y. & Aaker, Jennifer L. & Gardner, Wendi L., 2000. "The Pleasures and Pains of Distinct Self-Construals: The Role of Interdependence in Regulatory Focus," Research Papers 1577r, Stanford University, Graduate School of Business.
    2. Zemba, Yuriko & Young, Maia J. & Morris, Michael W., 2006. "Blaming leaders for organizational accidents: Proxy logic in collective- versus individual-agency cultures," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 101(1), pages 36-51, September.
    3. Giessner, S.R. & Schubert, T.W., 2007. "High in the Hierarchy: How Vertical Location and Judgments of Leaders' Power are Interrelated," ERIM Report Series Research in Management ERS-2007-021-ORG, Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM), ERIM is the joint research institute of the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University and the Erasmus School of Economics (ESE) at Erasmus University Rotterdam.
    4. Giessner, Steffen R. & Schubert, Thomas W., 2007. "High in the hierarchy: How vertical location and judgments of leaders' power are interrelated," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 104(1), pages 30-44, September.
    5. Raghubir, Priya & Valenzuela, Ana, 2006. "Center-of-inattention: Position biases in decision-making," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 99(1), pages 66-80, January.
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    Cited by:

    1. Wang, Hui & Waldman, David A. & Zhang, Hongyu, 2012. "Strategic leadership across cultures: Current findings and future research directions," Journal of World Business, Elsevier, vol. 47(4), pages 571-580.

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