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The Illusion of Leadership: Misattribution of Cause in Coordination Games

Author

Listed:
  • Roberto Weber

    () (Department of Social and Decision Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213)

  • Colin Camerer

    () (Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences, 228-77, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91125)

  • Yuval Rottenstreich

    () (Graduate School of Business, University of Chicago, 1101 E. 58th Street, Chicago, Illinois 60637, yuval)

  • Marc Knez

    () (Lexecon Strategy Group, Chicago, Illinois 60604)

Abstract

This paper reports the results of experiments which examine attributions of leadership quality. Subjects played an abstract coordination game which is like many organizational problems. Previous research showed that when larger groups play the game, they rarely coordinate on the Pareto-optimal (efficient) outcome, but small groups almost always coordinate on the efficient outcome. After two or three periods of playing the game, one subject who was randomly selected from among the participants to be the “leader” for the experiment was instructed to make a speech exhorting others to choose the efficient action. Based on previous studies, we predicted that small groups would succeed in achieving efficiency but that large groups would fail. Based on social psychological studies of the fundamental attribution error, we predicted that the subjects would underestimate the strength of the situational effect (group size) and attribute cause to personal traits of the leaders instead—leaders would be credited for the success of the small groups, and blamed for the failure of the large groups. This hypothesis proved true: Subjects attributed differences in outcomes between conditions to differences in the effectiveness of leaders. In a second experiment, subjects voted to replace the leaders more frequently in the large-group condition (at a small cost to themselves), showing that misattributions of leadership ability also affect actual behavior by subjects. Previous research has demonstrated a tendency to credit or blame leaders for unusual performance. The difference in our study is that subjects should be blaming a structural condition—the size of the group—but they blame the leaders instead. Thus, our experiment is the first to establish a mistaken illusion of leadership.

Suggested Citation

  • Roberto Weber & Colin Camerer & Yuval Rottenstreich & Marc Knez, 2001. "The Illusion of Leadership: Misattribution of Cause in Coordination Games," Organization Science, INFORMS, vol. 12(5), pages 582-598, October.
  • Handle: RePEc:inm:ororsc:v:12:y:2001:i:5:p:582-598
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    File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1287/orsc.12.5.582.10090
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Dirk Jenter & Fadi Kanaan, 2015. "CEO Turnover and Relative Performance Evaluation," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 70(5), pages 2155-2184, October.
    2. Andreas Blume & Peter H. Kriss & Roberto A. Weber, 2017. "Pre-play communication with forgone costly messages: experimental evidence on forward induction," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 20(2), pages 368-395, June.
    3. Edward Cartwright & Joris Gillet & Mark Van Vugt, 2013. "Leadership By Example In The Weak-Link Game," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 51(4), pages 2028-2043, October.
    4. Raymond P. Guiteras & Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak, 2015. "Does Development Aid Undermine Political Accountability? Leader and Constituent Responses to a Large-Scale Intervention," NBER Working Papers 21434, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Lu Dong & Maria Montero & Alex Possajennikov, 2018. "Communication, leadership and coordination failure," Theory and Decision, Springer, vol. 84(4), pages 557-584, June.
    6. Philip J. Grossman & Catherine Eckel & Mana Komai & Wei Zhan, 2016. "It Pays to Be a Man: Rewards for Leaders in a Coordination Game," Monash Economics Working Papers 38-16, Monash University, Department of Economics.
    7. Kriss, Peter H. & Blume, Andreas & Weber, Roberto A., 2016. "Coordination with decentralized costly communication," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 130(C), pages 225-241.
    8. Baethge, Caroline & Fiedler, Marina, 2016. "Aligning mission preferences: Does self-selection foster performance in working groups?," Passauer Diskussionspapiere, Betriebswirtschaftliche Reihe B-18-16, University of Passau, Faculty of Business and Economics.
    9. Giannakas, Konstantinos & Fulton, Murray & Sesmero, Juan, 2016. "Horizon and Free-Rider Problems in Cooperative Organizations," Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Western Agricultural Economics Association, vol. 41(3), September.

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