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Is Leadership Behavior Contagious?

Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman of Zenger/Folkman, a leadership development consultancy, present the fascinating results of recent research in their article, “The Trickle-Down Effect of Good (and Bad) Leadership,” published on Harvard Business Review.

The idea for the study is based on the premise of “social contagion,” i.e., that our emotions and behaviors affect and influence others, and vice versa. Zenger and Folkman wanted to know how it affected leaders and their employees.

To answer this question, we examined 360-degree assessments of high-level managers and of their direct reports who were mid-level managers. Matching 265 pairs of high-level managers (HL) and their mid-level manager direct reports (ML), we found highly significant correlations on a variety of behaviors.

Specifically, we tested 51 behaviors and found significant correlations in over 30 of them. (All 51 showed some correlation, but not all the correlations were statistically significant.) Within the behaviors that appeared contagious, there were some that appeared even more contagious than others. Behaviors that had the highest correlations between managers and their direct reports clustered around the following themes, listed in order of most contagious to least contagious: Developing self and others, Technical skills, Strategy skills, Consideration and cooperation, Integrity and honesty, Global perspective, Decisiveness, Results focus, and Overall performance.

The results? Employees who directly reported to the worst-performing high-level managers “were also below-average performers.” On the other hand, high-level managers “rated as very effective,” had employees who reported to them “who were also rated far above average.”

For more information, read the full article here.