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Newly promoted managers emulate their leader’s example, even when it’s bad

Posted by Neha De

January 28, 2022

In their joint article The five practices of exemplary leadership, James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posne write:  “Exemplary leaders know that it’s their behavior that earns them respect. The real test is whether they do what they say; whether their words and deeds are consistent.” To be a great leader, one also needs to be a positive role model.

The two University of Nottingham professors set out to shine a light on the degree to which a leader’s opinions could influence the behaviors and beliefs of their followers. They discovered — and published their findings in the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization — that leaders whose behavior is easily observed by subordinates exert a particularly pronounced ability to influence their subordinates’ beliefs.

New managers often learn by observing their leaders

This is often true for many managers who have been newly promoted. They tend to imitate senior leaders until they develop enough self-confidence to lead their teams in their own way. Because they are new at the job, they are not sure of how a manager is supposed to act, and therefore, they emulate the behaviors, actions and processes of those they perceive as more successful in the company.

This can be validated through several studies, which reveal that managers who are new to their jobs often take a page from their superior’s playbook when interacting with their team members.

However, this also implies that new managers may emulate the abusive behavior of leaders, and research bears this out. Researchers from the University of Nevada and the University of Florida studied the effects of a leader’s toxic behavior on a newly promoted supervisor. They discovered that in certain circumstances, a new manager felt it was acceptable to model their superior’s abusive behavior. 

Authentic leadership is true leadership

Leaders need to be authentic. Because employees who cannot exercise control over the expression of their authentic selves can get into trouble quickly when they become leaders themselves. 

That said, the reality is teams are built through imitation, and therefore, new managers can create positive cultures using these three tips: 

  1. High-level leaders need their subordinates to tell the truth.

    While it is extremely easy to get feedback when one is at a junior level in an organization, the same becomes almost impossible when one is at the top. Most subordinates (would-be managers, in this case) believe their leaders do not want to get honest criticism. They also end up emulating their superior’s worst behaviors and not even recognize it.

    In such a situation, if top leaders cannot extract honest feedback from their colleagues or subordinates, they should look outside the company for an objective point of view.

  2. Try spending more time with your frontline employees

    (those who interact directly with customers). High-level leaders who regularly talk to their frontline employees feel more accountable as workers.

    Talking to as many employees as possible is also a great way of finding the root cause of several issues in your organization.

  3. Team members are always watching their leaders

    . And it is very easy to take anything they do or say out of context. Employees watch how leaders respond to different situations and how they treat staff members (when they are hired and when they are leaving the company). Leaders must be mindful of how they solve problems, treat people, collaborate and manage their time, and so on. 


Neha De
Neha De

Neha De is a writer and editor with more than 13 years of experience. She has worked on a variety of genres and platforms, including books, magazine articles, blog posts and website copy. She is passionate about producing clear and concise content that is engaging and informative. In her spare time, Neha enjoys dancing, running and spending time with her family.

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