Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Research cited in this article indicates that people create idealized mental picture of leaders. The authors discuss ways that authentic narratives can keep leaders from being hampered by exaggerated expectations.
By Nathan T. Washburn and Benjamin Galvin, Harvard Business Review, 1/23/17.
They may be flesh and blood to the senior team and the assistants in the C-suite, but to people in outer orbits, from operational departments to business units, they are imaginary constructs. Employees create pictures of what leaders seem to be, based on the bosses’ accumulated emails, tweets, speeches, and videos, plus whatever tidbits are picked up here and there.
Companies assume, or merely hope, that people will somehow derive inspiration from these mental images of the leader. But employees are judgy; a perceived shortcoming in a leader can easily undermine the image. But the mental process of building an imaginary picture is complicated, and certain weaknesses can be interpreted as strengths, lending the image an aura of authenticity. Understanding this process can be advantageous for leaders who hope to motivate and inspire.
Our extensive research suggests there are four rules governing how people create and respond to the imaginary leaders that live in their minds.