What Breaks a Leader: The Curvilinear Relation Between Assertiveness and Leadership

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The authors propose that individual differences in assertiveness play a critical role in perceptions about leaders. In contrast to prior work that focused on linear effects, the authors argue that individuals seen either as markedly low in assertiveness or as high in assertiveness are generally appraised as less effective leaders. Moreover, the authors claim that observers' perceptions of leaders as having too much or too little assertiveness are widespread. The authors linked the curvilinear effects of assertiveness to underlying tradeoffs between social outcomes (a high level of assertiveness worsens relationships) and instrumental outcomes (a low level of assertiveness limits goal achievement). In 3 studies, the authors used qualitative and quantitative approaches and found support for their account. The results suggest that assertiveness (and other constructs with nonlinear effects) might have been overlooked in research that has been focused on identifying what makes a leader rather than on identifying what breaks a leader.

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