Many Leaders Actually Want to Help Others: Study

FRIDAY July 30, 2010 -- Many people who aspire to leadership actually want to help others, according to a new study that challenges the widespread belief that most leaders are selfish and egoistic.

A team of European researchers used economics-based games to study the personality traits of people who choose to be leaders and found that they were more likely to be rated as pro-social rather than selfish. In addition, those who chose to lead typically earned less money than those who chose to follow.

The study will be published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

"Our results suggest that leadership is a way for people to be helpful and engender coordination and cooperation between others," co-author Edward Cartwright, a senior lecturer at the School of Economics at the University of Kent in England, said in a university news release.

The findings paint "a much more positive view of leadership than is typical, and we were surprised by how clear cut the results are. In both the games we looked at, everything points towards selfless rather than selfish leaders. This really changes the way we think about leaders," according to Cartwright.

"Our data supports the view that leadership emerged in human societies as a social good," co-author Mark van Vugt, of VU University Amsterdam in the Netherlands, said in the news release.

"Yet this does not mean that leaders will not abuse their power once they find themselves in charge of a group -- in fact, many do. But for every Mugabe there is a Mandela and the latter is much closer to the way we want our leaders to be: fair, inspiring and servant," he said.

More information

For more on what makes an ethical leader, check out this article from Harvard Business School.

Posted: July 2010


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