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  Leaders and Impression Management

By G. Balasubramanian

It is a common sight in this country to find mega size cut-outs, posters and other caricatures of the political leaders. No less are the leaders of the celluloid industry when new pictures of heroes are released. One wonders at the cost at which these are made and displayed. Several court cases have also come up in the recent past on the distractions being caused to the people on the road by these displays. Nevertheless, the culture is expanding from top leaders to the middle level and now to the lower rung local leaders who want to see their prints on display in street corners. From birthday celebrations to a foreign travel, one needs only a case and a cause for bringing out such print outs. If we analyze the reasons closely, the leaders want to create an impression about them, sustain or build such impressions to a larger size. They feel that if the correct projection of their image does not reach the people to whom it should go, the sustainability of their leadership will be in question.

At the corporate level, the image building of an organization is believed to be critical. Billions of dollars are spent world over on image building exercises. Within a small organization also, every leader however small he is, exercises to create an impression about him which will go to build his image.

Gary Yukl, in his book Leadership in Organizations, dealing with impression management of leaders says: Impression Management is the process of influencing how other perceive and the behaviours used for this purpose. Tactics such as excuses and apologies are used in the defensive way to avoid blame for weak performance or to seek forgiveness for a mistake. Further he details four different types of tactics employed by people for impression management. They are:

  1. Traits approach
  2. Behaviour approach
  3. Power-influence approach
  4. Situational approach
  5. Integrative approach

Exercises which focus on displaying loyalty to a mission or dedication to a cause or an organization are some examples in the first case. In some organizations some people tend to impress their boss by,

  • Wearing a smart dress
  • Coming early before the boss
  • Staying back till the boss leaves
  • Seeking voluntary tasks
  • Attending to the personal works of the boss

Such exercises are prevalent at all levels of the hierarchy of leadership.

In the second case, people tend to create impressions by

  • Friendly and caring attitude
  • Praising a person for everything
  • Agreeing to the opinions of others without any consideration
  • Laughing at the jokes of the target person

Some tend to attend to the tasks in the personal lives of the boss or the leader to whom they stand attached

In the third case the people act as their own agents. Some actions by the people in this category are:

  • They bring their achievements to the attention of the boss
  • They find every opportunity to tell people that they are focused and oriented.
  • They enlighten others of their skills and competencies.
  • They refer to their network of contacts and people who matter
  • They display their degrees, awards, and titles at every possible place.
  • They tend to occupy very vital seats in meetings and celebrations

In the last type, normally adopted by people addicted to their authority, they tend to impress by the following methods:

  • They exercise their authority frequently to project as most powerful persons
  • They inform others that they are capable of hurting, damaging and destroying the lives of others
  • They want people to compromise with their unacceptable and coercive attitudes and behaviours
  • They often focus on the weakness, incompetence and inferiority of others

Adequate research has been on the relationship between leadership traits and leadership effectiveness to find the common traits that enable leader effectiveness.All of us tend to impress others in one way or the other. In the existing social set up impression management is a key to success. In an organizational set up, it is important to consider what type of behaviour we should adopt, to what limit we can exercise our authority, whether the impression created by us is real or dubious, whether any such impression created by us is acceptable to others are not.

It will be nice if we can find some time to debate with our own self as to what category we belong to and what should be the direction of our movement.

Image courtesy : https://millo.co/a-designers-guide-to-a-great-first-impression