Which is more important to your boss: to dominate people or to be liked by them?
Most leaders can be divided into these main two camps, says a management professor, and there is a time and a place for both styles.
"Dominant leaders mandate a vision," said Prof. Jon K. Maner of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Leaders whose main motivation is to be liked and admired — he calls these prestige leaders — "facilitate their group's vision."
Professor Maner is interested in how evolutionary biology shapes human behavior and creates social hierarchies. The dominant style of leadership evolved much earlier than the prestige style and is not restricted to humans, he noted.
"You see dominance across many species, including many other primates," he said. "In those species, the biggest and the strongest usually wins and ends up on top of the hierarchy." That isn't always the case with people. Sometimes being liked and admired helps propel a person to the top.
Professor Maner has analyzed leadership styles by administering questionnaires and by watching people interact in lab settings. He has found that dominant people exhibit behavior like speaking more often and more loudly, while prestige types spend more time listening and synthesizing other people's contributions.
"Dominant leaders hoard information and ostracize talented group members. They closely monitor talented group members to make sure they don't get out of line, and they prevent their subordinates from forming close social bonds with one another," he said, drawing on research he has done with Charleen R. Case and with Nicole L. Mead.
Whereas dominant leaders want to be in control of everything, "prestige is about leading in the domains in which you have expertise," Professor Maner said.
The presidential election offers up an example of the two styles: Donald J. Trump is a dominant leader, while Hillary Clinton has more prestige-leaning qualities, Professor Maner said. Steve Jobs of Apple, who was known for his brash, uncompromising style, was a classic example of a dominant leader. Warren Buffett, who has a less forceful demeanor, falls into the prestige category, according to the professor's classifications.
The dominant style has a negative cast and can lead to damaging behavior like bullying. Over all, the prestige style tends to work better in our culture, he said.
But dominance is not always bad for an organization, he added. "If you're running a company and you have a very strong vision for the direction the company needs to move, and your job as a leader is to get everybody aligned and moving toward that vision, then dominance actually works quite well."
Dominance can also be effective in times of organizational crisis, he said. "You want somebody to come in and lead the charge — there isn't time for a big brainstorming session."
The prestige leadership style is most effective when a leader does not have a strong vision and instead wants employees to come up with innovative and creative strategies, he said.
In a working paper that Professor Maner has written with Ms. Case, he details the way that the prestige style can get leaders into trouble. Because they gain their prestige by building relationships, they will sometimes make a popular decision over a wise one, he said, and "they also have trouble giving negative feedback to employees."
While most leaders tend to lean toward dominance or prestige, the best ones know how to use both styles — and to deploy the right one at the right time for the good of their organization, Professor Maner said.