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#VUHRD Research Spotlight Series | Who wants to follow the leader?

This week we are diving into our second #VUHRD Research Spotlight Series! Previously, we took a closer look at the research of our #VUHRD faculty members – Dr. Katina Sawyer & Dr. Christian Thoroughood – in the area of gender nonconformity and how organizations can create inclusive environments for those individuals.

Our next four posts on the blog will investigate another recent publication by Dr. Thoroughgood & Dr. Sawyer on leadership styles: “Who wants to follow the leader? Using personality and work value profiles to predict preferences for charismatic, ideological, and pragmatic styles of leading.”

In this research, Dr. Thoroughgood & Dr. Sawyer sought to determine what employees’ preferences are when it comes to leadership styles, including charismatic, ideological, and pragmatic styles of leading. This study included 415 employees who were asked to complete a survey that determined their personality and work values. After eight weeks, those same employees were shown three speeches that exemplified the leadership styles being evaluated – charismatic, ideological, and pragmatic. After viewing the speeches, employees were asked to determine which leader they preferred, and researchers determined whether or not the initial surveys about personality and work values could be used to help predict which type of leader the employee prefers.

So, how are these three leadership styles defined, you ask? Good question!


The charismatic leader is defined as being “emotionally evocative” and one who envisions “a future radically different from the status quo” (pp. 2-3). This leader is very positive, inspirational in speech, and is definitely a risk-taker in order to shape that future into what (s)he wants it to look like. This leader is also open to new ideas, and want to foster trust, support, and teamwork (p. 3). These leaders seek to build and promote a “collective identity” (p. 3) among their followers.


The ideological leader is focused on “an idealized past and a return to prior routines” (p. 3). This leader wants to preserve traditional values to maintain the status quo—especially to keep things orderly, and stable, without much change. They are steadfast in their beliefs and use those consistent beliefs to guide their decision making. Their speeches are markedly different from the charismatic leader, in that they tend to utilize more negative imagery “of a system gone wrong” (p. 3) to encourage employees to take action and return to that idealized past, and expect conformity from their followers.


The pragmatic leader is all about rationality, problem solving, and living in the present. Rather than focusing on a vision of the future, this leader want to “cut to the heart of a problem” (p. 3) and determine what data is most relevant in their analysis of the situation. These leaders are rational, and doesn’t focus on the emotional side of things, and allow for autonomy of their followers (p. 3).


As you can tell, there are pros and cons to each type of leadership; this isn’t a “one correct answer” situation. The goal of this research is to better understand how different employees will react to different types of leadership, and also to bring the focus back to the followers of the leadership – not only the leaders themselves. If leaders can better understand how their followers will react to various types of leadership, particularly during a crisis, they may be able to determine how to handle a given situation based on that information.

Stay tuned to the blog over the next two weeks to learn more about this research. On Wednesday, hear Dr. Thoroughgood and Dr. Sawyer discuss what they learned during this research project and how it can be applied in your organization.Save

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