No Guts, No Glory? How Risk-Taking Shapes Dominance, Prestige, and Leadership Endorsement

Gerben A. van Kleef, Marc W. Heerdink, Arik Cheshin, Eftychia Stamkou, Florian Wanders, Lukas F. Koning, Xia Fang, Oriane A.M. Georgeac

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Risk-taking can fuel innovation and growth, but it can also have devastating consequences for individuals and organizations. Here we examine whether risk-taking affords social-hierarchical benefits to risk-takers. Specifically, we investigate how risk-taking influences perceived dominance, prestige, and the willingness to endorse risk-takers’ leadership. Integrating insights from costly signaling theory and the dominance/ prestige framework of social rank, we theorized that risk-taking increases leadership endorsement to the degree that it fuels perceptions of prestige, but decreases leadership endorsement to the degree that it fuels perceptions of dominance. However, we also hypothesized that risk-induced perceptions of dominance do translate into leadership endorsement in competitive (rather than cooperative) intergroup settings. We tested these hypotheses in four studies involving different samples, methods, and operationalizations. In Study 1, participants performed an implicit association test (IAT) that revealed that people associate risk with leader positions, and safety with follower positions. Study 2 was a longitudinal field survey conducted during the September 2019 Israeli elections, which showed that voters’ perceptions of politicians’ risk-taking propensities prior to the elections positively predicted perceived dominance and prestige as well as voting behavior during the elections. Finally, Studies 3 and 4 demonstrated that people are willing to support risktakers as leaders in the context of competitive (as opposed to cooperative) intergroup situations, because perceived dominance positively predicts leadership endorsement in competitive (but not cooperative) intergroup settings. We discuss implications for understanding the social dynamics of organizational rank and the perpetuation of risky behavior in organizations, politics, and society at large.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1673-1694
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Applied Psychology
Volume106
Issue number11
DOIs
StatePublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021. American Psychological Association

Keywords

  • Costly signaling
  • Dominance
  • Leader endorsement
  • Prestige
  • Risk-taking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology

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