Leader selection and leadership outcomes: Height and age in a sporting model

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Leader selection and leadership outcomes: Height and age in a sporting model
The Leadership Quarterly

There is emerging interest in drawing insights from evolutionary biology to understand the nature of human leadership as a position within a social system. This perspective assumes that natural selection favors individuals who recognize leadership qualities that will benefit both leaders and followers. Physical stature, in particular, is frequently mentioned as a preferred human leadership trait. The present study documents and analyses the choice of leaders and its consequences for organization outcomes, using a model sporting system – the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics. Team captains were no taller than their teammates, but they were consistently older, which had significant implications for team outcomes. The age of the captain was not correlated with team success, but it did influence team discipline: the frequency of serious infringements per game was negatively correlated with captain age. These results contradict the view that physical stature is a favored leadership trait, but nevertheless suggest that for human organizations, the search for leadership qualities might be profitably confined to those attributes that are likely to change with age and/or experience. Further, the evidence-based methodological approach highlights the value of examining directly the link between leadership attributes and real-life organization outcomes.

The Leadership Quarterly, Volume 27, Issue 4, August 2016, Pages 588–601

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