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Impacting Others

Leaders have a profound impact on followers. Perhaps more so than any other person a worker encounters through the course of their day. A critical element of leading is the ability to judge the impact a leader has on others. The influence that leaders have over subordinates may be a neglected aspect of leadership.[1] Without this self-awareness and the ability to anticipate the weight of their interactions with subordinates, leaders will be unable to demonstrate empathy toward the strife of their people.[2] Followers can make important contributions to strategic decisions greatly impacting the organization, and a great leader can bring out the best in them.[3] However, if a leader is not aware of the effect they have on people and dampen their efforts as a result of apathy, those followers’ contributions may never surface.

How a Leader is Seen by Others

Leaders operate under a microscope. Their subordinates, peers, bosses, and customers all watch for their decisions so they can anticipate how those actions will affect them. How a leader handles discrepancies, feedback, and reactions to their decisions will influence the opinions of those with which they must interact.[4] While many happenings around a leader are extrinsic and are determined outside the leader’s control, the leader may influence outcomes based on their perceptions, beliefs, desires, goals, and ultimately, their actions to influence events.[5]

The self-aware leader can have a profound effect on these relationships in both positive and negative ways. The effect leaders have on others will be determined by their honest assessment of their own behaviors. To be truly self-aware, a leader must know the internal and external components of their behavior. Internally, a leader must understand their self-resources, that is, their inner state. They must also have an accurate idea of how others perceive them and the impact they have as a result of their behavior.[6]

Image Projection

As part of a leader’s communication strategy, a leader will project an image onto others. A good leader is one that is self-aware and provides for a positive environment for others. A bad leader is one who fools themselves into thinking that their actions benefit others or who is just out for themselves. It would seem obvious that a leader would want to project a positive image so that their actions are socially approved. The ultimate intent of image projection is to influence constituents and attract new followers to a leader’s cause. Projecting a positive image of their leadership, the leader sets out to build faith in their abilities and give people the confidence to follow them.[7]

The level of self-awareness or self-deception in a leader will determine the authenticity of the impression they intend to project. To determine the level of authenticity, an interested observer can look at how that leader’s projected image comes back around and affects that leader’s impression of themselves.[8] For instance, when a leader lies, particularly about their capabilities, they are using the lie as a form of social currency or power to fool others into believing that they are a good leader.[9] This is a negative use of impression management. Lying is an outward attempt to influence others, but it also comes back on the person and affects their character and morality. They are creating a façade through impression management to conceal traits such as callousness and vindictiveness. If they are not called out on it and are exposed for being deceptive for their own gains, this behavior could prove to be debilitating to that person.[10]

Lying is not only internally damaging, as pointed out, but it also manifests in additional deviant behavior. In any setting, lying to advance one’s self-interest is perceived as unethical. If a liar is caught telling a lie, this discovery can threaten that person’s moral and competent image of themselves. This goes against the positive image they are trying to project. So, they must compensate. To recapture the positive image needed to influence others and bring on new followers, the lying leader will participate in neutralization actions meant to delegitimize their deviant behavior. This is the external effect. The internal effect is that this neutralization strategy can reduce one’s mental stress.[11]


In 1980, Anthony Greenwald introduced the term “beneffectance” to the world of psychology.[12] He defined this concept as a combination of doing good (beneficence) and being competent or effective. This combination is especially important for leaders, and it would make sense that they would want to project an image of beneffectance, whether it accurately describes their behavior or not.

To achieve this positive image internally, the leader may engage in self-promotion and self-exaggeration while denying the negatives of their less-than-competent actions.[13] This benefectance or the impression of it can aid a leader in projecting an image of being responsible for the good that happens while not being the cause of organizational failures. In essence, the leader takes credit for success but denies responsibility for the failures and shortcomings of the firm or their subordinates. Greenwald went on to warn that problems with one’s leadership competence can be confounded when they internally perceive positive random events as being attributed to their magnificence.[14]

Leaders may engage in such self-deceptive behavior to project an image onto others that they are competent leaders who are genuinely interested in the well-being of the organization and their followers. Leaders may even go to such lengths as to engage in selfish and deceitful ploys, all while denying the nature of such activities to themselves and to others.[15] They may intentionally overreport the transformational actions they believe they are engaged in and downplay the high-performance of their subordinates if it takes away from the impression they are trying to project of themselves. Their end goal is to influence followers, peers, and their superiors into believing that their actions are not only socially desirable but are the causes of organizational success.[16]

Leaders are in a position to impact others in everything they do. For the wellbeing of their colleagues and that of the organization writ large, great leaders act ethically. They act for the benefit of the collective with competency and integrity.


  • the effect a leader has on others is influenced by the honest self-evaluation of their behavior and the empathy they feel and show to their colleagues

  • a leader projecting a positive image may be attempting to achieve social approval of their behavior

[1] Caldwell and Hayes (2016) [2] Taylor (2010) [3] Collinson (2012) [4] Conger and Toegel (2002) [5] Taylor (2010) [6] Taylor (2010) [7] Gray and Densten (2007) [8] Gray and Densten (2007) [9] Williams et al. (2009) [10] Bok (1989) [11] Williams et al. (2009) [12] Greenwald (1980) [13] Trivers (2006) [14] Greenwald (1980) [15] Trivers (2006) [16] Gray and Densten (2007)

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