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Impression Management

Leaders convey their values and goals through a communication strategy to internally affect the organization and externally reach customers. They want to project an image of themselves as strong, confident leaders. This should be a fairly easy thing to do if the leader is strong and confident in their abilities, cognizant of their weaknesses, and honestly concerned about the well-being of their constituents and satisfying their customers. Self-deceptive leaders may have a more difficult time of it. Either way, the leader must communicate with the outside world through a platform. Impression management is such a tool, whether it’s used to falsely project a competent persona or truthfully project the same. A leader seeks to boost their self-efficacy and convey their level of control in the eyes of the public.[1]

Anticipating the Views of Others

Before they engage in public consumption messaging, they must anticipate what the public wants and needs to hear. A self-aware leader is better able to anticipate how others view them, thereby being better able to craft a message to meet the public’s needs.[2] Through self-awareness and introspective reflection, leaders can predict what others need from them and take actions to fill the gaps between what the leader can provide and what the intended receiver of the message needs.[3]

Projecting Their Idealized Notion of a Leader

Whether a leader is an ideal leader or not is not the topic of this section; what image they project is. It’s a cycle. A leader romanticizes to themselves about what an ideal leader does, feels, and says. They wish to then project that image so that others see them as this idealized champion. When a leader transmits these images to followers, they are attempting to convince their constituents that they possess such qualities. The leader is also trying to convince their followers that they should believe that they, the leader, is that idealized champion.[4] To get to this point in the cycle, the leader may have to lie if they are not the idealized leader they wish themselves to be to enhance their prestige.[5]

Public Reputation of Consistency

An excellent leader who is charismatic and looks out for their people, organization, and customers will not have to craft such a façade of idealized greatness. A leader who is less self-aware and out of touch with what their people need and want may have to create an image of themselves that they desire others to see. A self-aware leader will not have to bridge the gap between their attitudes and behavior and what is perceived by others.[6] If there is a gap, the leader will have to promote the behaviors they want others to observe and downplay the traits they wish to suppress through impression management. Such behaviors include social desirability, leader sensitivity, and openness to others’ opinions.[7]

‘Prozac’ Leadership

David Collinson coined the term ‘Prozac leadership’ in the journal, Leadership, in 2012.[8] Prozac is a widely prescribed drug used to treat depression.[9] Prozac leadership refers to an overly positive attitude that enables leaders to project extreme confidence, control, and authority. Followers want to see a bright future. They want to believe that their time and effort with an organization will bear fruit, where they’ll feel productive and happy. Leaders will paint an overly optimistic image of utopian scenarios to inspire and reassure followers that they’ve made the right choice in choosing their organization and following their leader.[10]

In this context, Prozac symbolizes a social addiction to excessive positivity. This term suggests that positivity can resemble an addictive drug that might prevent critical self-reflection. However, there must be a balance between optimism and blindness. Positivity is an attractive quality in a leader. In American culture, upbeat self-promotion is seen as a trait that will help a leader succeed in this highly-competitive, individualistic market society. This positive energy sends a message to followers and competitors alike that this leader is strong, powerful, and confident.[11]

Positive energy is good. It motivates people. A leader who projects positivity inspires followers to accomplish the difficult goals an organization pursues in difficult environments. This falls apart when a leader is managing a false persona.


  • self-aware leaders are better able to anticipate how others view them, so they are better able to craft their message to their constituents and customers

  • a leader may try to project that they are ideal leaders and may do so by lying to others to falsely enhance their prestige

  • leaders may convey an excessively positive, even unrealistic message, to inspire followers

[1] Gray and Densten (2007) [2] Taylor (2010) [3] Hinkle (2018) [4] Gray and Densten (2007) [5] Williams et al. (2009) [6] Sosik (2001) [7] Gray and Densten (2007) [8] Collinson (2012) [9] Dilks and Flaumenhaft (2008) [10] Collinson (2012) [11] Collinson (2012)

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