Fearless dominance and leader effectiveness: A chance for excellency in leadership


Michael A. Leven School of Management, Entrepreneurship and Hospitality

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We tested whether the fearless dominance trait, which originated in the psychopathy literature and is typically presumed to relate to non-adaptive behaviors, also can lead to successful leader behaviors. According to Lykken's argument on fearlessness in psychopathy, the direction of the career path of individuals high on fearless dominance is mainly influenced by their level of pre-vocational socialization, and prior research has found encouraging results for this view. Our goal was to test this hypothesis specifically in the leadership context. By connecting Lykken's fearlessness argument to a recent process model of leadership by Zaccaro and colleagues, we suggest that fearless dominance and successful pre-vocational socialization (i.e., greater education) influence leadership outcomes via political skill. Our sample comprises 239 leaders, their superiors (N = 239), and a total of 457 subordinates. Using moderated mediation analyses, we show that leaders high on both fearless dominance and educational level possessed greater political skill at work, mediating improved job performance, transformational leader behavior, and team performance. However, for low educational level, this mediated relation is negative. We review our findings regarding Lykken's argument of successful fearlessness and provide an outlook for future research.

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Applied Psychology

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