The Right Stuff: Examining Leader Attributes and Legitimacy Judgments When They Matter Most

Benjamin Amos

Advisor: Stephen Zaccaro, PhD, Department of Psychology

Committee Members: Richard Klimoski, Seth Kaplan

Enterprise Hall, #204
June 08, 2018, 10:30 AM to 12:00 PM


A theoretical framework for understanding the role contextual extremity plays in a leader’s ability to influence volunteer action is presented. Understanding how context changes influence requests in rare but potentially life-threatening extreme events provides a better theoretical understanding of performance in the boundary conditions of situational extremity and offers insights into the most effective influence approaches in these contexts. Leader influence attempts at different levels of dominance and trustworthiness in extreme and non-extreme contexts were examined to understand their influence in establishing quick legitimacy and subsequent willingness of volunteer followers to act. An experimental vignette scenario based on a realistic disaster scenario of either high or low contextual extremity was presented to participants to develop empirical evidence of the psychological forces driving the willingness of volunteers to act to assist victims of disaster scenario. Results showed that leaders conveying high levels of dominance and trustworthiness developed higher levels of legitimacy and had higher levels of influencing follower willingness to act as needed. The legitimacy and willingness to act relationship was positively moderated by contextual extremity providing evidence that quick legitimacy judgments are particularly important for influencing follower willingness to act in extreme contexts.