Stealthy Footsteps to the Boardroom

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Ithai Stern of Northwestern University and James D. Westphal of the University of Michigan published “Stealthy Footsteps to the Boardroom: Executives’ Backgrounds, Sophisticated Interpersonal Influence Behavior, and Board Appointments” in the June 2010 issue of ASQ. The abstract:

Drawing from theory and research on interpersonal attraction, as well as interviews with 42 directors of large U.S. industrial and service firms, we identified a set of social influence tactics that are less likely to be interpreted by the influence target as manipulative or political in intent and are therefore more likely to engender social influence. We consider who among top managers and directors of large firms is most likely to exercise such tactics and how their use affects the likelihood of garnering board appointments at other firms. An analysis of survey data on interpersonal influence behavior from a large sample of managers and chief executive officers (CEOs) at Forbes 500 companies strongly supports our theoretical arguments: managers’ and directors’ ingratiatory behavior toward colleagues is more likely to yield board appointments at other firms to the extent that it comprises relatively subtle forms of flattery and opinion conformity, which our theory suggests are less likely to elicit cynical attributions of motive. Supplementary analyses also indicate that these relationships are mediated by an increased likelihood of receiving a colleague’s recommendation for the appointment. Moreover, we theorize and find that managers and directors who have a background in politics, law, or sales, or an upper-class background, are more sophisticated and successful in their ingratiatory behavior.

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