Psyched-Up to Suck-Up: Self-Regulated Cognition, Interpersonal Influence, and Recommendations for Board Appointments in the Corporate Elite
Author(s): James D. Westphal, Guy Shani
Abstract: This study reveals how self-regulated cognition in advance of social interaction can resolve the so-called "ingratiator's dilemma," which is that the most attractive targets of social influence--those who have relatively high social status--tend to be the most difficult to ingratiate successfully. Our theoretical argument suggests that in anticipation of social interaction with a relatively high-status colleague, corporate directors tend to reflect on characteristics shared with that colleague, while avoiding thoughts about characteristics not shared. We explain how this pattern of cognition induces genuine positive feelings and admiration for the colleague, such that their interpersonal behaviors are less likely to appear as insincere attempts to curry favor, and thus more likely to engender influence. We further suggest that this pattern of cognition is especially valuable when interacting with relatively high-status colleagues who are demographically dissimilar from the focal actor. Finally, our theoretical framework indicates how this self-regulated cognition facilitates advancement in the corporate elite by positively moderating the effects of one's interpersonal behavior on the likelihood that colleagues will recommend him or her for a board appointment. We test our hypotheses with a unique dataset that includes survey data from a large sample of directors collected before and after meetings.
Publication Title: Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 59(2)
Pub Year: 2016
Pages: 479 – 509
Keywords: influence, high social status

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