Spreading the word: The Role of Surrogates in Charismatic Leadership Processes

leaders and subordinates in organizations generally
can be attributed to time constraints, geographic
distance, or simply the distance created
by the size or extensive hierarchy of organizations.
Without substantial direct contact between
a leader and subordinates, there may be
a void of leader behaviors and actions for subordinates
to evaluate and compare against prototypes
in their mental schema. A lack of positive
information about the leader will likely
make it difficult for subordinates to develop
charismatic perceptions (Bass, 1990). Yet it is not
uncommon for subordinates who have had little
direct contact with a leader to perceive the distant
leader as charismatic. This raises the question
of why some subordinates, who have had
little direct contact with their leaders, perceive
their leaders as charismatic.
One explanation may be that some individuals
inherently romanticize leaders and tend to
associate greatness and charisma with individuals
in positions of power (Meindl, Ehrlich, &
Dukerich, 1985). Another explanation may be
that some leaders successfully engage in efforts
that minimize the distance between themselves
and subordinates. For instance, leaders may
hold company-wide events to build support for
their directives and initiatives. They may even
disseminate their bios and photos in an attempt
to personalize themselves and help subordinates
see them in a positive light. Further, they
may share video addresses and written statements
via email, webpages, and blogs. In short,
leaders may provide positive information about
themselves, which followers can then use to
form their own perceptions by making comparisons
against schema and prototypes of effective
Attempts to garner charismatic perceptions
such as those discussed above may be somewhat
successful in overcoming distance between
leaders and distant followers. However,
such attempts represent only a portion of the
information that distant followers consider
when developing their perceptions of leaders.
Indeed, distant followers will also glean information
about leaders from other individuals
with whom they directly interact in the organization.
Individuals who act as secondhand
sources of information may, in many cases, be
seen as more reliable and trustworthy by distant
followers than such formal sources as company
websites and staged appearances from leaders

These secondhand sources of information about
leaders have the potential to be especially influential
in determining distant followers’ perceptions
of leaders—potentially even more so
than firsthand interactions (Bowler & Brass,
2006; Gilovich, 1987).
To date, the role of these influential individuals
in the charismatic leadership process has
lacked clarity. Theories of charismatic leadership
generally have focused on leader behaviors
or social processes that occur between leaders
and followers—that is, relationships. Klein
and House (1995) and Gardner and Avolio (1998)
suggested that followers may play an important
role in charismatic leadership processes. Building
on this idea, Waldman and Yammarino
(1999) proposed that leader storytelling and symbolic
behavior increase the likelihood that followers
will spread stories and sagas about the
leader that may lead to perceptions of leader
Along related lines, Balkundi and Kilduff
(2005) noted the importance of a networks perspective
in understanding how intermediaries
from the leader’s network may dampen or enhance
leader influence. This perspective is in
line with Bono and Anderson’s (2005) findings
that managers who are perceived as transformational
tend to hold more central positions in
the informal social networks of the organization,
as do their direct reports. Accordingly, there is
the possibility that managers who are perceived
as transformational may exert some influence
over distant subordinates through intermediaries,
including their direct reports.
By drawing on charismatic leadership theory
(Bass, 1985) and a social networks perspective
(Balkundi & Harrison, 2006), we advance new
ideas regarding how third-party individuals
may increase levels of charismatic perceptions
or attributions for a leader among distant subordinates.
Our work expands on previous theory
and research suggesting that charismatic attributions
of a leader develop among subordinates
through social contagion processes among informal
networks (e.g., Gardner & Avolio, 1998;
Meindl et al., 1985; Pastor, Meindl, & Mayo, 2002).
Specifically, our theory provides an understanding
of the behaviors these individuals engage in
that enhance perceptions of leader charisma.
Below, we refer to these individuals as surrogates.
An understanding of this largely unknown
role and associated behavior can pro-

vide new insight into a process that may be, in
great part, responsible for leaders’ gaining influence
and being seen as charismatic by their
distant followers.
By adopting a social networks approach, we
clarify how surrogates in key network positions
are especially motivated and influential in this
role. In doing so we seek to respond to the
largely unanswered call for more theory to explain
how networks and social processes in organizations
are related to leadership and its
perception (Balkundi & Kilduff, 2005; Brass, Galaskiewicz,
Greve, & Tsai, 2004). It is to the issue
of how distant leaders can be aided by surrogates
that we now turn our attention.

To date, little effort has been made to show
the connection between perceptions of leaders
and the social processes that occur among distant
followers in formal (i.e., formally specified
work relationships) and informal (i.e., discretionary
relationships) networks (Ibarra, 1993). In
Figure 1 we propose a mediated model that involves
behavior, performed by individuals we
call “surrogates,” that enhances perceptions of
leader charisma among distant followers in the
surrogates’ formal and informal networks. This
process of influencing attitudes and emotions is
similar in nature to Bandura’s (1977) social

learning theory, in that a socially mediated process
occurs in which individuals develop their
perceptions (of leaders) based on their observations
of the attitudes and behaviors of others
(surrogates). We now proceed to describe the
nature of surrogates and surrogacy as a behavioral
The Nature of Surrogates
“Surrogate” is derived from the Latin term surrogatus,
the past participle of surrogare, which
means to substitute (American Heritage Dictionary).
It is generally used to designate two types
of individuals who stand in the place of, or substitute
for, another person in a social or family
role (American Heritage Dictionary). First, it is
used to describe a formal role, where “one appointed
to act in the place of another” (Merriam-
Webster Dictionary) does so in an official manner.
Second, it is used more informally to
designate “one that serves as a substitute” (Merriam-
Webster Dictionary) for another person. For
instance, a formally appointed surrogate court
may distribute assets for a deceased individual
because the individual cannot distribute them
him/herself. However, other examples of the use
of the term may include both individuals who
are intentionally sent to act in the role and individuals
who represent another of their own
accord. We will return to the issue of intentionality

In the political realm the term political surrogate
is used to describe well-known or influential
individuals who build support and credibility
for politicians (Sack, 1989). These individuals
promote the politician; defend his or her positions,
actions, and/or reputation; and model how
to be a supportive follower. Political surrogates
may be intentionally sent by politicians or, alternatively,
may simply view the politician in a
positive light and consequently support the politician
of their own volition. During the 2008
presidential campaign in the United States, for
instance, surrogates of Barack Obama, such as
Oprah Winfrey, promoted Barack Obama among
specific interest groups that may have been hesitant
to support him (e.g., female voters; Halloran,
2007). Surrogates such as Clifford Alexander,
former Secretary of the Army, defended
the ability and credibility of Barack Obama
when his (military-relevant) credentials were
challenged, thus helping him to be perceived as
a capable future Commander-in-Chief (Montanaro,
2008). In addition, Hillary Clinton, who was
Barack Obama’s primary competitor in the Democratic
primary, eventually acted as a surrogate
for him. Specifically, she modeled for others an
example of committed followership to Barack
Obama by campaigning for him and by publicly
announcing her vote for him (Fitzgerald, 2008).
We employ the term surrogate in a manner
similar to the above usages to describe a role
that individuals fill by actively engaging in noncoercive
impression management behavior that
facilitates a positive image of a leader (cf. Bolino,
Kacmar, Turnley, & Gilstrap, 2008). This
behavior—surrogate behavior—may take the
form of promoting the leader, defending the
leader, and/or providing a model of followership
for others. Leaders at all levels of organizations
who have followers with whom they have little
contact because of time constraints, hierarchical/organizational
distance, or geographic distance
may benefit when individuals engage in this
role. Therefore, when we refer to the leader, we
are not necessarily referring to the highest-level
leader (e.g., CEO) of the organization. That is,
leaders at lower levels (e.g., divisional managers)
who have distant followers may also receive
benefits when individuals engage in surrogate
Individuals who engage in the surrogate role
may intentionally be sent by the leader, or they
may act of their own volition. For example, a

leader may intentionally suggest to would-be
surrogates that the leader’s vision should be
spread and characterized in a favorable light to
distant followers. Alternatively, an individual
may engage in surrogate behavior without
prompting from the leader. Direct contact with
the leader is not a prerequisite for engaging in
surrogate behavior. Surrogates’ level of direct
contact with the leader can range from high
(e.g., an assistant manager who meets with the
leader daily to discuss strategy) to zero (e.g., a
distant subordinate who has never seen the
leader in person). We do not limit the surrogate
role to the direct reports of leaders. In the discussion
that follows we present a model of surrogate
behavior and its effects on distant followers’
perceptions of leader charisma.
Surrogate Behavior As a Construct
As shown in Figure 1, surrogate behavior is
central to an understanding of the surrogacy
phenomenon in relation to charismatic leadership.
Surrogate behavior is a latent construct
that may be manifested through promoting the
leader, defending the leader, and modeling followership.
Surrogate behavior may be observed
through one or all of these behaviors. These
three behavioral dimensions may be engaged in
simultaneously or independently, depending on
the opportunities to engage in the behavior. Although
these three behavioral dimensions are
not dependent on one another, they manifest
from a common cause (i.e., surrogacy) and likely
complement one another. Thus, we conceptualize
the behavioral dimensions as reflective of
surrogate behavior, and as such, the behavioral
categories are reflective and not formative in
nature (MacKenzie, Podsakoff, & Jarvis, 2005).
The characteristic behaviors of the surrogate
role mirror behaviors that have been traditionally
associated with assertive and defensive image
presentation/construction in the impression
management literature (Goffman, 1959; Roberts,
2005). However, surrogate behavior focuses on
managing others’ impressions of the leader,
rather than of the self. Surrogate behavior fits
within the broad category of interpersonal citizenship
behavior, or OCBI (Bowler & Brass, 2006;
Organ, 1997). This category captures citizenship
behaviors that specifically benefit an individual—in
this case the leader—and, in the long run, have
the potential to positively influence the organi-

zation (LePine, Erez, & Johnson, 2002; Williams &
Anderson, 1991).
There is no specific temporal or behavioral
threshold for one to be considered as acting, or
having acted, as a surrogate. For example, an
individual who has engaged in characteristic
behavior during a meeting could be considered
as having acted as a surrogate, as well as an
individual who consistently engages in characteristic
behavior over time. In addition, there is
no intentionality threshold to be considered a
surrogate. That is, it is possible that in some
cases an individual will engage in the behavior
without the cognizant intention of generating
charismatic leadership perceptions. Rather, the
behavior may be uncalculated in nature. For
instance, an individual may simply tell positive
stories about the leader, with no intention of
increasing charismatic perceptions of that individual
among those to whom he or she is telling
the stories.
As mentioned previously, surrogate behavior
is manifested through promoting the leader, defending
the leader, and modeling followership.
Leader promotion publicizes the accomplishments,
positive qualities, and traits of the leader
(cf. self-promotion and enhancement; Bolino
et al., 2008; Roberts, 2005). Leader promotion
largely consists of making positive statements
and engaging in positive storytelling about the
leader. Stories provide a forum for sharing the
symbolic behaviors of the leader (Waldman &
Yammarino, 1999) and are easily remembered
and passed through the networks (Hatch, Kostera,
& Kozminski, 2006). They are likely to include
instances of the leader’s overcoming challenges
or acting for the greater good of the
organization, or high levels of leader performance.
Storytelling can spread examples of the
leader’s positive actions in supporting and
working with an employee, or it can publicize
accounts of the leader’s actions that have had a
positive impact on the overall organization or
that teach important lessons (Hatch et al., 2006).
Another aspect of leader promotion is making
positive direct statements about the leader.
Such behavior includes making positive assessments
of the leader’s performance and intentions,
making positive statements about the
leader’s personality and ability, and sharing the
leader’s vision (Gardner & Avolio, 1998).
Defense behaviors by surrogates provide explanations,
justifications, and excuses for

leader actions and behaviors that may have
been or may be interpreted in a negative manner
by others (cf. defensive impression management;
Bolino et al., 2008; Schlenker, 1980). Defense
behaviors represent attempts by the
surrogate to mitigate negative feelings that may
emerge among distant followers as the leader
makes decisions or takes actions that might lack
widespread support, such as decisions involving
significant change. For example, in the case
of a layoff, followers may harshly criticize the
leader and the decision.
Defense of the leader may also include providing
detailed justifications for leader actions
or the leader’s perspective. In instances where
there is high contact between leader and surrogate,
it might involve sensegiving on the part of
the surrogate, who provides background information
or detailed information regarding the
process by which a decision was made. It may
also include describing challenges the leader
must react to (e.g., a budget cut or dropping
revenue), or even attempts to get distant followers
to take a bigger-picture perspective so as to
create an increased understanding regarding
the leader’s actions.
Furthermore, defense behaviors may involve
downplaying or even concealing negative information
about the leader, such as leader deficiencies
or shortcomings, from distant followers
(Goffman, 1959). In sum, while leader promotion
illuminates positive information about the
leader, defense behaviors dampen the potential
effects of damaging information (accurate or
not) about the leader.
Finally, surrogate behavior may also involve
modeling followership. Modeling followership
is a visible representation for others of an appropriate
response to or interaction with the
leader (Bandura, 1977; Goffman, 1959). Modeling
helps distant followers develop their perceptions
of the leader based on observations of the
attitudes and behavior of the surrogates (Bandura,
1977). It provides social cues for these distant
followers, facilitating the leader’s appearance
as influential, friendly, and worthy of
following. Modeling has the potential to take
place in both formal and informal settings, as
well as when the leader is or is not present.
Furthermore, modeling occurs as individuals
publicly pledge their participation and commitment
to a leader’s initiative or vision. Thus, it
can take place when an individual responds

positively to a leader’s request without compulsion.
It can also take place when an individual
demonstrates his or her willingness to contribute
time or effort on behalf of the leader. Modeling
can further occur when a leader has the
chance to interact directly with distant followers
with whom he or she has had little interaction in
the past. Modeling may also take the form of
such behaviors as a friendly reaction to the
leader’s greeting in a crowded elevator, or it
may involve making small talk with the leader
before a meeting in the presence of others who
do not know the leader well. Such responses
portray the leader as friendly and well liked by
others and help other distant followers feel at
ease around the leader.
Proposition 1: Promoting the leader,
defending the leader, and modeling
followership are behaviors that reflect

Antecedents to Surrogate Behavior
In order to understand the surrogate phenomenon
better, it is important to recognize potential
antecedents to such behavior. Below we articulate
these antecedents and their relationships to
surrogate behavior, as well as a likely moderator
of these relationships.
Perceptions of leader charisma. Individuals
who view a leader as charismatic will tend to
intertwine their own identities with the leader’s
identity, thus aligning their values, interests,
and goals with those of the leader (Gardner &
Avolio, 1998). The outcome of this type of alignment
is that the individuals’ motives will shift
from self-interest to support for the leader and
the vision or cause the leader promotes (Gardner
& Avolio, 1998). Individuals who perceive the
leader as charismatic will tend to engage in
behaviors they perceive will benefit the leader
and the leader’s vision, and they will be motivated
to continue to build support for the leader
through their identification with the leader’s vision
and through their emotional attachment to
the leader (Howell & Shamir, 2005). These individuals
may have substantial contact with the
leader on a daily basis, or they may have limited
contact with the leader (Baker & Dutton,
2007). It is even possible that they may have had
no direct contact with the leader at all and,
instead, have gained their perceptions of the

leader from more indirect or secondhand
sources. Such sources could include documents
written by the leader, or even communication
with other individuals who have had direct contact
with the leader.
Engagement in surrogate behavior may reflect
a natural outgrowth of perceiving a leader
as charismatic. It is likely that some individuals
will engage in surrogate behavior without the
intention of doing so or the cognizant knowledge
(on the part of either the leader or the surrogate)
that their behavior is building charismatic perceptions
of the leader. These individuals may
simply be enamored with the leader and not
realize that they are promoting and defending
the leader and, thus, acting as committed followers.
Such individuals can be compared to
highly satisfied customers who spread the word
about the good service and food at a particular
restaurant. Truett Cathy, the founder of the
Chick-fil-A restaurant chain, has referred to
these types of loyal customers as cheerleaders
(Cathy, 2002). Moreover, individuals may engage
in surrogate behavior because of a genuine desire
to ensure that others perceive the leader
accurately, who, according to their own perceptions,
is charismatic.
Proposition 2: Perceptions of leader
charisma are positively related to an
individual’s participation in surrogate

Perceptions of a positive social exchange. Individuals
who perceive a positive social exchange
relationship with the leader will also
tend to engage in surrogate behavior. We use
the term social exchange relationship here since
it broadly encompasses exchange relationships
that involve direct contact (e.g., leader-member
exchange), as well as more abstract exchanges
that do not require high levels of contact (e.g.,
perceived leader support, fulfilled psychological
contract with the leader, complementary
agendas). It is likely that individuals will not
see exchange relationships in exactly the same
manner as the leader, since perceptions of exchange
relationships tend to differ between individuals
in an exchange relationship (Gerstner
& Day, 1997). This is especially likely for individuals
who have little direct interaction with the
leader, and, thus, the social exchange is based
on less tangible benefits and exchanges. Individuals
will be motivated by their perceptions of

the relationship, rather than the actual exchange
that takes place.
Exchange relationships can be characterized
using a continuum ranging from generalized
reciprocity to negative reciprocity, with balanced
reciprocity in the middle (Sahlins, 1972;
Sparrowe & Liden, 1997). Generalized reciprocity
is altruistic in nature, and not focused on the
specific contributions or obligations of the other
individual in the relationship (Sparrowe & Liden,
1997). Balanced reciprocity is more focused
on the exchange of equivalent benefits or favors
and the assurance of a level of fairness and
equality of contributions. Positive exchanges
are likely to be based on either generalized or
balanced reciprocity. In contrast, negative exchanges
tend to be based on self-interest and on
taking advantage of the other in the exchange
(Sahlins, 1972; Sparrowe & Liden, 1997). We focus
our discussion here on follower perceptions of
positive exchanges based on generalized and
balanced reciprocity, since we are interested in
how follower perceptions of a positive exchange
relationship result in the individual’s engaging
in behavior that benefits the leader. Later discussion
will touch on the implications of a negative
exchange relationship.
Individuals who perceive that they are in a
positive exchange relationship may feel a desire
and/or sense of obligation to reciprocate the
leader’s influence, which they believe they have
benefited from in terms of preferential treatment
(e.g., obtaining perquisites), policy changes, advice,
and resources (Sparrowe & Liden, 2005). In
order to reciprocate, individuals may provide
high contributions and commitment (Sparrowe
& Liden, 2005; Uhl-Bien & Maslyn, 2003) and “the
expression of public support for the goals and
the personal character” of the leader (Dienesch
& Liden, 1986: 625). These public expressions of
support are likely to include promoting the
leader through positive stories and making affirmative
statements, defending the leader, and
modeling followership—behaviors that we associate
with the surrogate role. Individuals who
perceive they are in a positive exchange relationship
based on balanced reciprocity are
likely to engage in surrogate behavior out of a
sense of obligation or with the intent to glean
additional benefits, rather than from altruistic
desires. In contrast, individuals who perceive
that they are in a positive exchange relationship
that is based on generalized reciprocity will engage
in the above behavior from an altruistic
desire to support the leader.
Relationships based on generalized reciprocity,
particularly those with direct contact between
the individual and the leader, are likely
to include sponsorship from the leader (Sparrowe
& Liden, 1997, 2005). Sponsorship is characterized
by the leader’s introducing the individual
into his or her networks of relationships
with influential others, resulting in shared ties
with the leader (Sparrowe & Liden, 1997, 2005).
Individuals who receive sponsorship from a
leader as part of a generalized exchange relationship
are likely to engage in surrogate behavior.
This exchange simultaneously provides
benefits to the leader and the individual, and it
can be seen as a form of positive exchange.
Sponsorship from the leader provides the individual
with enhanced status and reputation in
the organization (Bono & Anderson, 2005; Kilduff
& Krackhardt, 1994), particularly if the leader is
influential, and it may be another mechanism
“whereby individuals are integrated into organizations
as influential players” (Sparrowe &
Liden, 2005: 506).
Individuals who perceive that they are in a
positive exchange relationship based on balanced
reciprocity are more likely to engage in
surrogate behavior with the intent to garner
benefits. These benefits may include special favors
from the leader (e.g., a promotion or raise)
or affiliation with the leader, which can increase
one’s influence and status in the organization
(Cialdini & Richardson, 1980). As part of positive
exchange relationships, particularly those
based on balanced reciprocity, individuals may
be asked by the leader to engage in surrogate
behaviors and to represent the leader positively
among distant subordinates. This is most likely
to occur when a leader perceives that he or she
is in a positive exchange relationship with an
individual who is an opinion leader among distant
followers, and there is a sense of trust
and/or level of comfort in asking for specific
favors (Burt, 1999). However, in order for the leader’s
request to result in the individual’s engaging
in surrogate behavior, the individual who is
asked to engage in the behavior will need to
perceive the exchange relationship in a similarly
positive light.
This scenario represents an example of a
leader who intentionally uses individuals as
sources of influence to get things done or to

facilitate action (Brass & Krackhardt, 1999; Mintzberg,
1973). In certain cases leaders may even
have an individual transferred to a certain part
of the organization to enhance their own influence
among certain networks of subordinates.
While surrogate behavior is focused on increasing
charismatic perceptions of the leader, the
leader may also ask the individual to report
back and provide information regarding how
things are going and “crucial information necessary”
to successfully complete a project or initiative
(Sparrowe & Liden, 1997: 524). Individuals
may even confidentially report troublemakers or
discuss problems that distant followers face.
Proposition 3: Perceptions of a positive
exchange relationship (with the
leader) based on generalized or balanced
reciprocity are positively related
to an individual’s engaging in
surrogate behavior.
Moderating effects of network proximity to the
leader. Individuals who are closer to the leader
in a network sense (i.e., network proximity) are
more likely to be exposed to signals (both direct
and ambient) from the leader (e.g., organizationwide
speeches, team meetings, and one-on-one
discussions) that are aimed at engaging those
individuals in surrogate behavior. Individuals
who perceive the leader to be charismatic
and/or who are in a positive exchange relationship
with the leader are likely to feel that they
should respond to these calls to action. That is,
they will likely feel a sense of responsibility to
respond to the leader. They will tend to believe
that because of their high level of contact with
the leader and shared network ties, their level of
engagement in surrogate behavior is more apparent
to the leader. The increased level of accountability
and transparency associated with
network proximity is likely to strengthen the relationship
between perceptions of leader charisma
and surrogate behavior and between perceptions
of a positive exchange relationship
and surrogate behavior.
Proposition 4a: An individual’s network
proximity to the leader will moderate
the relationship between perceptions
of leader charisma and
participation in surrogate behavior.
Specifically, there will be a stronger
positive relationship between perceptions
of leader charisma and participation
in surrogate behavior when the
individual is proximal to the leader in
the leader’s network.
Proposition 4b: An individual’s network
proximity to the leader will moderate
the relationship between a positive
exchange relationship and
participation in surrogate behavior.
Specifically, there will be a stronger
positive relationship between a positive
exchange relationship and participation
in surrogate behavior when
the individual is proximal to the
leader in the leader’s network.
Surrogate Behavior and Follower Perceptions
Surrogate behavior is likely to influence distant
followers’ perceptions of the leader. Such
behavior is influential because of the process
outlined in Bandura’s (1977) social learning theory:
individuals develop perceptions based on
their observations of the attitudes and behaviors
of others. Observations of the views and
attitudes of others toward the leader provide a
form of social proof that individuals can rely on
in forming their own perceptions of the leader
(Cialdini, 1993).
Surrogate behavior helps guide the process
distant followers engage in to form their perceptions
of the leader by providing opinions, information,
and behavior that portray the leader in
a positive light (Cialdini, 1993; Weick, 1995). Distant
followers are likely to base their perceptions
of a leader’s charisma on simplified views
of whether or not the leader matches their prototypes
of what a charismatic leader should be
(Shamir, 1995). Surrogate behavior helps align
distant follower perceptions of the leader with
attributes generally associated with charismatic
leadership, such as confidence, success,
and influence (Burns, 1978; Jacobsen & House,
Leader promotion provides positive stories
and statements about the leader that portray the
leader in a charismatic manner. Positive stories
can result in a personalization of the leader that
helps individuals in the organization feel that
they know the leader and have a connection to
his or her vision (Hatch et al., 2006). Stories, such
as those surrounding Southwest’s Herb Kelle-heir’s support of his employees and his response
to disrespectful customers to fly with someone
else (Elliott, 2004), help distant subordinates
make positive attributions about the leader.
Similarly, positive statements about the leader
from individuals filling the surrogate role have
the potential to be influential in the formation of
distant follower views of the leader (Gardner &
Avolio, 1998; Gilovich, 1987). They may influence
distant follower perceptions of the leader’s personality,
values, ability, vision, performance,
and other areas that are relevant to perceptions
of charismatic leadership. When an individual
hears another individual describe the leader in
charismatic terms, such as gifted or inspirational,
these endorsements are likely to influence
the listener’s perceptions and to increase the
likelihood the listener will see the leader as
charismatic. Similarly, when an individual conveys
the leader’s message and vision to distant
followers in an inspirational manner, distant
followers will tend to view the leader as charismatic
(Gardner & Avolio, 1998).
However, negative information, stories, perceptions,
and interpretations of the leader and
his or her actions have the potential to reduce
distant follower perceptions of leader charisma.
Thus, when surrogates engage in defending the
leader, they will clarify misconceptions and
dampen potentially harmful information that
might damage the leader’s reputation. Through
the act of defending the leader, surrogates can
increase distant follower perceptions of leader
charisma. By providing explanations for controversial
leader actions, there is a reduced likelihood
that distant followers will perceive the
leader in a negative light. Surrogates, by defending
the leader, create understanding and
provide information regarding decisions or policies
that the leader has enacted, with the result
that distant followers will be more likely to trust
the leader and, thus, see the leader as charismatic.
Modeling followership also increases distant
followers’ perceptions of leader charisma. When
a surrogate models followership by standing in
support of the leader, his or her behaviors are
likely to positively influence the way that others
perceive that leader. Individuals will see the
leader as more influential and worthy of following
when others whom they respect follow the
leader. When an individual publicly demonstrates
trust for the leader, distant followers will

be more trusting of the leader and less skeptical
of his or her initiatives, thus increasing the leader’s
legitimacy. These interactions set the norm
for charisma as the basis of influence, rather
than influence based on coercion or extrinsic
rewards (Bass, 1990).
Additionally, when a surrogate offers a
friendly response or reaction to a greeting from
the leader in public, the leader is portrayed as
friendly and conscientious. This creates positive
perceptions among more distant followers that
the leader is approachable and interested in all
followers (close and distant). Modeling followership
by the individual filling the surrogate role
provides a way for a leader to break down perceptions
of distance between that leader and
distant followers, thus setting norms that facilitate
charismatic attributions. In total, these arguments
suggest the following.
Proposition 5: Surrogate behavior
(promoting the leader, defending the
leader, and modeling followership) is
positively related to distant follower
perceptions of leader charisma.
The Moderating Effect of Network Position
Although surrogate behavior will likely result
in increased charismatic perceptions of the
leader on the part of distant followers, it is important
to understand factors that may moderate
this relationship. Individuals who are in key
network positions will be better able to make
stories and ideas about a leader contagious
(Burt, 1999; Mayo & Pastor, 2007). That is, they
will be better able to access, disperse, and control
information throughout the network. Below
we outline these relevant network positions.
Prestige. The first network position of relevance
to surrogacy is network prestige—the extent
to which an individual is sought out for
advice and friendship by others. Network researchers
refer to this as in-degree, which is the
number of nominations received by an individual
(Wasserman & Faust, 1994). This network
measure assesses prestige, capturing the extent
to which one is popular and visible in the network
(Wasserman & Faust, 1994). Individuals
who are well liked and consistently sought out
for advice by others will have positive attributions
made about them. These individuals tend
to be respected sources of information in their

informal social networks (Balkundi, Barsness, &
Michael, 2009; French & Raven, 1959).
Prestige in informal networks allows surrogates
to influence the opinions of and attributions
made by distant followers (e.g., Newman,
2005). Surrogates who have high prestige in subordinate
networks will have a high level of direct
contact with distant subordinates who seek
them out for friendship and advice, which can
lead to greater opportunities to engage in surrogate
behavior (e.g., Mullen, Johnson, & Salas,
1991). The more a surrogate is sought out for
advice or is liked by followers distant from the
leader, the greater the surrogate’s ability to talk
about and transmit charismatic attributions of
the leader (Mayo & Pastor, 2007). In other words,
surrogate behavior can be especially effective
when the individual engaging in the behavior is
someone who is perceived as prestigious, because
the surrogate is already seen as a credible
and reliable source of information (Lam &
Schaubroeck, 2000; Mayer, Davis, & Schoorman,
1995; Thomas & Griffin, 1989).
Proposition 6a: An individual’s prestige
in subordinate networks moderates
the relationship between participation
in surrogate behavior and
charismatic perceptions of the leader
on the part of distant followers. Specifically,
a high level of prestige will
enhance the relationship, whereas a
low level of prestige will weaken the
Brokerage. Brokerage between the leader and
distant subordinates is also relevant to surrogate
effectiveness. Brokerage exists when an
individual is socially tied to two unconnected
others (e.g., the leader and distant followers). A
brokerage position gives surrogates access to
information about the leader and the opportunity
to convey this unique information to others
(Burt, 2004). Surrogates in high-brokerage positions
in subordinate networks are likely to
emerge as established sources of information
about the leader. They may also be opinion
leaders in the subordinate networks, since they
tend to control and coordinate information sharing
(Burt, 1999; Mullen et al., 1991). Having both
access to the leader and control of information
in the networks facilitates the effectiveness of
surrogate behavior because it increases a surrogate’s

ability to influence opinions and attitudes
about the leader (Mayo & Pastor, 2007).
Opportunities to broker may decay over time
if distant followers perceive that a surrogate is
no longer a reliable source of information. Accordingly,
they may bypass the surrogate, thus
reducing the surrogate’s level of brokerage
(Burt, 2007). In low-brokerage settings, distant
followers may circumvent the surrogate as the
basis of information about the leader. Further,
these distant followers may observe distortions
between the messages they receive from the
surrogate and those they glean from alternate
sources. Surrogates who minimize perceptions
of information distortion will tend to be perceived
as credible, thus maintaining the brokerage
role and the ability to generate and sustain
perceptions of leader charisma through surrogate
behavior. Overall, these arguments suggest
the following.
Proposition 6b: An individual’s level
of brokerage in the subordinate
networks moderates the relationship
between participation in surrogate
behavior and distant follower perceptions
of leader charisma. Specifically,
a high level of brokerage will enhance
the relationship, whereas a low
level of brokerage will weaken the relationship.
Core periphery. In the social networks literature
the concept of core periphery, a type of
network centrality, captures the extent to which
a node (i.e., individual) is connected to a dense
set of nodes (i.e., individuals) in a social network
(Borgatti & Everett, 1999). It assesses the extended
influence of a surrogate who is tied to
the few central members in a dense network
(e.g., a clique of friends). Being tied to these
dense clusters allows surrogates to partake of
the benefits associated with mutual friendships,
ingroup status, and shared identities, such as
perceived integrity and liking (Ashforth & Mael,
1989; Heider, 1958). Surrogates who are tied to
these dense clusters of relationships will be perceived
as sharing the norms, principles, and
assumptions of the group, allowing for perceptions
of trustworthiness among the distant subordinates
(Mayer et al., 1995).
This ingroup status is likely to be associated
with influence within the network, even among
those with whom direct ties do not exist. In con-

trast, a surrogate who is not connected to
dense cliques in subordinate networks (i.e., is
peripheral in the networks of subordinates)
may struggle to influence perceptions of the
leader among distant followers. Thus, unlike
prestige and brokerage, the core periphery position
captures influence beyond the surrogate’s
direct ties.
Proposition 6c: An individual’s core
periphery position moderates the relationship
between participation in surrogate
behavior and distant follower
perceptions of leader charisma. Specifically,
a core position will enhance
the relationship, whereas a peripheral
position in the subordinate network
will weaken the relationship.
The Moderating Effect of Existing Perceptions
of the Leader
Surrogate behavior does not guarantee that a
leader will be perceived as highly charismatic
by distant followers. In addition to the surrogate’s
network position, preexisting distant follower
perceptions of a leader can come into play
in determining how influential surrogate behavior
is (e.g., Pastor, Mayo, & Shamir, 2007; Shamir,
Pillai, Bligh, & Uhl-Bien, 2007). When individuals
are already convinced and certain of their perceptions
of the distant leader, surrogate behavior
is less likely to be influential in determining
subordinate perceptions of the leader. Followers
are likely to compare the surrogate’s ideas
about the leader with their own preexisting perceptions
in developing subsequent or modified
perceptions of the leader (Mayo & Pastor, 2007).
In other words, although surrogate behavior can
be highly influential, such influence is tempered
when subordinates have crystallized their perceptions
of a leader.
Proposition 7: Distant followers’ existing
perceptions of the leader act as a
moderator of the relationship between
surrogate behavior and subsequent
distant follower perceptions of leader
charisma. Specifically, well-established
perceptions of the leader will
weaken the relationship.

An examination of the surrogate role expands
our understanding of charismatic leadership,
followership, and networks. Specifically, it facilitates
an understanding of how a leader and
followers (whom we label surrogates) may work
together (intentionally or not) to transmit positive
information about the leader. The subsequent
effect may be a heightening of perceptions
of charismatic leadership on the part of
distant followers, which, in turn, can help establish
and maintain widespread leader support,
power, and influence. This perspective sheds
new light on the complexity of charismatic leadership
and underscores the idea that charismatic
leadership cannot be fully understood by
looking solely at the leader’s behavior.
In short, our concepts and ideas highlight and
clarify the role of third-party individuals and the
social contagion processes within informal networks
that influence perceptions of leader charisma
(Gardner & Avolio, 1998; Meindl et al.,
1985; Pastor et al., 2002). Specifically, our theory
provides an understanding of the behaviors surrogates
engage in that enhance perceptions of
leader charisma. It also provides insight into the
motivation to engage in a surrogate role, as well
as factors that may influence surrogate effectiveness.
Ultimately, our theory adds clarity to
how networks and social processes in organizations
are related to the widespread formation of
charismatic leadership perceptions.
Theoretical Extensions
This integration of social networks with surrogate
behavior pushes social network theory on
two different fronts. First, it helps us address the
question “What are the mechanisms by which
social networks influence leadership processes?”
Our model proposes that specific surrogate
behavior exhibited by central network
members may be a basis of distant subordinates’
attitudes toward a leader. Second, this
article builds on a growing body of literature
that suggests that both social networks and individual-
level attributes need to be taken into
account when studying individuals (e.g., Mehra,
Kilduff, & Brass, 2001; Toegel, Anand, & Kilduff,
2007). An interactional approach of this nature
provides a more balanced view of individuals
as not being oversocialized by a network structure that exclusively determines outcomes, regardless
of individuals (e.g., Mayhew, 1980), nor
undersocialized, whereby only an individual’s
actions matter in determining outcomes
(Granovetter, 1985). With that in mind, we now
examine some potential extensions to our theory
in terms of person, situation, time, external perceptions,
and self-interest.
Person. Future research might explore a
deeper understanding of what motivates individuals
to engage in the surrogate role, as well
as which types of personalities are especially
relevant to such a role. It may also be important
to determine which distant follower personalities
are likely to be susceptible to surrogate
influence. For instance, are followers with a
weak self-concept, low self-esteem, and low
self-efficacy especially influenced by surrogates?
It may be that personality factors play a
similar role in determining a follower’s susceptibility
to surrogate influence in a manner comparable
to what has been more generally described
in predicting susceptibility to
charismatic leaders (e.g., Gardner & Avolio,
1998; Howell & Shamir, 2005).
Situation. Surrogates may be most likely to
emerge (intentionally or unintentionally) under
circumstances especially conducive to charismatic
leadership, such as high uncertainty or
change (Shamir & Howell, 1999; Waldman,
Ramirez, House, & Puranam, 2001). Surrogates
also may be likely to emerge or have more influence
during crisis conditions, such as layoffs
or tragedies affecting the organization (e.g., a
major industrial accident). Leaders facing these
conditions may especially feel the need for support
from distant followers in order to achieve
their goals or purposes and, hence, be more
likely to engage surrogates. Likewise, in such
circumstances distant followers may seek to
better understand the leader and his or her motives
and tendencies and, thus, be likely to seek
out the thoughts and opinions of surrogates.
Surrogates may also be especially effective in
situations where dense networks exist. In dense
networks with multiple surrogates, a social contagion
process is likely to occur (Meindl, 1990).
As individuals in the distant follower networks
are motivated by their perceptions of leader
charisma and the inspirational ideas and visions
that have been shared through the surrogates,
additional people will likely then share
these ideas and visions. Although not specifically

characterized in network terms, similar
processes have been conceived in terms of the
ability to “blossom to impact more and more
followers” (Gardner & Avolio, 1998: 52) and
“spread like a contagious disease” (Gardner &
Avolio, 1998: 51).
Time. How does time influence this process?
Over time, individuals engaging in surrogate
behavior may continuously reassess their relationship
with the leader. In the case where surrogates
have been sent intentionally, perhaps
leaders identify and then train and maintain
these individuals. Moreover, leaders may reassess
the efforts of surrogates and take measures
to deal with underperforming surrogates. Over
time, as trust is garnered, leaders may engage
individuals in more important efforts aimed at
increasing their influence in the organization
(Brower, Schoorman, & Tan, 2000). Leaders may
also need to find the appropriate balance between
depending on surrogates and making
more attempts at face-to-face contact with distant
followers. Furthermore, surrogates who are
sent (intentionally) by the leader may tend to be
more consistent and effective over time, in comparison
to those who engage in surrogacy of
their own volition. How leader intentionality influences
surrogate effectiveness still needs to
be explored.
External perceptions. Surrogacy may also be
relevant to understanding perceptions of CEOs
by boards of directors and outsiders. Board
members who are tied to the CEO may play
surrogate roles by influencing perceptions of the
CEO among new or distant board members. Furthermore,
they may play a similar role with outsiders,
such as potential investors, the media,
analysts, and other companies (Fanelli, Misangyi,
& Tosi, 2009). Thus, surrogates may be
an influential factor in determining external
CEO reputation. Similarly, there may be individuals
who are external to the organization who
act in surrogate-like roles for a CEO, thus improving
the CEO’s reputation and legitimacy
among external stakeholders (Fanelli & Misangyi,
Self-interest. Finally, individuals in leadership
roles may intentionally use surrogates in a
responsible manner, thus serving the interests
of both the organization and stakeholders, including
employees. Indeed, much of our theory
would suggest that leaders can use surrogates
for the purpose of spreading a positive vision.

Alternatively, leaders may pursue less mutually
beneficial outcomes in a more dark and deceptive
manner, largely out of self-interest. The
former is commonly referred to as socialized
charisma, whereas the latter has been characterized
as personalized charisma (House &
Howell, 1992).
When intentionally used in a personalized or
manipulative manner, surrogates could be used
to cover up a leader’s unethical, abusive, or deceptive
behaviors, which may ultimately have a
negative impact on the organization and external
stakeholders (Fanelli & Misangyi, 2006). For
example, the personalized leader may try to
curry favor with surrogates in an attempt to get
them to relay positive attributions to those in the
surrogates’ networks. Indeed, there is some reason
to believe that personalized charismatic
leaders may be more likely to engage surrogates
as a means of building their images
(Gardner & Avolio, 1998). They may also encourage
surrogates to engage in less genuine behaviors,
such as helping to spread inaccurate or
“spun” stories that enhance follower perceptions
of leader charisma.
In a political vein, leaders may seek to tap
influential surrogates in diverse networks who
can provide credibility with powerful interest
groups. Such instances may be especially relevant
for new leaders who seek to win over influential
individuals in diverse roles who can then
provide the leader with legitimacy throughout
the organization. For example, new leaders
might attempt to use surrogates as they seek to
win support from the network of a passed-over
peer, who may not be initially supportive of the
new leader. However, when engaging in such
political processes, the personalized charismatic
leader may intentionally enlist surrogates
to spread negative stories or perceptions of one
or more individuals who are competing for influence
in the organization in an effort to
weaken those individuals or diminish their influence.
Such a leader may even engage surrogates
in encouraging rebellion or insurgency in
order to destabilize an organization and promote
the leader’s individual interests. Issues of
this nature raise important questions regarding
the surrogate role as it pertains to ethical leadership
and leader authenticity (Avolio, Gardner,
Walumbwa, Luthans, & May, 2004; Brown &
Trevin˜o, 2006).

We should further note that while an understanding
of the surrogate aspect of followership
may lend insight into the amplification of influence
and power for particular leaders, it also
uncovers the potential for follower behaviors
that undermine leader influence. It is possible
for individuals to engage in behaviors that mirror
the surrogate behavior but take on a negative
tone. That is, while individuals may have
the ability to help increase the influence of a
leader or power structure in the organization,
they may also have the potential to subvert it.
However, when aware of these situations, leaders
would likely act quickly to negate the influence
of individuals who engage in negative surrogate-
like behaviors in order to preserve their
own influence and reputation. It may also be
possible for individuals acting in a surrogate
role to undermine leader influence unintentionally
through incompetence or unintended consequences
(e.g., unintentionally portraying the
leader in an offensive light to an interest group).
Empirical Testing
There are several possibilities for testing the
ideas proposed in this paper. Empirical tests of
this model can focus on the formal leader or on
the surrogate and then extend to more complex
issues. Social network analyses provide multiple
measurement options. In this section we
elaborate on some potential directions for testing
our model by first focusing on the leader as
the unit of analysis, and we then shift our focus
to surrogates and the measurement of surrogate
To understand a leader’s connectedness with
potential surrogates, the researcher can calculate
the eigenvector centrality of the leader in
the informal networks. This network measure
captures the extent to which a network member
is connected to powerful others (i.e., potential
surrogates; Wasserman & Faust, 1994). Unlike
the more intuitive measure of in-degree centrality,
which assesses the direct number of ties,
eigenvector centrality takes into account both
direct and indirect ties of network members to
the leader. As suggested above, by being connected
to powerful others, a leader can augment
his or her social capital and influence by tapping
into the resources and information that are
accessible to these surrogates. In support of this
idea, previous research has found that leaders

with high eigenvector centrality are seen as
more charismatic by their subordinates and
tend to have more productive teams (Balkundi,
Kilduff, & Harrison, 2009). Thus, if the unit of
analysis is the leader and the leader’s access to
surrogates, then eigenvector centrality would be
a relevant measure.
To assess leader intentionality, a researcher
may ask the leader to identify those individuals
he or she perceives to be influential in the organization.
Social network analysis can be used to
measure the leader’s understanding and accuracy
of the social networks in the organization.
Researchers can administer a survey to explore
questions regarding leader intentionality and
engagement in particular behaviors. Surveys
can also assess intentionality and types of
leader interactions and communication with the
individuals the leader perceives to be influential.
In addition to providing information regarding
intentionality, this information can be used
to identify the actions that leaders exhibit to
engage followers in surrogate behaviors. Future
research can explore the types of influence tactics
that leaders use with their surrogates and
how these tactics may vary across leaders.
There are multiple surrogate-relevant, network-
based measures that can be used to identify
surrogates, independent of whether these
individuals have contact with the leader. In previous
research on opinion leaders in social settings,
researchers have used in-degree as a
measure of influence (Rogers, 2003). In-degree—
the number of people coming to the surrogate for
advice or friendship—would capture the surrogate’s
popularity and influence with other subordinates.
However, to capture the brokerage
role played by the surrogate, betweenness centrality
would be a better measure, since it captures
the extent to which the surrogate is on the
shortest path between other subordinates (Wasserman
& Faust, 1994). Thus, a high betweenness
centrality of the leader’s alters (i.e., members
who are connected to the leader) would
suggest the presence of surrogates surrounding
the leader.
A surrogate’s social power can be amplified if
he or she is connected to other subordinates,
who themselves are also well connected with
other subordinates or to dense clusters of subordinates.
To identify whether surrogates are
connected to other powerful network members
(and to other surrogates), researchers can use

eigenvector centrality or the core periphery
measure to capture the social power of the surrogates’
direct and indirect contacts to powerful
actors in the network (other than the leader). In
sum, if the unit of analysis is the surrogate,
in-degree, betweenness, core periphery, and
eigenvector centrality would all be relevant
operationalizations. Because these four measures
are continuous and not categorical in
nature (unless one chooses to dichotomize
them), they provide fine-grained information
about the varying levels of surrogacy.
In order to test whether these individuals act
for or against the leader, a researcher can first
identify possible surrogates using the different
operationalizations mentioned above, and then
determine if these individuals like, dislike, or
are indifferent to the leader. Based on whether
the surrogates nominate the leader in the advice
or friendship network, the researcher can identify
the potential of positive surrogacy (Lincoln &
Miller, 1979). However, if the leader is nominated
by the surrogates in the dislike network, then
the survey captures the potential for negative
surrogacy, as described above. Thus, an individual’s
level of network centrality, based on the
four measures above, along with the aforementioned
network information, captures the level of
positive or negative influence that the individual
can potentially have on perceptions of the
leader among distant followers.
We should further note that if the focus is
exclusively on those surrogates with high contact
with the leader, there are different ways of
identifying them. The first step would be to identify
surrogates in the organizational network using
the centrality measures described above.
This would be a list of all of the potential surrogates
in the organization. Second, from this list
the researcher can find the subset of surrogates
who are directly connected to the leader. Alternatively,
if the researcher can get network data
from the leader, he or she can identify members
who are directly connected to the leader (the
leader’s alters) and then develop different centrality
measures for this subset of employees.
Either approach would identify the surrogates
who are directly tied to the leader. The researcher
can then compare this subset of surrogates
to other individuals and see if there are
any attitudinal differences, which are similar to
those exhibited by the members of the leader’s
ingroup and outgroup

One of the underlying assumptions in the usage
of these network measures is that individuals
who occupy these positions exhibit surrogacy
behaviors. To confirm this assumption,
such research would need to be complemented
by survey and/or observation data assessing engagement
in surrogate behavior. Thus, it may
also be necessary to develop and validate a
measure of such behavior, which could potentially
be self-reported or assessed by others. The
measure would likely include multiple items for
each of the dimensions mentioned earlier. If a
self-report approach were adopted, items for
promoting the leader could include “I tell positive
stories about the leader to others” and “I
make positive statements about the leader in
my conversations with others at work.” Items for
defending the leader might include “I offer possible
explanations for the leader’s behavior
when others challenge the leader’s actions” and
“I provide excuses for the leader when people
criticize his or her decisions.” Items for modeling
followership could include “I demonstrate support
for the leader through my actions” and
“When I interact with the leader in the presence
of others, I assist the leader in appearing
friendly and well liked.” The wording of these
items could be adapted if individuals were being
assessed by others. Initial analyses could
involve exploratory factor analyses, followed by
confirmatory analyses. The goal would be to
determine the uniqueness of the dimensions, as
well as the possibility of a higher-level latent
factor of surrogate behavior as conceptualized
Concluding Thoughts
In conclusion, an understanding of the surrogate
role gives us important insights into the
role of individuals besides the leader in influencing
distant follower perceptions of the
leader. Perhaps more important, it helps us understand
how leaders may use, or at least benefit
from, networks, social processes, and flows
of information in organizations. Specifically, a
consideration of surrogacy provides insights
into how networks and social processes pertain
to a leader’s ability to influence the organization
through the dispersion of information. The processes
described here are much more subtle and
pluralistic than the more dictatorial and monolithic
strategy described by Burns (1978), in

which a core of devoted followers overwhelms
any resistance that might stand in opposition to
the leader.
Nevertheless, we have described potentially
powerful influences on the organization and the
perceptions of followers. This understanding
may provide greater clarity regarding why individuals
who have not had direct interaction with
a leader may develop the same strong and enduring
perceptions of the leader as those individuals
who have had substantial interaction.
At a more macro level, this understanding may
provide insights into how large-scale movements
that are associated with individual leaders
are initiated and gain a critical mass before
they spread throughout organizations, societies,
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Benjamin M. Galvin ([email protected]) is an assistant professor in the business program
at the University of Washington, Bothell. He received his Ph.D. from Arizona
State University. His research interests include social processes, personality, and
identity as they relate to leadership.
Prasad Balkundi ([email protected]) is an assistant professor of management at
the University at Buffalo. He received his Ph.D. in business administration from The
Pennsylvania State University. His research interests include social networks and
leadership in teams.
David A. Waldman ([email protected]) is a professor of management in the W. P.
Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. He received his Ph.D. from
Colorado State University. His research interests focus largely on leadership issues,
especially at strategic levels.