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Too naïve to lead: When leaders fall for flattery.

Flattery is one of the oldest and most commonly used impression-management tactics in everyday life. Though it often brings benefits to the flatterer, less is known about how it affects the target. In the present research, we explore when and why being flattered can be costly for leaders-common targets of flattery-depending on how they respond to it. We suggest that leaders who are observed rewarding flatterers risk appearing naïve to others. Across seven studies and six supplementary studies ( N = 4,612), we find evidence that leaders who grant favors to flatterers are often perceived to have naively "fallen for flattery," which shapes observers' impressions of the leaders and the organizations they represent. A first set of studies (Studies 1-4) detail the variety of factors that lead observers to conclude their leader has fallen for flattery and the resulting impacts to the leaders' reputation and their organization (e.g., competence, warmth, commitment to the leader, organizational fairness). The second set of studies look at the contextual factors that impact what costs leaders pay for being perceived to have fallen for flattery, including the type of flattery (Study 5), who is harmed by the favor (Study 6), and the leader's apparent awareness of the motives underlying flattery (Study 7). Whereas previous research highlights positive consequences of flattery for the flatterer, we find that flattery comes with costs for leaders and their organizations. We discuss theoretical and practical implications for leaders who are frequently flattered. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2023 APA, all rights reserved).

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