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Silvia Bonaccio Telfer School professors were awarded 2 years of research funding to study executive presence and the impact of non-verbal behaviour of men and women leaders. This project will contribute towards a better understanding of an elusive leadership trait and provide important insights for executive development.

“We propose that leadership presence is largely non-verbal and tacit in nature; capable of influencing others without a leader’s conscious intention,” says lead investigator Silvia Bonaccio. “We will examine the perceived psychological and associated physical, behaviour and interpersonal dimensions of executive presence to produce a new model of leadership influence.”

The project — “Executive Presence: In Search of an Elusive Leadership Trait” — brings together a team with varied and complementary research strengths in the areas of organizational behaviour and human resources. Joining professor Bonaccio are colleagues Magda Donia, Laurent Lapierre and Sharon O’Sullivan with new Telfer faculty François Chiocchio and Jane O’Reilly. Northwestern University professor Alice Eagly will also contribute as an international collaborator. The Telfer School of Management will contribute $20,000 to the project under the research clusters program.

The researchers explain that while leadership presence is discussed in the popular press as having a powerful and observable quality, the concept is difficult to pin down — and no empirically-driven definition exists. This research will help fill that gap through empirical studies conducted in different contexts to develop the construct of leadership presence. The connection to existing leadership constructs (e.g., charismatic leadership) and indicators of leadership effectiveness (e.g., follower loyalty) will be considered. The researchers will also explore whether—and in what way—the elements of executive presence differ between genders, and whether executive presence is perceived similarly by a leader’s subordinates and superiors.

“Leadership presence has not been studied empirically in this way before, and we think the results of our study may have important implications for leadership development, executive education, succession planning, and coaching and mentoring,” says Dr. Bonaccio.

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