Romancing Leadership: Past, Present, and Future

Document Type



Behavioral and Organizational Sciences (CGU)

Publication Date



Leadership Studies | Social and Behavioral Sciences


This paper presents a review of the romance of leadership and the social construction of leadership theory 25years after it was originally introduced. We trace the development of this theoretical approach from the original formulation of the romance of leadership (RoL) theory as attributional bias through its emergence as a radical, unconventional approach that views leadership as a sensemaking activity that is primarily ‘in the eye of the beholder.’ We subsequently review research published in management and organizational psychology journals, book chapters and special issues of journals from 1985 to 2010. Three overall themes emerged from this review: 1) biases in (mis)attributions of leadership, including attributions for organizational success and failure; 2) follower-centered approaches, including the role of follower characteristics, perceptions, and motivations in interpreting leadership ratings; and 3) the social construction of leadership, including interfollower and social contagion processes, the role of crisis and uncertainty, and constructions and deconstructions of leadership and CEO celebrity in the media. Within each of these themes, we examine developments and summarize key findings. Our review concludes with recommendations for future theoretical and empirical work in this area.

Rights Information

© 2011 International Leadership Association