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From leader image to leadership judgment

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Abstract

Political leadership characteristics that have been found to matter to voters include effectiveness, trustworthiness, strength in leadership, attractiveness, likability, integrity, reliability, listening to reason, caring, sticking to principle and competence. But how do citizens arrive at assessments of competence or trustworthiness, for example, when so much of the stimuli they receive about a political leader or potential leader are messages about the state of their marriage, what brand of clothing they wear, or whether they cook and clean at home – personal, often trivial, information that on the surface has very little direct relevance to the qualities of leadership that matter? This paper combines recent shifts in leadership theory with relationship marketing theory and research into nonverbal behavior and political persuasion to contextualize the importance of the leader image, defined here as the mediated presentation of a political party leader or candidate. Illustrated with contemporary examples, the paper offers a social interaction framework to contextualize how media audiences translate what is being observed in a leader image into a leadership judgment. The paper proposes that leader image is fundamental to the offer, exercise and acceptance of political leadership in today’s mediated political environment.