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Looking at leaders: a conjoint analysis

Geoffrey N. Soutar (Graduate School of Management, University of Western Australia, Crawley, Australia)
Shaun Ridley (Australian Institute of Management, Wembley, Australia)

Leadership & Organization Development Journal

ISSN: 0143-7739

Article publication date: 11 July 2008




Conjoint analysis is a useful research technique, but has not been used in the leadership area. This study aims to examine its relevance in exploring the trade‐offs followers make about leaders and the value of the leadership attributes examined.


Eight leader attributes were obtained from three focus groups. Past research and a sample of followers indicated their preferences for a number of leader profiles developed from the attributes, as well as assessing their present leaders on the same attributes. This enabled an estimation of the trade‐offs followers made in assessing leaders and the computation of a value “score” for their leader.


The study finds that participants traded off leader attributes sensibly, providing useful information about the attributes' value. Inspiration, trust and communication were the most valued leader attributes. However, most leaders were not viewed positively.

Research limitations/implications

Respondents were participants in development programmes, which may have impacted on the responses, but the results suggested the approach had merit. Research with more general samples of followers and a wider range of leadership topics is needed.

Practical implications

Future development programmes should focus on the “valuable” attributes and organisations also need to consider such attributes when selecting and evaluating leaders.


This paper uses a conjoint approach that has not been used in the leadership area. The results provide additional insights into the way followers view leaders and enabled a leader “score” to be computed, giving insights into the state of leadership within the group from which responses were obtained.



Soutar, G.N. and Ridley, S. (2008), "Looking at leaders: a conjoint analysis", Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 29 No. 5, pp. 461-472.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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