The Other Pathway To The Boardroom: Interpersonal Influence Behavior As A Substitute For Elite Credentials And Majority Status In Obtaining Board Appointments

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Westphal, J. D.
Stern, I.

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Using survey data on interpersonal influence behavior from a large sample of managers and chief executive officers (CEOs) at Forbes 500 companies, we examine how ingratiatory behavior directed at individuals who control access to board positions can provide an alternative pathway to the boardroom for managers who lack the social and educational credentials associated with the power elite. Findings show that top managers who engage in ingratiatory behavior toward their CEO, with ingratiation comprising flattery, opinion conformity, and favor-rendering, will be more likely to receive board appointments at other firms where their CEO serves as director and at boards to which the CEO is indirectly connected in the board interlock network. Further results suggest that interpersonal influence behavior substitutes to some degree for the advantages of an elite background or demographic majority status. Our findings help explain why norms of director deference to CEOs have persisted despite increased diversity in the corporate elite and have implications for research on corporate governance, social networks in the corporate elite, and for the sociological question of whether demographic minorities and individuals who lack privileged backgrounds have equal access to positions of leadership in large U.S. companies. Our study ultimately suggests that such individuals face a rather subtle and perhaps unexpected form of social discrimination, in that they must engage in a higher level of interpersonal influence behavior in order to have the same chance of obtaining a board appointment.



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James D. Westphal and Ithai Stern. Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 51, No. 2 (Jun., 2006), pp. 169-204.