Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Business


In this thesis, leadership perceptions refer to assessments made by followers or potential leaders themselves that a target individual has both the qualities typical of leaders and the potential to exhibit leadership in a specific situation. Perceptions play a crucial role in leadership, as individuals who are perceived as leaders possess a heightened potential to influence both organisational processes and outcomes. In this thesis, leadership is described as a process of being perceived as a leader by followers. It results from an individual’s social-cognitive process to categorise others. Leadership Categorisation Theory (LCT) maintains followers’ implicit leadership theory (ILT) or leadership perception. According to LCT, to distinguish leaders from non-leaders, individuals associate specific attributes with leaders based on their previous experiences and social interactions with leaders. As a result, individuals are automatically activated to identify these attributes that distinguish leaders from non-leaders (Lord et al.,1984). This thesis investigates individuals’ conceptualisations of ILT dimensions, as well as the similarities and differences between their definitions. The extent to which individuals perceive and define dimensions of ILTs, such as intelligence, differently at both single (horizontally) and all (vertically) levels of leadership categorisation hierarchy, which has not been thoroughly examined up to this date. The vertical hierarchy suggests that lower-level content is comprised of subsets of higher-level content. Horizontal hierarchy suggests that within the same level of ILTs, there may be shared elements among them, as well as elements specific to certain ILTs at that level. The thesis comprises three studies to investigate the main research question: Is there definitional integrity vertically and horizontally through levels of leadership categorisation? The study, conducted in Australia across various organisations, includes a sample of 30 participants from various work experiences. Choosing a sample size of 30 participants is a balanced and practical approach to investigating perceptions using the cognitive mapping method. This sample size enables a thorough analysis of individual mental models and provides nuanced insights.The first study employs a bibliometric analysis of the period from pre-1991 to 2022 to trace the historical evolution of intelligence in leadership studies, highlighting the shift towards emotional intelligence as a primary focus and addressing the underdeveloped nature of the intelligence attribute in ILTs. The second study introduces a combined method for eliciting ILTs, combining cognitive mapping and verbal protocols. This method provides a balanced approach, allowing for constrained responses while accommodating open-ended expressions. The study contributes to leadership categorisation theory, specifically testing the hierarchical structure of ILTs proposed by Lord et al. (1984). The third study empirically tests the hierarchical nature of ILTs, examining attribute integrity across superordinate, basic, and subordinate levels. Focused on the attribute of intelligence, the research explores how individuals define and understand intelligence at different hierarchical levels.

This thesis addresses gaps in knowledge and contributes to a nuanced understanding of ILTs and leadership categorisation by exploring the relationship between basic and subordinate ILTs, the nature of superordinate ILTs, and the complexity of ILTs generally. The findings of this thesis show that although others used standard measures for ILT, these methods prevent dimensional differences from emerging from people’s ILTs. Also, this thesis shows that intelligence has evolved far from traditional meanings like ‘IQ’, ‘wisdom’, or ‘intellect’, and more to emotional intelligence and cultural intelligence. Importantly, the findings emphasise the rising need of interpersonal skills, cultural adaptability, and technological proficiency in the perceptions of leadership. This thesis highlights new aspects within the ILT framework, including communication and analytical skills, decision-making, and problem-solving, and provides recommendations for future studies to reconstruct existing attributes and examine more skilled-based attributes. This thesis concludes with recommendations for future studies and policymakers, as well as a discussion on implications and limitations.

FoR codes (2020)

3505 Human resources and industrial relations, 3507 Strategy, management and organisational behaviour



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.