Having a romantic partner is useful in many ways. You won’t be as lonely, you can ask them for advice, you can do activities together, and you can share transport and even a household with them. But if you look carefully, you will notice that many people don’t choose such partners mainly for their promise in such roles. They instead seek high status partners, who make them look good by association. Partners who are hot, funny, rich, powerful, etc.
Similarly, our usual econ model of leaders also focuses on the many concrete things leaders can do for us. We have organizations who need leaders to coordinate their diverse activities, to represent them to outsiders, and to make key central decisions, including who to hire for what. So we economists think in terms of systems of selection, incentive, and measurement that might induce leaders to achieve org ends, instead of acting more self-serving.
But in fact, most folks involved may care more about leader status than they like to admit. That is, the primary role of a leader may often be to sit in a high status role, wherein the status of the position and the org adds to their personal status, and their personal status adds to the status of the org and its associates. When the status issue is central, people would be focused on judging if particular people really have sufficient status for the role, or how high in status the role might be able to attract. They’d be arguing/lobbying with others re what how important are various status markers, seeking in particular to raise the assigned value of markers held by they and their allies. And they’d thinking about their own personal status, and what that says about their relations to various leaders, and fit for various roles.
When status is the main function of leaders, people would be less interested in the various mechanisms that we economists focus on by which a community could leaders accountable. Such as incentives and track records. There’d be less interest in getting stronger measures of leader performance or stronger incentives to induce good performance, and less wariness of allowing leaders to have secrecy or untracked accountability. Instead of asking if leaders share their pre-set goals, they’d be more willing to let leaders set and change their goals.
In fact, the fact that an org uses stronger incentives or track records may often be framed as marks that those orgs distrust their leaders, marks which suggest that such orgs assign less status to those leaders. In which case there’d be a substantial aversion to such things when leader status is a high org priority. Org associates might proudly point out the lack of incentives and track records for their leaders, and their eagerness to let such leaders act in secret with discretion to achieve whatever ends they choose.
I’ve said before that one of the main functions of bosses may be to project sufficient prestige to let their subordinates obey their orders via the excuse of admiring prestige, instead of fearing dominance.
To the extent that we see doctors, lawyers, and other professionals as “leaders” of related activity areas in their relation to their customer/clients, with status a big part of what they bring to that relation, all this seems bad news about the prospects for inducing stronger incentives or track records for such agents.
So, what do you think, how often is status the issue for leaders?