The Difference Between Achievement & Ascription in Leadership

Written by ashley schaeffer
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The Difference Between Achievement & Ascription in Leadership
Women are more likely to be leaders in an achievement leadership style. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Two styles of leadership that look very different from one another are achievement and ascription. The style that a boss or politician embraces is influenced by his environment, and will have a profound effect on his approach and values. Two leaders of different styles would also demand different treatment by others.

What Versus Who

An achievement leadership style puts a high degree of emphasis on what a person has done and achieved. Those sizing up a person for a leadership position from an achievement perspective might be more curious about what the person studied, her GPA, extra-curricular activities and previous work experience. An ascription leadership style puts more emphasis on who the person is, and may be more curious about where she went to school, who her parents are and who referred her to the job.


In the achievement leadership style, respect for a leader is gained by his success and ability to deliver on the promises he makes. If the leader is not performing adequately, he may begin to fall out of favour with those who put him in the position (be it voters or someone of greater power), and may lose the position. In the ascription style, respect for leaders is a demonstration of a person's commitment to a structure or organisation, and calling out the leader's inadequacies is not as accepted or productive.


The leaders in these two different styles may look drastically different from one another in terms of demographics. In environments in which the achievement style is embraced, it is more likely to see politicians and managers who are women, minorities and people of diverse age groups. In environments where the ascription style dominates, you will primarily see middle-aged men in senior managerial positions and in the highest seats of political power. This is because certain cultures make attempts to combat inequality, while others are more accepting of certain types of privilege.


Different countries and cultures ascribe to different leadership styles. Countries like the United States, Britain, Australia and Switzerland embrace an achievement style of leadership. The ascription style of leadership is embraced in countries such as China, Indonesia and Venezuela. Countries with ascription styles of leadership may have a greater cultural emphasis on family ties --- for instance, there is not hesitation in hiring a nephew or second cousin. In the United States, this would be considered nepotism, a cultural taboo incompatible with the achievement orientation.

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