Do You See What We See? The Complex Effects of Perceptual Distance Between Leaders and Teams

Cristina B. Gibson, Cecily D. Cooper, Jay A. Conger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


Previous distance-related theories and concepts (e.g., social distance) have failed to address the sometimes wide disparity in perceptions between leaders and the teams they lead. Drawing from the extensive literature on teams, leadership, and cognitive models of social information processing, the authors develop the concept of leader-team perceptual distance, defined as differences between a leader and a team in perceptions of the same social stimulus. The authors investigate the effects of perceptual distance on team performance, operationalizing the construct with 3 distinct foci: goal accomplishment, constructive conflict, and decision-making autonomy. Analyzing leader, member, and customer survey responses for a large sample of teams, the authors demonstrate that perceptual distance between a leader and a team regarding goal accomplishment and constructive conflict have a nonlinear relationship with team performance. Greater perceptual differences are associated with decreases in team performance. Moreover, this effect is strongest when a team's perceptions are more positive than the leader's are (as opposed to the reverse). This pattern illustrates the pervasive effects that perceptions can have on team performance, highlighting the importance of developing awareness of perceptions in order to increase effectiveness. Implications for theory and practice are delineated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)62-76
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Applied Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2009


  • collective cognition
  • leadership
  • social perception
  • teams

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology


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