Is regulatory adoption ceremonial? Evidence from lead director appointments

Wei Shi, Brian L. Connelly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Research Summary: Regulatory bodies often wrestle with the thorny question of whether to mandate a governance practice or allow for organic adoption. While mandates afford rapid diffusion, we theorize that they also result in ceremonial adoptions. Leveraging a quasi-natural experiment, we compare adoption outcomes for a governance practice—lead director adoption—that was mandated by the NYSE but not the NASDAQ. We find that NYSE firms are more likely than NASDAQ firms to have installed a lead director as a symbolic management tactic, so their lead directors are less effectual. We also find that transient institutional investors are deceived by this symbolic management, but dedicated institutional investors are not. Managerial Summary: Shareholders and analysts often desire to see companies introduce strict governance measures, such as proxy access and independent boards. Consequently, regulatory bodies often wrestle with the thorny issue of whether and when to mandate such practices for all companies. What they might not realize is that mandates may not work as well as they seem. Although more companies adopt reform under a mandate, they do so merely as a symbolic gesture. We look at one governance reform—appointing a lead director—finding that companies who introduce this reform as a result of a mandate appoint someone that is relatively toothless. We also find, though, that savvy investors are not actually fooled by this tactic and will trade out of firms that attempt such symbolic management.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2386-2413
Number of pages28
JournalStrategic Management Journal
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2018


  • boards of directors
  • corporate governance
  • governance reform
  • impression management
  • lead directors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Strategy and Management


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