Implicit leadership theories (ILTs) matter because they are used as the benchmark against which people determine who is a leader and who is not. This assessment informs their behavioral responses. People are thought to have a superordinate-level ILT representing their prototypical mental model of leadership and a series of basic-level ILTs. Each of these represents how people conceptualize leadership in particular domains (e.g., sport, politics, and popular culture). In this study, the authors generate the structures of basic-level sport management ILTs for women and men who are about to enter this industry. These form the baseline from which socialization to work, organizational cultures, and the sport management industry begins. The ILTs of women entering sport management careers have a 35-item, 6-factor structure (Sensitivity, Knowledgeable, Physical Attractiveness, Inspirational, Dedication, and Focused), whereas men entering the industry have a 32-item, 7-factor structure (Sensitivity, Dedication, Physical Attractiveness, Focused, Creativity, Inspirational, Courageous). The resulting sport management ILT profiles differ from superordinate ones by emphasizing physical and vitality attributes, incorporating emotional elements, and by eschewing antiprototypical elements. The paper ends with a discussion of the implications for leadership research in sport management.
Recent developments in leadership theory have shifted attention away from leader-centric theories of leadership to the mental models that people hold about leaders and leadership (Billsberry et al., 2018; Epitropaki & Martin, 2004; Offermann & Coats, 2018; Tavares, Sobral, Goldszmidt, & Araújo, 2018). These mental models, termed implicit leadership theories (ILTs), represent people’s prototypical conceptualizations of ideal leadership they use as a benchmark against which to assess the leadership credentials of the people they encounter (Foti, Hansbrough, Epitropaki, & Coyle, 2017; Lord & Maher, 1991; Lord & Shondrick, 2011; Tavares et al.,2018). Leadershipcategorizationtheory (Lord, Foti,& DeVader,1984; Lordet al.,1982 Lord, Foti,& Phillips, 1982; Rosch,1978) and connectionist perspectives (Hanges, Lord, & Dickson, 2000; Lord, Brown, Harvey, & Hall, 2001; Lord & Shondrick, 2011) propose that people have a superordinate prototypical ILT that contains variations for particular contexts (e.g.,military,politics,finance,business,education,popular culture, andsport).These variations are importantbecause theydeterminewhatpeopledeemas acceptable andeffective leadershipinthesecontexts (Hangesetal.,2000; Lordetal.,1984).