Entrepreneurial leadership: An experimental approach investigating the influence of eye contact on motivation
Small, new firms lack the resources of most larger, established firms, which makes effectively motivating employees challenging. Charismatic leadership is effective in increasing the performance of both groups and entire organizations. Specifically, the impact of charismatic leadership practices on followers stems from nonverbal communication and construed immediacy. The purpose of this study is to investigate the impact of an entrepreneurial leader’s eye contact and smiling on followers’ objective motivation in an experimental leadership situation. A sample of 129 young adults was tested in a 2×2 (nonverbal tactics: high eye contact/low eye contact × high smile/low smile) experimental design. Motivation was measured by objective performance in a motoric reaction time task. The conditions were operationalized by manipulating gaze behavior and facial expressions of the leader in a staged instructional video, showing a start-up entrepreneur attempting to enhance the performance of his employees as part of a competitive comparison. Regardless of whether the leader smiled or not, participants showed faster responses and therefore performed more effectively when the leader maintained high eye contact.These findings support the hypothesis that increased eye contact is a strong nonverbal signal, which in the immediate context of leader-follower interactions, stimulates an increase in performance. In fact, eye contact could induce an increased level of motivational arousal in followers, resulting in improved confidence and self-reference when taking instructions. This study advances the existing research on learnable skills that can be used to appear more charismatic and thus potentially increasing follower performance by adopting simple nonverbal rules in communication behavior. This offers an invaluable and low-cost tool for leaders founding a start-up business.