Research suggests that power triggers assertive action. However, people from different cultures might expect different types of action from powerful individuals such as leaders. In comparing cultural differences in leadership imagery, we find that Americans represent leaders standing ahead of groups, whereas Asians also represent leaders behind groups. We propose that front versus back positions embody two faces of leader action: individual assertion versus group-focused action. Studies 1a and 1b respectively employed etic and emic methods to demonstrate that Singaporeans were more likely than Americans to represent leaders behind groups. In Study 2, Singaporeans evaluated back leaders more favorably than Americans did, and group focus mediated cultural differences. Simulating the conditions under which cultural differences arise, Study 3 demonstrates that a primarily Western managerial sample primed with threat (versus opportunity) preferred back leaders. By describing cultural variations in imagery, we reveal more nuanced implicit theories of leader action. © 2010 Elsevier Inc.
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