This study investigates whether observers react negatively to overly ambitious leaders, focusing on whether women are more sensitive than men in their perceptions of the traits of decision makers and whether men and women behave differently as a result of such perceptions. Results from two laboratory experiments show how participants react to ambitious decision makers in simple bargaining scenarios. The results indicate that observers tend to equate ambition for decision-making authority with self-interested, unfair, male behavior. Moreover, observers tend to be less satisfied with a decision made by an ambitious decision maker compared to the same decision made by an unambitious decision maker. That is, people generally dislike ambitious decision makers independent of the actual decision that is made. Further, there are important differences in male and female expectations of what decision makers will do that, when combined with perceptions of decision-maker gender, have more nuanced implications for outcome satisfaction and our understanding of “follower behavior.”
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