A university professor researched 120 Transformers to find out which one had the best leadership skills

UNL assistant professor of management Peter Harms. Picture: UNL

Who’s the best leader – Optimus Prime or Megatron?

University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Peter Harms felt it was an important enough question to undertake a study of 120 Transformers toys, two years of cartoons and Michael Bay’s 1986 film “The Transformers: The Movie”.

“It was kind of a crazy idea, but it worked out well,” Harms says. “For both factions, the single most important factor that determined an individual’s place in the leadership hierarchy was intelligence.”

Yes, he and Seth Spain of Binghamton University ranked them all. That information will come out later when the full results of the study are released. But as a teaser, and probably not at all a spoiler, Prime comes out on top in most instances for a good reason.

His benevolence, self-sacrifice and forgiveness inspires loyalty and initiative among the Autobots, as opposed to Megatron, who rules through threats and violence.

That means while the Decepticons look to have an advantage in each story, Megatron’s plans are undermined by the incompetence and disloyalty of his followers.

The study is important, Harms says, because when children are exposed to such fantasy-based stories, they form real-world perceptions about effective leadership.

“While simple, those kinds of lessons can be useful when carried into the business world,” Harms says.

“Moral lessons in ‘The Transformers’ and other fiction for children have played some role in shaping our understanding of how organizations should function and our perceptions of how the leader-follower dynamics should operate.”

He said the fact that he studied “Transformers” is no less releavant than if he’d based his research on Shakespeare or Homer.

“You can find truth anywhere,” he says. “You just have to look for it.

“Without question, there’s more to the Transformers than meets the eye.”

The study, “Children’s Stories as a Foundation for Leadership Schemas: More than Meets the Eye”, will be released in the US spring next year. It will appear in Emerald Group Publishing’s book series “Monographs in Leadership and Management” under the volume title “Leadership Lessons from Compelling Contexts”.

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