Americans (and most Westerners) have a love affair with our leaders. We place them on a pedestal and obsessively follow their every move. But just like a love affair, feelings can quickly sour when we feel the leader has let us down, failed, or broken faith. Consider former President George W. Bush. After 9/11 Bush's approval ratings were at an all-time high, but after the Iraq war and the Katrina disaster, they fell to a record low.
Why do we so revere (and spurn) our national leaders? One important reason is that we are a very leader-centric culture. We have what Jim Meindl calls a "Romance of Leadership." We believe leaders and leadership are important and we give them more credit than they are due for successes and failures. Witness the skyrocketing compensation of corporate CEOs. They are revered, we believe they have a major hand in outcomes, and thus their outrageous salaries are believed to be justified.
Not all cultures are as leader-centric as the USA. My colleagues Nurcan Ensari and Susan Murphy conducted a simple study in the U.S. and in Turkey. They created scenarios where companies succeeded or failed, and they asked students to decide how much the success or failure was due to the leader. U.S. students gave much more credit to the leader than did Turkish students. Turkish students were more likely to see the outcome as a "team effort."