The New Psychology of Leadership

If you have been exposed to some usual leadership models, you can probably quote several skills or personality traits of effective leaders. Such skills can include charismatic inspiration, initiative, technical skills and many others. In a Scientific American Mind article The New Psychology of Leadership, S. D. Reicher, M. J. Platow and S. A. Haslam argue that recent research in psychology calls for a different focus in defining effective leadership. Based on their approach, we can come up with several rules that can apply to leading efforts in a social networking environment.

Rule #1: Understand the values and opinions of the followers.

Strong leadership, based on the article, is a product of the relationship between leaders and followers within a social group, which calls for an understanding of the group psychology. The authors say that “leaders are most effective when they can induce followers to see themselves as group members and to see the group’s interest as their own interest”.

Rule #2: Position yourself among the group rather than above it and engage in dialogue over the group’s identity and intended actions.

The influence that a leader can exercise over a group depends on how well she can represent group’s identity. “Best leaders are prototypical of the group – they not only seem to belong to it but also exemplify what makes the group distinct from and superior to rival groups”.

Since leaders should be an integral part of their groups, they should not act superior to the group’s members. Important skills include listening and fair, respectful treatment. Favoring any of the followers will likely disrupt the group, unless (and only in some cases) we are favoring the supporters of the own group against the supporters of another group.

Rule #3: Select the traits that should be adopted by the followers, and shape what followers want to do, rather than enforcing compliance with rewards and punishments.

The mobilizing aspect of leadership, the shaping and defining of group’s identity is still likely to happen via words. An effective leader should position the policy she wishes to promote as a key element of the group’s social identity.

Rule #4: Prepare a strategy for creating your vision – the new group’s identity – a reality

The currently largest political party in Poland has won election by uniting the nation with the vision of economic prosperity. This has become the identity of the party and its voters. Imagine now what happens if we fall into stagnation at the time of re-election – the voters will be disappointed by the fact that social reality does not follow social identity, and will reject this political party. A leader should always come with a strategy that will make her vision a reality. One of the ways to make identities real is by nurturing rituals and symbols that allow group members to experience their identity.

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9 Responses to “The New Psychology of Leadership”


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