Psychologist reveals the secrets of leadership

August 20, 2007

New research has found that leaders are most effective when they transform themselves into ‘one of us’. The study by the University of Exeter, University of St Andrews and Australian National University shatters the stereotype that ‘good’ leaders must have a specific set of qualities. Instead, it shows that leaders must embody the qualities and opinions of the group they seek to influence, even down to personal appearance.

The research, published this week as the cover story of the journal Scientific American Mind, found that the best leaders work by shaping themselves to fit the group, before shaping the group itself to fit with their policies and proposals.

Professor Alex Haslam of the University of Exeter’s School of Psychology identified a key technique of leadership. He said: ‘Leaders try to transform themselves so that their personal biography and even their personal appearance come to be symbolic of the group as a whole. Just look at how Margaret Thatcher altered her dress, her hair, her voice so as to resemble Britannia. Or the way in which George Bush, in his jeans, leather jackets and cowboy boots, tries to come across as an American everyman. Even his gaffes make him appear like a regular guy.’

Professor Steve Reicher, a social psychologist at St Andrews said: ‘In the past, leadership scholars considered charisma, intelligence and other personality traits to be the key to effective leadership, which suggests that good leaders can dominate followers by sheer force of will. In recent years, however, a new picture has emerged. Effective leaders - whether bosses, community leaders or heads of state - must work to understand the values and opinions of their followers before trying to mould them accordingly.’

The researchers believe that by symbolising ‘who we are’, leaders are in a position to shape ‘what we want’ and ‘what we should do’.

The research paper, The New Psychology of Leadership, by Stephen D Reicher, S. Alexander Haslam (Exeter) and Michael J. Platow (ANU) is the cover story of the current edition of Scientific American Mind.

The full article can be accessed online at: www.sciammind.com/article.cfm?articleID=1CFBD09F-E7F2-99DF-38898D75F4702C44

Source: University of Exeter

Explore further: Cloud-brightening experiment tests tool to slow climate change

Related Stories

Fish offer lessons in effective leadership

June 17, 2015

Good leaders needing to strike a balance between striving to reach goals and keeping their followers with them has deep evolutionary roots, according to a new study from the Universities of Bristol, Harvard and Princeton ...

European businesses: China must better protect trade secrets

June 10, 2015

China needs to better protect trade secrets and fairly enforce business rules to ensure European investment and hiring at a time when Chinese leaders are trying to foster a more innovative economy, the biggest European business ...

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.