Skip to main content
Select Source:



I. Psychological AspectsCecil A. Gibb


II. Sociological AspectsArnold S. Tannenbaum


III Political AspectsLester G. Seligman



The concept of leadership, like that of general intelligence, has largely lost its value for the social sciences, although it remains indispensable to general discourse. There is a great variety of ways in which one individual stands out from others in social situations and in which the one may be said, therefore, to be “leading” the others. So diverse are these ways that any one concept attempting to en-compass them all, as “leadership” does, loses the specificity and precision that is necessary to scientific thinking. To call someone a leading artist may mean only that as writer or painter he enjoys greater public acclaim and probably greater sales than do others similarly engaged; but it may also mean that others are aware of him and that in subtle ways he exercises an influence upon them. In general, it is an essential feature of the concept of leading that influence is exerted by one individual upon another, or more commonly, that one or a few individuals influence a larger number. Influence, however, is itself a nonspecific term. One may be influenced by another’s disapproved-of behavior to act antagonistically toward him or in a direction quite contrary to that he represents or advocates. It is usual in such circumstances to say that one is driven to act thus, rather than led. “Leading” implies a shared direction, and this, in turn, often implies that all parties to the leadership relation have a common goal or at least similar or compatible goals; and as Hollander and Julian (1964) say, “leader influence suggests a positive contribution toward the attainment of these goals.” Thus, any act of leading implies an interindividual relationship, and leading is one form of inter-individual influence. Definition of the simplest unit of analysis in leadership as “the act of leading” has led to the identification of four basic elements in the relationship: (1) the leader, with his characteristics of ability and personality and his “resources relevant to goal attainment” (Hollander & Julian 1964); (2) the followers, who also have relevant abilities, personality characteristics, and resources; (3) the situation within which the relationship occurs; and (4) the task with which the interacting individuals are confronted. The nature of the leader–influence relationship and the characterization of the act of leading are to be understood in terms of interaction between these four sets of variables, each of which requires modest amplification.

The leader Acts of leading may be very brief and of varying importance for long-term interaction, but the concept of leader implies a role relationship of some duration, although this duration is not so great or the role so unvarying as is often thought. A leader, however, is one who is repeatedly perceived to perform acts of leading. As Sherif (1962) points out, generally the leader position is occupied for a considerable time by the same individual. While what has been said thus far holds equally for animal and for human social action, the greater complexity of human interaction and our more detailed knowledge of the communication processes involved in it enable us to pursue this discussion more deeply if particular attention is paid to human interaction.

The group It is appropriate here to introduce the concept of groups and to discuss leading as action occurring in groups.

The term “group” refers to two or more individuals interacting in the pursuit of common or compatible goals in such a way that the existence of many is utilized for the satisfaction of some needs of each (Cattell 1951; Gibb 1954). Leading may therefore be said to occur only within groups, and a leader may be seen to occupy a position within a group and to fulfill a group role. The principal characteristic of this role is that its occu-pants are accorded a high proportion of the group’s resources of time and attention and are expected to perform a high proportion of initiating, decision-making, or leading acts; there is a disposition to “follow” them. Given agreement with these principles, there is still room for a variety of approaches to the identification of leaders in specific groups. Fortunately these different approaches do not frequently lead to identification of different leaders in a given group at a given time, but they do represent different emphases. One widely used approach, which owes much to the work of Hemphill (e.g., 1949), identifies leaders in terms of the relative frequency with which they perform defined acts of leading. This approach recognizes the fact that groups develop leadership hierarchies and that differentiation between successive levels is primarily in terms of frequency of leading. Only rarely, and then in highly structured organizations, does such an approach identify “the leader.” Most groups have many leaders, and differentiation between leaders and followers is a question of drawing an arbitrary line on a frequency continuum.

A second approach seeks those who exercise influence (in a shared direction) over other individuals. It has been shown (Gibb 1950) that leaders may be reliably identified in terms of the extent of such influence, and this form of definition has been employed frequently. In an unpublished study Seeman and Morris (1950) suggested one possible definition of leadership that emphasizes the aspect of influence: leadership acts influence other persons in a shared direction. The position of leader is then defined in terms of relative degrees of influence.

One of the earliest definitions, still widely adopted, is that of Pigors (1935), who indicated that leadership is a concept applied to the personality–environment relation to describe the situation when a personality is so placed in the environment that his “will, feeling and insight direct and control others in the pursuit of a common cause.”

An important variant of the influence criterion has been proposed by Cattell (1951). It is his suggestion that the measure of a leader’s influence is to be sought not so much in his influence on other group members but in his influence upon total group locomotion or group “syntality” (characteristics, nature, or quality, analogous to individual personality), which is judged from the effectiveness of total performance of the group as group. While this view has important implications, it does not necessarily lead to different leader identification than the other approaches.

The source of power Cutting across these considerations in the identification of leaders in a group, and contributing significantly to the definition of the concept of leading, is the essential question of the source of the power to influence. The point at issue here will be understood most readily if thought is given to a group within a larger organization. Power within such a group frequently resides, in whole or in part, in a person appointed by the parent organization to exercise a power delegated to him by that organization. That such a person exercises influence over other group members, there can be no question; but the sources of the power, the nature of the relevant and effective sanctions, and the nature of the relation between influence agent and recipient are in this case qualitatively very different from those to be observed in a voluntary group or association. There seem to be specific advantages for clarity in maintaining this distinction (Pigors 1935) and in using the term “headship” for the former, reserving “leadership” for the latter only. While many characteristics differentiate headship and leadership (Gibb 1954), most basically these two forms of influence differ with respect to the source of the authority. In Sherif s words, “the leadership status itself is within a group and not outside of it” (1962). The leader’s authority is spontaneously accorded him by his fellow group members, the followers. The authority of the head derives from some extragroup power that he has over members, who cannot meaningfully be called his followers. They accept his influence on pain of punishment derived from the larger organization, rather than following him in the promise of positive satisfaction derived from the achievement of mutually compatible goals. It is not suggested, of course, that headship and leadership are mutually exclusive, but neither are they coincident, as so much popular thinking suggests. It is a most significant consideration that, as Sherif (1962, p. 17) recognizes, “the leader is not immune from group sanctions if he deviates too far from the bounds of acceptable behavior prevailing in the group,” while a head is independent of sanctions applied by the group, though he will in turn, of course, be subject to those applied by the larger organization to its members occupying this particular status. Thus, there is a sensitivity to the interaction between leader and followers that is not necessarily present in that between head and subordinates.

The followers Probably the most important thing to be said about the concept of followers is that they, too, fulfill active roles. They are not to be thought of as an aggregation minus the leaders. It is part of the intention of the group concept to imply that all members actively interact in the course of movement in a common direction. Leaders and followers are collaborators. The concepts of leading and following define each other. There can be no leading without following, and of course, no following without leading. Not all members of any given group will, at any particular time and with a particular leadership, be followers, but all members will at some times, under some conditions, be followers or they will forfeit their membership. Neither are followers exclusively confined to this role, any more than leaders are exclusively and always engaged in acts of leading. In fact, leaders and followers frequently exchange roles (Hollander 1961), and observation has shown that the most active followers often initiate acts of leading. Hollander and Julian (1964) suggest that it is an error to speak of an influence agent and an influence recipient as if they were distinct from one another, and this is well supported. The expectations of the follower and the acceptance he accords the leader may be as influential in the production of the act of leading as are the resources of the leader himself. This relation, although rather more subtle and less well taught, may be quite as important as the reciprocal sex roles so readily observable in any society.

The situation The term “situation” is used here to mean “the set of values and attitudes with which the individual or the group has to deal in a process of activity and with regard to which this activity is planned and its results appreciated. Every concrete activity is the solution of a situation” (Thomas & Znaniecki [1918] 1947, p. 76). The elements of the situation are (1) the structure of interpersonal relations within a group; (2) the characteristics of the group as group and taken as a unit; (3) the characteristics of the larger culture in which the group exists and from which group members have been drawn; (4) the physical conditions within which the group finds itself constrained to act; and (5) the perceptual representation, within the group and among its members, of these elements and the attitudes and values engendered by them. The situation is especially liable to modification through changes in interpersonal relations, the entrance of new members and departures of others, changes in physical conditions, and the like, which alter action possibilities and, consequently, the perceived probabilities of goal attainment or assessments of costs. Research (Stogdill 1948; Gibb 1954) has shown that a person does not become a leader solely by virtue of any particular pattern of personality traits but rather by possession of any attribute that, by virtue of its relevance to the situation and its situationally determined evaluation by other group members, establishes a relation of leading–following.

The task While the task must, in many respects, be regarded as an additional element of the situation, its separate significance in defining acts of leading is probably sufficient to justify separate identification. Research has not yet succeeded in establishing a taxonomy of tasks, even for small groups, that would permit exploration of the relation between task characteristics and other leader-ship variables. However, Carter (1953) has shown that as far as the differentiation of leaders is concerned, tasks are not discrete but may be grouped in “families.” In his experiments, using the same groups, leading in intellectual tasks fell to quite different members than leading in tasks calling for the manipulation of physical objects. More recently Hemphill, during an investigation of motivation to lead, observed, “Group tasks set widely different demands or requirements for leadership. The nature of the task thus becomes an important consideration in the complex of motivational factors related to the attempt to lead. A task that repeatedly presents occasions where a decision must be made produces many attempted leadership acts “(1961, p. 212). Certainly it has been repeatedly observed that as a group moves from one task to another, the situational demands alter in such a way that different forms of participation assume leading qualities, and different members may, de-pending on the complex interaction of all the elements now under discussion, become influence agents and leaders.

To some degree the nature of the interaction of these elements has already been explicitly discussed or clearly implied, and little more need be said of it until particular theoretical formulations are discussed below. It will be clear, also, that any suggestion that leadership can be reduced to some specific ability or to a set of personal attributes has been abandoned (Lang 1964). The quality of leadership inheres, not in an individual, but in a role that is played within some specified social system. A satisfactory summary statement is that of Zaleznik and Moment:

Identifying leadership [or leading] as a particular kind of interaction event, rather than as a particular set of characteristics of a person, conforms to the temporal, sequential and patterned aspects of role performance. The individual who engages in leadership events becomes a sometimes leader. Thus, the group leader would be the person or persons who engaged in more leadership events than others. We would use the term influence as synonomous [sic] with leadership only when the term intended preceded it. Behavioral analysis describes the ways in which all members of an interacting group influence one another; we identify as leadership only those interaction events in which intended influences are consummated. (1964, p. 414)

Leadership as group function

It is now common for social psychologists and sociologists, without any real or implied contradiction of the above analysis of acts of leading, to view leadership as a characteristic of a group rather than of individuals or individual acts. “Leadership is probably best conceived as a set of functions which must be carried out by the group “(Gibb 1954). As Cartwright and Zander suggest, the con-temporary view of leadership, which “. . . stresses the characteristics of the group and the situation in which it exists, . . . seeks to discover what actions are required by groups under various conditions if they are to achieve their goals or their valued states, and how different group members take part in these group actions. Leadership is viewed as the performance of those acts which help the group achieve its preferred outcomes” (1953, p. 492). As Secord and Backman (1964) then recognize, such an orientation to leadership has the clear implications (1) that acts of leading will almost inevitably be very varied indeed, depending upon the situation, the task, interpersonal evaluations, and perceptions and interactions of all of these; and (2) that acts of leading may be per-formed by any or all members of a group and that there is no force in the nature of the leadership relation itself, making for “focused” rather than “distributed” leadership. Furthermore, since groups have two primary “needs” —;for goal achievement or achievement of “valued states” and for maintenance of the group—;it is to be expected that two primary categories of acts of leading exist and that, in turn, two primary modes of leadership appear. Empirical evidence for this was offered by Bales (1953), who found in small goal-oriented discussion groups both “instrumental” and “social–emotional” leaders. Strong theoretical and empirical support for this view exists.

On this view, the provision of leadership in a group is a complex but limited aspect of the more general process of role differentiation, by which a group develops “specialists” in the performance of recurring functions. The complex of functional roles that characterizes leadership has been more fully studied than have other and probably comparable complexes—for example, that of political figure or ambassador—but it is, perhaps, questionable whether a more complete understanding of role will not supersede particular concern with leadership.

Current psychological theories

Two recent attempts (Berelson & Steiner 1964; Collins & Guetzkow 1964) to set out systematically what is known of leadership have indicated the limitation of this knowledge, and this is especially true with respect to an understanding of the process by which roles are differentiated and status or position established. Gibb (1949) observed that in newly formed groups some degree of leadership emerged within the first few minutes of interaction. The enigma of this phenomenon has still not been elucidated. While it can be confidently asserted (Collins & Guetzkow 1964) that “the greater the personal attraction of other group members to a single individual, the greater the power of that individual,” there remains little understanding of the sources and nature of differential personal attraction.


A very large proportion of the research in leadership has made use of the sociometric method. This technique has developed greatly since the first valuable lead given by Moreno (1934) and the first sociometric study of leadership by Jennings (1943). It provides an easily accessible, relatively objective means of assessing interpersonal attitudes within a group, and by way of such linkages, it offers a means of map-ping the interpersonal structure of a group [seeSOCIOMETRY].

The simple but important recognition that different choice criteria could be incorporated in the sociometric question has led to very significant insights into the leadership of groups. The value of Jennings’ varying the criteria from choices among group tasks to quite informal friendship choices (1947) cannot be overestimated. Role criteria in the study of leadership are now numerous, and the use of different criteria has shown that members of a group do often distinguish between those they like as friends and those they would wish to have as leaders (Hollander 1961, p. 34). The socio-metric method has also demonstrated that interpersonal designation of leaders varies in any group from time to time as goals, tasks, and internal structure change.

In an attempt to explain the importance of socio-metric technique to the study of leadership, Hol-lander (1961) has said that social interaction leads to an implicit interpersonal assessment, which the perceiver reaches by comparing task-related elements and behavior with some social standard. Parsons (1952) was responsible for a very significant advance when he indicated that persons interacting are objects to each other in an evaluational process, the elements of which are cognitive (what the object is) and cathectic (what the object means in an emotional sense). Leadership is such an evaluational relationship; the cognitive component is perception of another individual’s instrumentality in need satisfaction, and an emotional tone derives from the as yet not understood processes of interpersonal attraction.

The principal theories of leadership are based in some sense upon the sociometric method. Of these, mention should certainly be made of interaction theory, of Hollander’s work on “idiosyncrasy credit,” and of Fiedler’s “contingency theory.”

General interaction theory

The important aspects of interaction theory have been stated as follows (Gibb 1958). First, groups are mechanisms for achieving individual satisfactions, and conversely, persons interact with other persons for the achievement of group satisfactions. Second, role differentiation, including that complex called leadership, is part and parcel of a group’s locomotion toward its goals and, thus, toward the satisfaction of needs of individual members. Third, leadership is a concept applied to the interaction of two or more persons when the evaluation of one or some of the parties to the interaction is such that he or they come to control and direct the actions of the others in the pursuit of common or compatible ends. Any group is a system of interactions. Within this system a structure emerges as a result of the development of relatively stable sets of expectations for the behavior of each member, and these expectations are an expression of the member’s inter-action with all other members. Thus, the particular role an individual member achieves within the group is determined both by the functional or role needs of the group in a situation and by the member’s particular attributes of personality, ability, and skill, which differentiate him perceptually from others in the group. Leadership is basically a function of personality and social system in dynamic interaction. Fourth, evaluation of one party to interaction by another is itself an integration of perceptual and emotional relationships; it is a product of perception of instrumentality in need satisfaction and of emotional attachment. This form of conceptualization leads to a recognition of a complex of emotional relationships, which in turn define a variety of leadership relations. Among these may be identified (1) patriarchal leadership, in which the person upon whom the members perceive themselves to be dependent is both loved and feared; (2) tyrannical leadership, where the emotional relationship is dominated by fear; and (3) “ideal,” or charismatic, leadership, in which the interpersonal relationship is characterized by love or affection. Insofar as attention is given only to the momentary capacity of a group to mobilize its resources for a particular task, the emotional quality of the relations to a leader may be irrelevant. But if the time dimension is admitted, then the cathexis of the parties of the interaction to one another seems inevitable. It is a part of this theory, then, that even if consideration is given only to those groups in which the sources of all influence and control are within the group. (i.e., if headship situations are ignored), the concept of leadership still embraces a wide variety of interactional relationships, all of which must be expected to have quite different effects in terms of group behavior. This view of social interaction gives rise to a number of hypotheses concerning leadership for which there is already some evidence in sociological observations and in the findings of psychological experimentation. Among these is the observation that, under different conditions, a leader can have varying degrees of influence on the “locomotion” of his group.

Fiedler’s contingency theory

Some aspects of interaction theory have been systematically elaborated and investigated by Fiedler and his associates (Fiedler 1964). The starting point of these investigations was the widely recognized fact that while one form of leadership was associated with effective group performance in one set of circumstances, there were circumstances in which a quite contrary form seemed most effective. For example, a number of studies had shown that human-relations-oriented, considerate, or democratic leader behavior promoted high morale and productively effective behavior in a wide variety of work groups. Yet, other studies had shown task-oriented, instrumental, or authoritarian leadership to be associated with productive efficiency in experimental groups. Further examination of this research revealed that “the prediction of group performance on the basis of these leader attributes is contingent upon the specific, situational context in which the leader operates” (ibid., p. 154).

Fiedler chose to measure, as predictors of leadership effectiveness, “assumed similarity between opposites” (ASo) and “esteem for the least preferred co-worker.” These rather esoteric measures acquire general meaning and significance by virtue of the fact that each can be shown to bear some relation to the rather more widely acceptable variables of “task-orientation” and “consideration.” Individuals who differentiate sharply between their most and least preferred co-workers (low ASo) tend to be more oriented toward the task and more punitive. A person who sees even a poor co-worker in a relatively favorable manner (high ASo) is likely to behave in a way that shows consideration for others and promotes member satisfaction; he is also likely to be less directive.

In an early study Fiedler (1955) was able to show that the leaders’ ASo scores and the performance of army and air-force crews were negatively associated for crews in which the leader sociometrically endorsed his “keyman” (e.g., the gunner on a tank-gunnery task) and were positively associated for crews in which the leader sociometrically rejected his keyman. Subsequently, Fiedler demonstrated that “The relationship between ASo scores and crew effectiveness ... seemed to be contingent upon the sociometric choice pattern within the crew” (1964, p. 156).

Fiedler has also suggested that group situations may be described in terms of three dimensions: (1) affective leader–group relations; (2) task structure; and (3) position power. There is reason to believe that task structure and position power are not independent (1964, p. 162), and further elaboration of this model is sure to follow. The first of these dimensions reflects the extent to which the leader feels accepted by his group members. Task structure is defined in terms of four scales, developed by M. E. Shaw, which refer to the degree to which the correctness of a decision can be demonstrated, the clarity to members of the requirements of the task, the restriction of procedures by which the task may be accomplished, and the uniqueness of the “correct” solution. By “position power” is meant the extent to which the leader may dispense rewards, punishments, and sanctions, generally by virtue of authority given him by the organization within which the group operates, by tradition, or by any other formally recognized institution.

By dichotomizing each of these dimensions into high and low, Fiedler obtains eight descriptively different group-task situations. The results from many studies are then called upon to reveal the relationship between leadership style and group performance in each of these different situations. “In very favorable conditions, where the leader has power, informal backing [i.e., good leader-member relations], and a relatively well-structured task, the group is ready to be directed on how to go about its task” (ibid., p. 165), as is shown by the fact that the correlations between ASo scores and group effectiveness are large and negative. In other words, the controlling, managing, and directive leaders perform best in these conditions. And under very unfavorable conditions, where leader–member relations are poor, the task is unstructured, and the leader lacks power, the managing, controlling leadership style also proves most effective. It is in moderately favorable conditions, where the group faces an unstructured or ambiguous task or where the leader’s relations with group members are tenuous, that permissive, considerate leadership is most effective. It is probably not unimportant that the situation where the leader position is weak, the task ambiguous, but the leader well liked is characterized by considerate, permissive leadership; and, alternatively, when the leader is not well liked but the task is clearly structured and his position is strong, the leadership is generally authoritarian and task oriented. This fact suggests a need for further consideration of the summary concept of favorableness of the situation. However, there is reason enough to accept Fiedler’s general hypothesis that “the type of leader attitude required for effective group performance depends upon the degree to which the group situation is favorable or unfavorable to the leader” (1964, p. 164).

Fiedler and Meuwese (1963) have also shown that a leader’s ability scores correlate highly with group performance only if the leader is sociometrically accepted or liked, and this finding contains the essence of the contingency theory. The fact that a person may be identified as a leader in an uncohesive group and that the correlation between his ability and group performance may be negative suggests that when the group perceives its major task to be group maintenance, the identified leader will be one who attends primarily to the performance of maintenance functions rather than to the overt task.

Hollander’s idiosyncrasy credit

Within the context of an interaction theory that sees social behavior as dependent upon individual attributes, conditions of the situation, and “inputs to a dynamic system arising from their interaction,” Hollander (1958) proposed a mediating construct of “idiosyncrasy credit,” to explain the fact that leaders must conform to the norms of the group led and also must be a force for innovation. Basically this is made possible through the achievement of status, which is primarily a matter of the leaders’ being perceived to conform to group expectancies in the areas of both high individual task performance and generalized characteristics (e.g., pleasant appearance). To the extent that a person is positively evaluated in both task competence and status external to the group, he accumulates “idiosyncrasy credit.”

This represents an accumulation of positively disposed impressions residing in the perceptions of relevant others; it is defined operationally in terms of the degree to which an individual may deviate from the common expectancies of the group. In this view, each individual within a group—disregarding size and function, for the moment—may be thought of as having a degree of group-awarded credits such as to permit idiosyncratic behavior in certain dimensions before group sanctions are applied. (Hollander 1958, p. 120)

Against this credit, such deviant behavior as the individual indulges in is to be seen as a debit. For any given individual, then, the extent to which he is allowed to innovate will depend upon his status. So long as he does nothing to negate the perception of himself as task competent, motivated to belong to the group, and loyal to others’ expectations of him, he may enjoy sufficient credit to challenge and change prevailing social patterns in the group. But Hollander (1961) points out that “in attaining this level, the particular expectancies applicable to him will have undergone change,” so there is no guarantee that it will be appropriate or possible for him to continue in innovation; in fact, the converse is more likely to obtain.

This “mediating concept” of idiosyncrasy credit is consistent with and helps to explain leader rotation in the group as task and other features of the situation alter, for as Hollander says, “the task competent follower who conforms to the common expectancies of the group at one stage may become the leader at the next stage. And, correspondingly, the leader who fails to fulfill the expectancies associated with his position of influence may lose credits among his followers and be replaced by one of them” (ibid., p. 45).

Summary of current theories

The principal insistence of interaction theories in any of these forms is that the major variables in terms of which leadership might be understood are (1) the leader’s personality; (2) the needs, attitudes, and problems of followers; (3) the group itself, in terms of both interpersonal structure and syntality; and (4) the situation in terms of both the physical circumstances and the group task. Further, it is clearly understood that the investigator needs to deal with the perception of each of these variables by the leader and by other group members.

Personality and leadership

In the context of interaction theories there is room for a thorough exploration of the extent to which attributes of the leader are related to the process of leadership and to group performance. Probably the earliest “explanation” of leadership phenomena was given in terms of personal qualities that, while partially modifiable and learnable, characterized the individual and established his dominance of and influence in any situation. For a time during the late 1940s, reaction against this view was so marked that psychology seemed to some to be in danger of offering a thoroughly “situational” view of leadership phenomena. The major influences in this reaction were Gibb’s report of the situational shifting of leadership in small groups (1947) and Stogdill’s study of the literature of personality traits (1948), which revealed that those personality traits which were leadership traits depended upon the situation and the requirements of the group. Each of these papers, however, was interactional rather than situational in theoretical orientation. And the interactional approach has opened the way for understanding the relation between personality and leadership, while at the same time ending the quest for generalized “leadership traits.”

The early tendency to lean heavily to the side of situational determinacy in this process was most effectively checked by Carter and Nixon (1949), who showed that when the emergence of leadership was studied in a carefully controlled way, through tasks which fell into three distinct “families,” the leadership varied considerably from task family to task family but that within families it was relatively stable and appeared to be determined by other, probably personality, factors. In the years since 1950 many studies have provided evidence that personality factors contribute to the emergence and maintenance of leadership status. This has been especially true of those studies in which the situational variance has not been relatively great.

Representative studies

As examples, four of these studies may be mentioned.

(1) Bass (1960, p. 172) reports that in initially leaderless discussion groups extremely authoritarian personalities, as measured by the California F scale, are least likely to exhibit successful leader-ship behavior. On the other hand, in these groups he observed a positive correlation between successful leadership and perceptual flexibility. But prob-ably the most telling is the finding of Klubeck and Bass (1954) that persons who do not naturally exhibit successful leadership in such groups are unable to profit from brief coaching as to how to behave as leaders, and the conclusion that these persons seem to be limited by personality and would need to undergo change, probably through major psychotherapy, before they could be freed to behave as leaders.

(2) Borgatta, Couch, and Bales have presented findings that they describe as relevant to a “great man” theory of leadership (1954). They varied the composition of three-man groups working on the same tasks and showed that individuals who scored high on a composite of intelligence, leadership ratings by fellow participants, participation rate, and sociometric popularity in one group were also high in three subsequent group sessions, where they interacted with different persons. Those who scored highest on this composite criterion in one group did so consistently, and it was evident that “great men” selected on the basis of their first session continue to have an influence on the relatively superior performance of the groups in which they subsequently participate. However, as Hollander comments, “the task setting was essentially constant with only the participants varying across sessions” (Hollander and Julian 1964).

(3) In somewhat similar vein Cattell and Stice (1954) offered four formulas for selecting leaders on the basis of personality. They differentiated four kinds of leaders: “persistent momentary problem solvers” or technical leaders, identified in terms of the frequency with which nonparticipant observers had judged the individual to have influenced the group; salient leaders, picked by the observers as most powerfully influencing the group in at least one of the 22 situations presented; sociometric leaders, identified by choice by fellow members; and elected leaders, who were named after formal election on one or more occasions in the course of the experimental interaction.

The personality profiles of leaders were compared with those of nonleaders, and eight personality factors showed differences in the same direction for all four categories. These were C, emotional maturity, or ego strength; E, dominance; G, character integration, or superego strength; H, social adventurousness; N, shrewdness; O (negative), freedom from anxiety; Q3, deliberate will control; and Q4 (negative), absence of nervous tension. Differences between leader types were that technical leaders had higher general intelligence, B, and elected leaders were higher in F, surgency. Discussing these results, the authors indicate that the relationships revealed are consistent with both technical and nontechnical thinking about leader-ship and the influence process. For example, the timid, withdrawn, hesitant behavior associated with a low H score would not be conducive to leadership in any of the categories. The anxious, worrying cautiousness in dealing with people represented by high O would not inspire confidence. And where conscience is considered to be the “will of the group”—a regard for superindividual values—the selection of leaders with high G represents a gain for the group. [SeeTRAITS.]

(4) Some confirmation of this finding is to be found in a study by Borg (1960). He derived four factor scores from a variety of tests that were primarily measures of personality variables and related these to sociometric measures of six small-group roles. Twelve of his 24 correlation coefficients were significant at the .01 level. The predictor factor “assertiveness” was the most successful. A correlation of .46 was found between assertiveness scores and a composite leadership role derived from individual role measures of assertiveness, creativity, and leadership. It is interesting to observe that the predictor factor “power orientation” is consistently unassociated with this leadership composite and that a third predictor, “rigidity,” dependent primarily on the California F scale, is consistently and significantly negatively associated with leadership, thus confirming Bass’s results. As Borg himself points out (p. 115), his success in predicting especially the leadership-role scores may mean that even more can be achieved in this area if predictor instruments are further developed.

Summary of the literature

Despite the common promise of these studies and others like them, it cannot at this time be said that there is evidence for a predominant personality component in leadership. The best review of the literature in this area to date is that of Mann (1959). In the course of examining a number of relationships between the personality characteristics of the individual and the way he behaves or is perceived to behave in small groups, Mann presents a summary of the relation-ships between some aspects of personality and leadership, as follows.

Intelligence. After examination of 28 independent studies, the positive association of intelligence and leadership in small groups seems to be beyond doubt, although the median correlation is only .25; no reported coefficient exceeded .50; and just half of the results examined failed to establish the significance of this trend.

Adjustment. The association of personal adjustment and leadership was found in 22 studies. Again the over-all trend is clearly positive, with a median correlation of approximately .15 and no single correlation coefficient greater than .53.

Extraversion-introversion. Twenty-two different studies have suggested a median correlation between extraversion and leadership of .15, and the highest correlation reported is .42. Despite some difficulty in ensuring the real similarity of scales of similar title, there is evidence for the conclusion that “those individuals who tend to be selected as leaders are more sociable and outgoing.”

Dominance. On the evidence of 12 studies, dominance, as measured by personality scales, is positively associated with leadership, having a median correlation around .20 and a highest re-ported correlation of .42. “Although the trend is not very strong, these data suggest that dominant or ascendant individuals have a greater chance of being designated leader.”

Conservatism. Seventeen studies reveal that in general there is a negative association between conservatism and leadership. Mann found that the California F scale had been used ten times in the prediction of leadership and that on each occasion authoritarian persons had been rated lower on leadership.

Interpersonal sensitivity. The measurement of interpersonal sensitivity, or empathic ability, has been subject to much attention. Some caution is needed in attempting to summarize the 15 studies relating it to leadership, and Mann duly qualifies his summary judgment that “there appears to be a low but clearly positive relationship between inter-personal sensitivity and leadership.”

Evaluation and other techniques

A further and even more important qualification of these results is made by Mann in pointing out that leadership is variously determined by one of three popular techniques: peer ratings, criterion measures, and observer ratings. The relationship of some of the above personality variables differs when these different measuring techniques are used for leadership. While the relationship between intelligence and leadership is independent of the technique of identifying leadership, that between adjustment and leadership is more closely associated with peer ratings or informal leadership than with either of the other forms; extraversion is more likely to characterize formal leaders determined by criterion measures. Further, Mann observes that “extra-verted individuals are no more likely than introverted individuals to be rated as informal leaders by their peers.” To a large extent the significance of this observation by Mann, based upon a careful scrutiny of the literature, is that it confirms, in principle at least, the Cattell and Stice proposal of different regressions of personality measures upon different measures of leadership.

The evidence of research to date is clear in demanding that future research attempting to relate personality variables to the exercise of influence in groups must make use of more refined concepts than that of leadership, and close attention must be given to the techniques used to assess both personality and influence relationships.

Leadership in the enduring group

Implicit in the recognition that leadership is situation contingent is the understanding that leader behavior varies with such group factors as organization structure and pattern of communication. Probably the most prominent determinant of variation in these structural respects is the duration of the group. Much of the research in the psychology of leadership has employed newly formed groups of short duration, while a great many of the groups with which social science generally concerns itself are those that endure for a considerable period and either have or achieve a significant history. Sherif and Sherif (1948) have done much to establish the fact that enduring groups develop an organization and structure that becomes a considerable determinant of group-related behavior; and, indeed, they discuss leadership within the context of such structures. Secord and Backman (1964) properly indicate that “in groups that have functioned long enough to develop stable structures and a certain routine much of the stability in leader personnel can be explained” in terms other than those of personality–situation interaction. [SeeGROUPS, article onGroup Formation.]

In enduring groups it is patent that formal office structure usually remains relatively stable, continuing from one situation to another throughout a formal term. This cannot always be regarded as continuing leadership. Primarily because of the complex values of stable structure and because there is a culture-carried expectation that offices will be filled for predetermined periods, groups maintain a status structure even if it no longer corresponds to functional demands. One result of this culture-carried expectation of persisting organization is that the nature or emotional–relational quality of leadership will change. In the early stages of group development persons emerge as organizational leaders by virtue of their control over problem-related resources or they emerge as positively cathected leaders by virtue of both their command of resources and the readiness members show to relate themselves emotionally to others on the basis of first impressions (Gibb 1949; 1958). As interaction persists, structure is stabilized for a variety of reasons. With time, the early congruence of the cognitive relation to the person controlling resources and the positive cathexis of that same person is reduced. When stability of structure, then, is formalized so that offices are held for a stated time without reference to contemporary contribu-tory strength in problem solving, leadership becomes less functional and the officeholder is sup-ported by structural rigidity. His leadership may now be said to have become headship, and the dynamics of the group will almost certainly have become complicated by the emergence of new leaders, thrown up by the complex of forces, which now includes, of course, the behavior of the formal officeholders, The officeholders strive to maintain the satisfactions of office, whether these be simply of status or more complex, and in doing so their behavior becomes more coercive. Frequently this implies the establishment of power cliques or bureaucracies. Under such conditions the emotional quality of relations to the leader or head becomes less positive and the nature of the influence has changed. [SeeBureaucracy.]

However, in other, simpler, and more direct ways, too, the time dimension, or history, has been seen to affect leadership. Klein (1956) has suggested that communication structure may become habitual and independent of the problem to be solved. A structure that has been successful repeatedly because problems have been similar will, she suggests, be persisted in even when problems become dissimilar, because of a preference for orderliness and routine. Bass (1960) has shown that the perceived status an individual brings into a group by virtue of past interaction in the group or in another, mutually known group directly affects his willingness to make attempts to lead and the success of such attempts. As Secord and Backman (1964) observe, the communication and status structures mutually reinforce each other and together constitute strong forces determining leadership. One’s position in group structure, whether in the communication net or in the mutually perceived status hierarchy, greatly affects his opportunities and abilities to exercise influence. Obviously communication centrality and status position are not independent. Hopkins (1964) adduces considerable evidence for the proposition that “for any member of a small group, the higher his rank, the greater his influence.”

Two final points of some significance have also been made by Secord and Backman (1964). First, once having achieved success in leadership, and through it having attained centrality and status, which in turn tend to establish their leadership, these leaders have the best opportunity to develop leadership skills, which further accentuate their positive evaluation. Second, because of the community value placed upon status and leadership directly, established leaders are highly motivated to maintain their roles, while reciprocally, their success spells satisfaction for their followers, whose involvement may be correspondingly reduced.

Cecil A. Gibb

[Directly related are the entries Elites; Power. Other relevant material may be found in Attitudes, article On Attitude Change; Authority; groups, especially the article on Groupformation; organizations, Persuasion; Oplitical Anthropology, article on Political Organization; Political Machines; Political Process; role; and in the biography of Lewin.]


Bales, Robert F. 1953 The Equilibrium Problem in Small Groups. Pages 111–161 in Talcott Parsons et al., Working Papers in the Theory of Action. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press.

Bass, Bernard M. 1960 Leadership, Psychology, and Organizational Behavior. New York: Harper.

Berelson, Bernard; and Steiner, Gary A. 1964 Human Behavior: An Inventory of Scientific Findings. New York: Harcourt.

Borg, Walter R. 1960 Prediction of Small Group Role Behavior From Personality Variables. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 60:112–116.

Borgatta, Edgar F. et al. 1954 Some Findings Relevant to a Great Man Theory of Leadership. American Sociological Review 19:755–759.

Browne, Clarence; and Cohn, Thomas S. (editors) 1958 The Study of Leadership. Danville, 111.: Interstate Printers & Publishers.

Carter, Launor F. 1953 Leadership and Small-group Behavior. Pages 257–284 in Conference in Social Psychology, University of Oklahoma, 1952, Group Relations at the Crossroads. Edited by Muzafer Sherif and M. D. Wilson. New York: Harper.

Carter, Launor F.; and Nixon, Mary 1949 Ability, Perceptual, Personality, and Interest Factors Associated With Different Criteria of Leadership. Journal of Psychology 27:377–388.

Cartwright, Dorwin; and Zander, Alvin (editors) (1953) 1960 Group Dynamics: Research and Theory. 2d ed. Evanston, 111.: Row, Peterson; New York: Harper. → See especially pages 487–510, “Leadership and Group Performance: Introduction.”

Cattell, Raymond B. 1951 New Concepts for Measuring Leadership in Terms of Group Syntality. Human Relations 4:161–184.

Cattell, Raymond; and Stice, Glen F. 1954 Four Formulae for Selecting Leaders on the Basis of Personality. Human Relations 7:493–507.

Collins, Barry E.; and GUETZKOW, HAROLD 1964 A Social Psychology of Group Processes for Decision-making. New York: Wiley.

Fiedler, Fred E. 1955 The Influence of Leader-Keyman Relations on Combat Crew Effectiveness. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 51:227–235.

FIEDLER, FRED E. 1964 A Contingency Model of Leadership Effectiveness. Volume 1, pages 149–190 in Advances in Experimental Social Psychology. Edited by Leonard Berkowitz. New York: Academic Press.

Fiedler, Fred E.; and Meuwese, W. A. T. 1963 Leader’s Contribution to Task Performance in Cohesive and Uncohesive Groups. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 67:83–87.

Gibb, Cecil A. 1947 The Principles and Traits of Leadership. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 42:267–284.

Gibb, Cecil A. 1949 The Emergence of Leadership in Small Temporary Groups of Men. Publication No. 1392. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms.

Gibb, Cecil A. 1950 The Sociometry of Leadership in Temporary Groups. Sociometry 13:226–243.

Gibb, Cecil A. 1954 Leadership. Volume 2, pages 877–920 in Gardner Lindzey (editor), Handbook of Social Psychology. Cambridge, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.

Gibb, Cecil A. 1958 An Interactional View of the Emergence of Leadership. Australian Journal of Psychology 10:101–110.

Hemphill, John K. 1949 Situational Factors in Leadership. Monograph No. 32. Columbus: Ohio State Univ., Bureau of Educational Research.

Hemphill, John K. 1961 Why People Attempt to Lead. Pages 201–215 in Luigi Petrullo and Bernard M. Bass (editors), Leadership and Interpersonal Behavior. New York: Holt.

Hollander, E. P. 1958 Conformity, Status, and Idiosyncrasy Credit. Psychological Review 65:117–127.

Hollander, E. P. 1961 Emergent Leadership and Social Influence. Pages 30–47 in Luigi Petrullo and Bernard M. Bass (editors), Leadership and Interpersonal Behavior. New York: Holt.

Hollander, E. P.; and Julian, J. W. 1964 Leadership. Unpublished manuscript.

Hopkins, Terence K. 1964 The Exercise of Influence in Small Groups. Totowa, N.J.: Bedminster Press. Jennings, Helen H. (1943) 1950 Leadership and Isolation: A Study of Personality in Inter-personal Relations. 2d ed. New York: Longmans.

Jennings, Helen H. 1947 Sociometry of Leadership, Based on the Differentiation of Psychegroup and Socio-group. Sociometry Monograph No. 14. NewYork: Beacon House.

Klein, Josephine 1956 The Study of Groups. London: Routledge; New York: Humanities.

Klubeck, Stanley; and Bass, Bernard M. 1954 Differential Effects of Training on Persons of Different Leadership Status. Human Relations 7:59–72.

Lang, Kurt 1964 Leadership. Pages 380–381 in Julius Gould and William L. Kolb (editors), A Dictionary of the Social Sciences. New York: Free Press. Mann, Richard D. 1959 A Review of the Relationships Between Personality and Performance in Small Groups. Psychological Bulletin 56:241–270.

Merei, Ferenc 1949 Group Leadership and Institutionalization. Human Relations 2:23–39.

Moreno, Jacob L. (1934) 1953 Who Shall Survive? Foundations of Sociometry, Group Psychotherapy and Sociodrama. Rev. & enl. ed. Sociometry Monograph No. 29. Beacon, N.Y.: Beacon House.

Parsons, Talcott (1952) 1953 The Superego and the Theory of Social Systems. Pages 13–29 in Talcott Parsons et al., Working Papers in the Theory of Action. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press.

Petrullo, Luigi; and Bass, Bernard M. (editors) 1961 Leadership and Interpersonal Behavior. New York: Holt.

Pigors, Paul 1935 Leadership or Domination. Boston: Hough ton Mifflin.

Ross, Murray G.; and Hendry, CHarles E. 1957 New Understandings of Leadership: A Survey and Application of Research. New York: Association Press. Secord, Paul F.; and Backman, Carl w. 1964 Social Psychology. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Seeman, Melvin; and Morris, R. T. 1950 A Status Factor Approach to Leadership. Unpublished manuscript.

Sherif, Muzafer (editor) 1962 Inter group Relations and Leadership: Approaches and Research in Industrial, Ethnic, Cultural, and Political Areas. New York: Wiley.

Sherif, Muzafer; and Sherif, Carolyn W. (1948) 1956 An Outline of Social Psychology. Rev. ed. New York: Harper.

Stogdill, Ralph M. 1948 Personal Factors Associated With Leadership. Journal of Psychology 25:35–71. STOGDILL, RALPH M. 1962 Intragroup-Intergroup Theory and Research. Pages 48–65 in Muzafer Sherif (editor), Inter group Relations and Leadership. New York: Wiley.

Thomas, William I.; and Znaniecki, Florian (1918) 1947 The Definition of the Situation. Pages 76–77 in Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, Readings in Social Psychology. New York: Holt. → Reprinted from Volume 1 of W. I. Thomas and F. Znaniecki, The Polish Peasant in Europe and America.

Versa, Sidney 1961 Small Groups and Political Behavior: A Study of Leadership. Princeton Univ. Press.

Zaleznik, Abraham; and Moment, David 1964 The Dynamics of Interpersonal Behavior, New York: Wiley.


To most sociological writers leadership is the exercise of power or influence in social collectivities, such as groups, organizations, communities, or nations. This power may be addressed to any or all of three very general and related functions: establishing the goals, purposes, or objectives of the collectivity; creating the structures through which the purposes of the collectivity are fulfilled; and maintaining or enhancing these structures. Sociological studies have emphasized the last function, in part because it seems more amenable to empirical investigation, particularly in bureaucratic settings, where much of the research on leadership is conducted. This emphasis has implied an interest in the role of leadership in maintaining the integrity and viability of the collectivity against threats, both internal and external, in maintaining collective order and unity, in minimizing dissension and conflict, and in motivating members and fostering their acceptance of the collectivity, of its goals, and of leadership itself. Thus, most theories of leadership are conservative in that they are addressed to the maintenance of social systems rather than to their change. Although this is not an exclusive emphasis, it is consistent with a major concern in contemporary sociology with the problems of social order and stability.

The exercise of power or influence implies “making things happen” through others. Leaders may engage in a number of activities in furthering this purpose. They may coordinate, control, direct, guide, or mobilize the efforts of others. A recent focus on the leaders’ role in motivating members implies that they may counsel, support, help, persuade, or elicit the participation of others in some degree of goal setting. Leaders may also cajole, manipulate, entice, reward, coerce, or harangue, although some writers exclude some of these activities from the definition of leadership. “Strictly speaking,” according to Schmidt (1933, p. 282), “the relation of leadership arises only where a group follows an individual from free choice and not under command or coercion and, secondly, not in response to blind drives but on positive and more or less rational grounds.”

Many of the above activities of leaders are concerned with the details of interpersonal relations. Leaders may also wield power in representing the collectivity in its external relations. Or they may make decisions and formulate policies on a broad scale without becoming directly involved in the details of their execution. Selznick (1957) applies the term “institutional statesman” to those organization leaders who look beyond questions of routine administration and productive efficiency to the broader philosophic implications of the collectivity and its role in the larger society. Organization statesmen assume responsibility for defining policy values and for developing a plan of organization that embodies these values. Similarly, Harbison and Myers (1959) employ the term “organization builders” for those leaders who devote themselves to creating organizations. These leaders are concerned as much with innovation as with collective stability. Leaders in developing nations, in particular, are concerned with change, with defining new collective goals and creating structures appropriate to these goals. Many of these leaders must also undertake the difficult task of establishing new social values in the context of traditional philosophies (Fourastie & Vimont 1956, p. 57).

Leadership defines, initiates, and maintains social structure. The social system is, so to speak, “programmed” through leadership. Understanding leadership, then, should be a simple and parsimonious approach to understanding the larger social system. Leadership can have consequences for the lives and welfare of large numbers of people, and, therefore, those who are concerned with the practical consequences of human actions must be concerned with leadership.

Important social values are also frequently associated with leadership conceptions, and attempts are made to legitimate social systems in terms of particular theories or ideologies of leadership. The drama of leadership can be seen in its consequences and in the behavior of some well-known leaders. History is personalized and dramatized through stories of leadership, and the names of famous or infamous leaders elicit strong feeling. But the drama associated with leadership, together with its apparent theoretical and practical import, gives it an appeal that may sometimes be deceptive. The “great man theory,” according to which outstanding leaders determine the course of history, is one expression of this appeal. Models of ruling elites, which explain whole social systems in terms of power concentrated in the hands of relatively small and exclusive leadership groups, are similarly appealing in their simplicity and drama. “The whole history of civilized mankind,” according to Mosca, “comes down to a conflict between the tendency of dominant elements to monopolize political power and transmit possession of it by inheritance . . .” ([1896] 1939, p. 65). The United States, according to Mills’s more contemporary analysis (1956), is dominated by a “power elite” that is in command of the major organizations of society.

Sociological treatments of leadership have leaned heavily on conceptions applying to elites, to autocratic systems, and to rigid class or caste societies. Almost all of the literature on leadership, according to Bell, stems from the works of Aristotle and Machiavelli and is committed to “the image of the mindless masses and the image of the strong-willed leader” (1950, p. 396). Classical models of bureaucracy share with these elite conceptions an authoritarian bias in their emphasis on the exclusive prerogative of leaders to command and the unquestioning obligation of subordinates to obey (Weber 1922a).

According to Michels (1911), leadership and democracy are incompatible. Leadership inevitably becomes oligarchic, even in political organizations that start democratically and are committed to a democratic ideology. Leaders themselves are incapable of deflecting this historic process; democratic and idealistic leaders succumb eventually to the corruption inherent in power. Michels cites a number of arguments in support of the tendency toward oligarchy in social systems. First, the masses, through incompetence and apathy, cannot and do not want to participate actively in the political process; they prefer to be led. Second, democracy is structurally impossible in large and complex social systems; there is no way of arranging the systems so that the views of the many individual members can be heard and taken into account. The impracticality of democracy is especially apparent in organizations or nations undergoing conflict with others. Especially during periods of crisis, organizations need firm leadership and precise adherence to orders. Finally, the tendency toward oligarchy results from the character of leaders themselves and of the role they must play. Because of their cultural and educational superiority over the masses, leaders form a distinct elite. The status, perquisites, and privileges associated with the leadership role serve further to separate the leaders from the masses. In labor unions and socialist parties, for example, the life of the leaders becomes that of the petty bourgeois. Leaders therefore develop a vested interest in their positions, which they must protect. Furthermore, a personal lust for power, which is characteristic of leaders, intensifies their efforts to enhance their power, and leaders will resort to ulterior devices toward this end. In “democratic” parties leaders will employ emotional and demagogic appeals to manipulate the gullible masses. They will control the party press, using it to describe themselves in the most favorable light, while deriding their opposition within the party. They will exploit their special information and knowledge of the organization to outmaneuver opponents. And if, despite these tactics, the leaders should be overthrown, the new officeholders in their turn will undergo the inevitable “transformation which renders them in every respect similar to the dethroned tyrants. . . . The revolutionaries of today become the reactionaries of tomorrow” (Michels 1911, p. 195 in 1962 paperback edition).

Changes in the character of leadership

Many of the classical conceptions of leadership, including those in Weber’s work on bureaucracies and in Michels’ on political organizations, have proven valuable in analyses of contemporary social systems. Nonetheless, the changing character of societies over the years, and of leadership itself, has made apparent some of the limitations of these older conceptions. The emphasis in contemporary sociology on quantitative research has also contributed to changes in interpretations of the leadership process because of the need to develop conceptions that are operationally feasible as well as theoretically meaningful. At the same time, research findings themselves have led to reinterpretations of older conceptions.

The increasing numbers and complexity of organizations in modern industrial societies require large numbers of persons with high levels of technical and administrative expertise to play leadership roles. The demand for expert leaders reduces the suitability of those recruited on the basis of social status or of family connections. Achievement thus replaces ascription as the basis for placing leaders, and their recruitment spreads to all strata of society. Similarly, political criteria prevalent as the basis of recruitment during early stages in newly independent countries and in revolutionary societies become less important in highly industrialized societies. Training centers for leaders are established in universities, business schools, and training institutes, and the possibility for careers in industrial leadership are opened to large numbers of persons. Management becomes professionalized. While these developments are most apparent in business and industrial organizations and in some agencies of government, they are also occurring in other organizations, including military establishments and labor unions (see Kerr et al. 1960).

Most of these changes imply a rationalization of leadership in organizations that is consistent with Weber’s (1922a) model of bureaucratic leadership. However, further changes in the way leaders exercise control are likely to accompany this rationalization, and these represent a divergence from the classical bureaucratic model. For example, leaders may rely on discussion and persuasion rather than exclusively on command. Attempts may be made to elicit cooperation, sometimes by having organization members participate in the making of decisions that affect them in the work place. The rising level of education of the work force contributes to this trend. Furthermore, professional managers are more inclined than their predecessors to consider the results of social research, which have supported the growth of “human relations” approaches to leadership in organizations. At the same time, political developments, particularly in some European countries, have led to the introduction of schemes for co-management and of workers’ councils, with varying degrees of success (Emery & Thorsrud 1964; Meister 1964; Sturm thai 1964). These developments may not be fully consolidated in any contemporary society, but at least incipient support can be found in many organizations for less autocratic approaches to leadership than those that were customary in the past. A survey in 14 industrialized and developing nations, for example, shows that managers overwhelmingly subscribe at least to the idea of participation in decision making, although they express skepticism about workers’ capacities to assume the responsibilities consonant with democratic leadership (Haire et al. 1963).

Taken together, these developments imply the growth—actual in some places, potential in others —of new types of leadership in addition to those prevalent in the past. Partly as a consequence of this trend and of developments in research, sociological conceptions have been broadened. This can be observed in a number of related issues.

Leader power

Many of the limitations of traditional leadership conceptions stem from assumptions about the social context within which leadership operates and about the character of power, which is the essence of leadership. One such assumption is that the context is one of conflict, in which the relative power of leaders and others is at stake. It is further assumed that the total amount of power in a social system is a fixed quantity and that leaders and followers are engaged in a “zero-sum game”—that is, an increase in the power of one party must be accompanied by a corresponding decrease in the power of the other. Contemporary social scientists are more inclined than their predecessors to question the generality of these assumptions (Likert 1961; Parsons 1963; Tannenbaum 1966, pp. 95–100). The total amount of power in a relational system may grow, and leaders and followers may therefore enhance their power jointly. Total power may also decline, and all groups within the system may suffer corresponding decreases.

Another view common to traditional analyses argues that the leadership process is unilateral: one either leads or is led, is strong or is weak, controls or is controlled. Georg Simmel, in spite of his general adherence to the traditional conflict view of leadership, noted a more subtle interaction underlying the appearance of “pure superiority” on the part of the leader and the “purely passive being led “of the follower: “All leaders are also led; in innumerable cases the master is the slave of his slaves “([1902–1917] 1950, p. 185; contrast ibid., p. 193). Contemporary analyses of leadership are more likely than earlier ones to consider relationships of mutual as well as unilateral power, of followers influencing leaders as well as vice versa.

An accompanying change has taken place in analyses of the bases of leaders’ power. Coercion has played a prominent role in traditional analyses, consistent with the presumed conflict between leaders and followers. According to the traditional view, leaders are obeyed out of fear of punishment or out of hope for reward. Machiavelli, for example, advised his prince concerning the proper balancing of injuries and benefits to subjects. The leader who finds it necessary to commit injuries should do so quickly in order to minimize resentment. On the other hand, he should dispense rewards in small doses over time so that their effects will be enjoyed longer.

Weber, however, argued that the stability of social systems depends on acceptance by followers of the right of leaders to exercise control. This implied legitimate authority; and Weber (1922b) defined three types, all of which share a prominent position in sociological analyses of leadership. The first type is charismatic authority, according to which leaders are thought to be endowed with extraordinary, sometimes magical powers. Charisma on the part of a leader elicits obedience out of awe. It is illustrated in its pure form by the prophet, the warrior hero, and the great demagogue. Second, traditional authority appertains to those who possess the right to rule by virtue of birth or class. The traditional leader is obeyed because he or members of his class or family have always been followed. Its pure type is illustrated by certain patriarchs, monarchs, and feudal lords. The third type, legal authority, applies to those who hold leadership positions because of demonstrated technical competence. Legal authorities act impersonally, as instruments of the law, and they are obeyed impersonally out of a sense of duty to the law. Leadership in the ideal-type bureaucracy is based exclusively on legal authority.

The character of leadership envisioned within Weber’s framework is still consistent with many of the traditional analyses; his leaders are prophets, warriors, demagogues, patriarchs, lords, and bureaucrats. More recent analyses have stressed bases of power in addition to those outlined by Weber.

Simon, for example, points to the importance of social approval. Approval and disapproval represent forms of reward and punishment, but they deserve special consideration, since they are frequently dispensed not only by the designated leader but by others as well (1957, pp. 105-106). Thus, a sub-ordinate may obey a leader not so much because of the rewards and punishments meted out by the leader as because of the approval and disapproval given by the subordinate’s own peers. Confidence may represent a further basis for acceptance of leaders’ authority (ibid., p. 106): a subordinate may trust the judgment, and therefore accept the authority, of a leader in areas where the leader has great technical competence. French and Raven (1959) make a further distinction between influence of a leader based on confidence by subordinates in the leader’s expert knowledge, on the one hand, and “informational influence” based on acceptance by subordinates of the logic of the arguments which the leader offers, on the other. An expert leader, then, may be followed not simply because he is an acknowledged authority but because his decisions, being based on expertise, are manifestly logical, appropriate, and convincing; that is, subordinates are persuaded that the decisions are correct. This view is related to human relations approaches, which stress control by facts as opposed to control by men. Such “fact control” relies on understanding, and it is illustrated by the participative leader who influences subordinates by helping them understand the facts of a situation so that they may jointly arrive at a course of action consistent with their own interests and that of the collectivity. Some of these conceptions represent radical departures from many traditional ones, assuming as they do an overriding community of interests between leaders and followers.

Leaders and followers. The term “leader” has traditionally implied a person clearly distinguished from others in power, status, visibility, and in any of a number of character traits, such as decisiveness, courage, integrity, and intelligence. However, contemporary changes in assumptions, in the direction of recognizing both mutual influence between leaders and followers and the possibility of increasing total power, have led to some lack of clarity in the lines of demarcation between leaders and others. Human relations and participative approaches to leadership, which de-emphasize status and stress the community of interests among all members of the collectivity, also blur the conceptual distinction between leaders and followers. The results of research have added to this ambiguity.

First, little evidence has been found for the existence of universal character traits that define the essential and distinguishing qualities of leadership. This has strengthened the position of those “situationalists” who argue that the relevance of a trait will depend on the specific situation in which leadership occurs. Furthermore, while leaders in similar situations may share some relevant characteristics, they are also very likely to differ on others, so that their total personalities will certainly differ. Research also suggests that traits (e.g., intelligence) that may suit an individual to some leadership roles are likely to be distributed continuously in a population rather than dichotomously. Nor is there any basis for assuming that the traits pertinent to many leadership roles are so rare that large numbers of persons differing widely in total personalities would be ineligible for leadership positions.

As a group, therefore, leaders need not be alike, nor need they be distinguished sharply from followers. These conclusions are consistent, in some of their implications, with the changing character of leadership itself, in which the broad recruitment and trainability of leaders is stressed. Leadership abilities need not be an exclusive possession of narrowly defined types or classes of individuals. Many persons, given proper training, can perform a wide range of leadership functions.

Research has had a further effect on the conceptual distinction between leaders and followers. In terms of the operational criteria used to define and measure leadership behavior, many presumed followers are found to act in some degree like leaders and vice versa. Furthermore, the same individual may manifest different degrees of leadership behavior. He may be a leader at one point in time, not at another. He may be a leader relative to certain areas of collective action, not others. Leadership, then, is best understood as a matter of degree; it may be distributed in varying degrees throughout a social system. These interpretations call attention to leadership as a social function rather than simply as a property of an individual. While persons who perform leadership functions must have appropriate skills and qualities of character if they are to perform well, the distribution of leadership in collectivities and the variety of situations in which leadership occurs suggest some variety in the types of persons who can fulfill leadership functions [see Groups, article on ROLE STRUCTURE].

The concept of leadership should be understood as encompassing a wide range of activities. It applies to the running of small groups and the governing of nations. It may concern the relatively diffuse process of influence in establishing norms of style or opinion—or it may involve specific orders in a chain of command. It includes supervision and statesmanship, routine administration and organization building. Interpretations of leadership as a sociological concept have changed over the years. The total effort of sociologists can be seen as an attempt to develop conceptions that apply to a variety of social systems, including those that prevailed in the past as well as those now emerging. The need for more general conceptions is also felt as a need to understand leadership within the widely differing social and political contexts that exist in the modern world.

Arnold S. Tannenbaum

[Directly related are the entries Diffusion, article on INTERPERSONAL INFLUENCE; Industrial relations; Organizations, article on THEORIES OF ORGANIZATIONS. Other relevant material may be found in Administration; Authority; Democracy; and in the biographies of Machiavelli; Michels; Mills; Mosca; Simmel; Weber, Max.]


For definitions, reviews, and discussions of leadership see Schmidt 1933; Gouldner 1950; Gibb 1954; Roucek 1947. Bass 1960 provides a thorough review of laboratory research as well as the research on leadership in organizations. For a classic expression of the great man theory of leadership, see Carlyle 1841. Plekhanov 1898 offers a critique of the great man view. Critiques of elite theories can be found in Dahl 1958 and in Harbison & Myers 1959, which also presents a detailed discussion of changes in industrial management and in social and political leadership ship brought about by industrialization. Bendix 1956 provides a review of traditional and more recent leadership ideologies as applied to industrial management in western and eastern Europe and the United States. Dahrendorf 1957 and Parsons 1963 discuss the issue of power in collectivities as a zero-sum game. Leadership under conditions of mutual influence and increasing total power (non-zero-sum) is illustrated by the principles of “co-optation” Selznick 1949; “participative management” March & Simon 1958; “interaction influence system” Likert 1961; “organic” as opposed to “mechanistic” organization Burns & Stalker 1961; and by the concept of high “total control” Tannenbaum & Kahn 1957 and Tannenbaum 1966. The trait theory of leadership remains controversial. Rainio 1955, in a review of some of the American and European literature, lists 99 traits that are presumed by various authors to represent the essential qualities of leadership. See Bogardus 1934 and Urwick 1957 for illustrations of the trait approach; see Bavelas 1960 for a critique.

Bass, Bernard M. 1960 Leadership, Psychology, and Organizational Behavior. New York: Harper.

Bavelas, Alex 1960 Leadership: Man and Function. Administrative Science Quarterly 4:491-498.

Bell, Daniel 1950 Notes on Authoritarian and Democratic Leadership. Pages 395–408 in Alvin W. Gouldner (editor), Studies in Leadership: Leadership and Democratic Action. New York: Harper.

Bendix, Reinhard 1956 Work and Authority in Industry: Ideologies of Management in the Course of Industrialization. New York: Wiley.

Bogardus, Emory S. 1934 Leaders and Leadership. New York: Appleton.

Burns, Tom; and Stalker, George M. 1961 The Management of Innovation. London: Tavistock.

Carlyle, Thomas (1841) 1928 On Heroes, Hero-worship and the Heroic in History. London: Oxford Univ. Press.

Cartwright, Dorwin 1965 Influence, Leadership, Control. Pages 1–47 in James G. March (editor), Handbook of Organizations. Chicago: Rand McNally.

Dahl, Robert A. 1958 A Critique of the Ruling Elite Model. American Political Science Review 52:463-469.

Dahrendorf, Ralf (1957) 1959 Class and Class Conflict in Industrial Society. Rev. & enl. ed. Stanford Univ. Press. → First published as Soziale Klassen und Klassen-Konftikt in der industriellen Gesellschaft. See especially pages 165–173 for a discussion of the issue of power in collectivities as a zero-sum game.

Emery, Frederick E.; and Thorsrud, E. 1964 Industrielt demokrati Oslo: Universitets-forlaget.

FourastiÉ, Jean; and Vimont, Claude 1956 Histoire de demain. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

French, John R. P.; and Raven, Bertram 1959 The Bases of Social Power. Pages 150–167 in Dorwin Cartwright (editor), Studies in Social Power. Research Center for Group Dynamics, Publication No. 6. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan, Institute for Social Research.

Gibb, Cecil A. 1954 Leadership. Volume 2, pages 877–920 in Gardner Lindzey (editor), Handbook of Social Psychology. Cambridge, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.

Gouldner, Alvin W. (editor) 1950 Studies in Leadership: Leadership and Democratic Action. New York: Harper.

Haire, Mason; Ghiselli, Edwin E.; and Porter, Lyman W. 1963 An International Study of Management Attitudes and Democratic Leadership. Pages 101–104 in International Congress for Scientific Management, Thirteenth, New York, 1963, Proceedings. New York: Council for International Progress in Management.

Harbison, Frederick H.; and Myers, Charles A. 1959 Management in the Industrial World: An International Analysis. Princeton University, Industrial Relations Section. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Kerr, Clark et al. 1960 Industrialism and Industrial Man: The Problems of Labor and Management in Economic Growth. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press. → A second edition was published in paperback in 1964 by Oxford Univ. Press.

Likert, Rensis 1961 New Patterns of Management. New York: McGraw-Hill.

March, James G.; and Simon, Herbert A. 1958 Organizations. New York: Wiley. → Contains an extensive bibliography.

Meister, Albert 1964 Socialisme et autogestion: L’xpérience yougoslave. Paris: Éditions du Seuil.

Michels, Robert (1911) 1959 Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy. New York: Dover. → First published as Zur Soziologie des Parteiwesens in der modernen Demokratie. A paperback edition was published in 1962 by Collier.

Mills, C. Wright 1956 The Power Elite. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Mosca, Gaetano (1896) 1939 The Ruling Class (Elementi di scienza politica). New York: McGraw-Hill. → First published in Italian.

Parsons, Talcott 1963 On the Concept of Political Power. American Philosophical Society, Proceedings 107:232-262.

Plekhanov, George (1898)1940 The Role of the Individual in History. New York: International Publishers. → First published in Russian.

Rainio, Kullervo 1955 Leadership Qualities: A Theoretical Inquiry and an Experimental Study on Foremen. Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, Helsingfors, Toimituksia: Annales Series B 95, no. 1.

RouČek, Joseph S. (1947) 1956 Social Control. 2d ed. Princeton, NJ.: Van Nostrand.

Schmidt, Richard 1933 Leadership. Volume 9, pages 282–287 in Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences. New York: Macmillan.

Selznick, Philip 1949 TV A and the Grass Roots: A Study in the Sociology of Formal Organization. University of California Publications in Culture and Society, Vol. 3. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press.

Selznick, Philip 1957 Leadership in Administration: A Sociological Interpretation. Evanston, 111.: Row, Peterson.

Simmel, Georg (1902-1917) 1950 The Sociology of Georg Simmel. Edited and translated by Kurt H. Wolff. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press.

Simon, Herbert A. 1957 Authority. Pages 103–118 in Industrial Relations Research Association, Research in Industrial Human Relations: A Critical Appraisal. New York: Harper.

Sturmthal, Adolf F. 1964 Workers’ Councils: A Study of Workplace Organization on Both Sides of the Iron Curtain. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Tannenbaum, Arnold S. 1966 Social Psychology of the Work Organization. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth.

Tannenbaum, Arnold S.; and Kahn, Robert L. 1957 Organizational Control Structure: A General Descriptive Technique as Applied to Four Local Unions. Human Relations 10:127-140.

Urwick, Lyndall 1957 Leadership in the 20th Century. New York: Pitman.

Weber, Max (1922a) 1957 The Theory of Social and Economic Organization. Edited by Talcott Parsons. Glencoe, 111.: Free Press. → First published as Part 1 of Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft.

Weber, Max (1922b) 1961 The Three Types of Legitimate Rule. Pages 4–14 in Amitai Etzioni (editor), Complex Organizations: A Sociological Reader. New York: Holt. → First published in German.


By the middle of the twentieth century, in new nations and old, social and economic changes had imposed on all regimes new demands that resulted in greatly augmenting the power of executive leaders. Prime ministers and presidents, not legislators, were asked to supply the innovation and integration that these situations demanded.

In democratic regimes the executive is no longer merely an arm of government but has become the organizing center of the political system itself. A parliamentary regime in France was transformed into Charles de Gaulle’s executive rule. West German politics were stabilized by Konrad Adenauer’s shrewd balancing. British politics, in the opinion of some, has been transformed from cabinet government to prime-ministerial government. In the United States the president and the presidential corps have become the fulcrum of politics.

In many emerging nations, democratic forms of government, which have only recently been instituted, are precariously sustained by dramatic executive leaders who rule by mass appeal and the exercise of broad political powers. Fragile identifications with the new national entities are nurtured by mass loyalty to the leader. By personifying the new national values and giving a relentless drive to development, executive leaders energize the mobilized advance of these societies.

Twentieth-century social thought has expressed the paradox that leadership is a solution to the problems of both excessive and insufficient political power. Strong executive leadership was offered as a solution to two general and characteristic maladies of political systems. First, the ideologists of authoritarian movements and regimes proposed strong leadership as a substitute for atrophied traditional primary-group identifications—community, church, family, etc. The breakdown of traditional norm-fostering groups, they argued, leaves society open to conflicts that could be overcome or avoided by strong identification with political leaders. This was a seminal explanation of fascist and communist movements in Western industrial systems and of nationalist movements in preindustrial, developing countries.

Another ideological premise was that only effective leadership can furnish integrative direction and action as a cure for the stalemated pluralism endemic to Western democratic systems. Competing interests wear down consensus and paralyze national decision making. The pathology of political pluralism, the argument ran, is immobilism. Under such conditions, only strong executive leadership can furnish decisive national purpose. The most striking recent illustration has been the ideological justification surrounding the presidency of de Gaulle in France. Weaker but nonetheless insistent echoes of this ideology reverberate in the justifications for increasing the powers of other democratic chief executives—the American president, the British prime minister, and the German chancellor.

This integrative function of leadership is fulfilled by two political role types. One is the national hero—the chief executive as personification and representative of the “general will” or “higher interest” of the nation. De Gaulle and the leaders of many emerging nations exemplify this type. Like Rousseau’s legislator, such populist figures stand above politics and particular interests. The second is the executive as political broker or artful synthesizer, exemplified by Franklin D. Roosevelt, that is, the expert manager of interests and builder of coalitions.

These two roles are distinct but not mutually exclusive. Each has its relevance in different political systems at particular times. The “general will” spokesman is called into power when national consensus becomes problematical; the “broker” comes to power when a viable consensus exists, unthreatened by polarizing and uncompromisable conflicts—when the management of interest conflicts is the compelling need. To some extent every chief executive must fulfill both roles.

Leadership theory and political executives

The principal functions of chief executives may vary, but all are responses to leadership demands and expectations by the led. Hence, understanding of executive behavior depends in large measure on understanding the phenomenon called leadership.

Historically, the concept of leadership was derived from leadership in a religious sectarian setting or in groups of primary relationships. Sectarian followings inspired by prophetic figures have been at the genesis of many religious movements. Moses, Muhammad, Jesus, Calvin, and many others are illustrative. The solitary, dramatic personality who mobilized and inspired masses to new goals and methods of religious salvation became an important prototype of leadership.

This conceptual view was reinforced by research on historical and primitive governmental institutions, e.g., tribal chiefs and leaders of small city-states, vested with absolute authority. Such studies also contributed the notion of status and hierarchy to the concept of leadership. Power was vested in the status, as well as in the person, of a ruler. The personalization of leadership was thus further reinforced.

By the twentieth century several intellectual trends had already effected a change in this conception of leadership. First, the democratic revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries depersonalized the concept of authority. Power, prescribed and denned in constitutions and law, was vested in the office, not the person. The scope and jurisdiction of public officials were given limits in law, so that arbitrary power could be prevented. Rules about leadership succession were specified, to check seizures of power by violence. Office set boundaries to personal influence, and the institution alization of the executive was firmly implanted.

Second, the positivistic influence of the social sciences drastically modified the concept of political leadership. The traditional “hero” disappeared in the face of new views of psychology. The prevailing instinct-and-trait psychology gave way before the critiques of Mead, Cooley, Dewey, and others and their conceptions of a variable human behavior molded by social interaction. Leadership came to be viewed, not as a set of fixed traits and attributes, biologically peculiar to some individuals, but as a role that satisfies mutual expectations of leaders and followers.

Building on this new, interactional emphasis, research in the social sciences (invigorated by experimental emphasis) added increasing sophistication to the concept of leadership. Situational and group components were strongly emphasized. The leadership role was found to vary with situations. Leaders are always, covertly or overtly, “preselected” by their supporters according to the situational needs of the group. Leadership is a nexus of need fulfillments that binds situational demands and group membership. Thus, during crisis situations groups are likely to select leaders who diagnose problems quickly and act decisively. During less critical periods, leaders who can maintain cohesion and regularity of group performance may be preferred.

Another factor was given emphasis: group goals. Leadership is a differentiated role that enables group purposes to be realized. Where a group is task oriented, leadership integrates the members so that individual needs and group performance can be enhanced. Groups with other purposes choose leaders of another type.

Much insight on leadership is derived from experimentation with and observation of small groups. However, problems arise when such “micro” research is elevated to the “macro” level of many political science concerns. Can insights about leadership that are derived from small-group situations be extrapolated to large units or systems as a whole? Certainly, small-group situations are not replications of nation-state political systems. The danger of such extrapolations has been widely recognized, but general agreement exists that small-group leadership can provide suggestive simulations and simplifications for studying larger units. [See Groups.]

Characteristics of executive leadership

Analysis of the leadership of chief executives or of national political executives poses special problems to the social science analyst. In contrast to leadership in small-group situations, executive leadership is distinguishable by at least the following: (1) it is leadership at a distance; (2) it has a multirole character; (3) it has a corporate character; (4) it functions in an institutional framework.

If leadership is an interactional relationship, then the relationship between the chief executive of a modern state and his public supporters has the unique character of being leadership at a distance, where neither leader nor follower has direct impact upon the other. The relationship is mediated by mass communications, organized groups, and individuals. The leader is linked to his supporters by people who play many roles on various levels of the political system. The relationship between followers and leader is at some remove and therefore indirect. When Harry Truman ordered an atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, he could not see the consequences of his decision on the victims nor could he receive the immediate feedback.

Executive behavior is multirole conduct, fulfilling a variety of expectations that flow from various clienteles—from those immediately around the executive, from political parties and political associations, from the various bureaucracies and their political networks, and from the general public. One of the major tasks facing a chief executive is maintaining these different roles in balance. Role expectations are met by various techniques of reconciliation, e.g., by assigning priorities to various roles, minimizing some and stressing others; by insulating incompatible ones from each other; by delegating some and reserving others. What we have come to call the “style” of leadership has its referents in patterns of role management.

Modern executive leadership is an organizational process. The American presidency, the French presidency, and the British office of prime minister are corporate entities, consisting of a sizable staff. In such an organizational context, “leadership” may be attributed to an individual but it is in reality a collective product of organizational activity. It is generically distinct from the leader–led relationships of small-scale situations.

In its organizational context, executive leadership presents a complex face. The chief executive today has become a symbolic individual, whose many roles are collectively filled by several men. If the chief executive is expected to make programmatic statements in some policy area, then corps of experts and speech writers are grouped to produce such a statement. Before the executive makes decisions, various people, playing specific and general roles, define the situation and its alternatives for him. His manifold duties are all largely carried out in his name by others. Executive leadership has become institutionalized.

This inner leadership group or staff may be called the executive elite. All executives are dependent upon such a collective formation to per-form their tasks. In the United States, for example, it is composed of several groups, some formally organized and some informal. Included among these are the White House staff, the Bureau of the Budget, the Council of Economic Advisors, the National Security Council, and many specialists and ad hoc committees. Various presidents have organized and used these cadres in different ways, depending on their interpretations of their roles. In Great Britain, Churchill instituted the so-called Statistical Section, the prime minister’s brain trust. Numerous cabinet committees have been established, as well as staff agencies to coordinate the work of the prime minister and the cabinet.

Finally, executive leadership is a process that operates within an institutional framework. At any given time there are prescribed norms that bound and define the scope of authority and the channels of its exercise. These limits are fairly elastic. The chief executive, by the style of his operation, stretches or contracts the boundaries of the position. When the boundaries are exceeded, crisis exigency must justify the practice. At other times, executive boundary aggrandizement is resisted and can be accomplished only by skillful political bargaining on the part of the chief executive.

Because of its corporate and institutional character, the office itself is not wholly dependent upon its occupant. A cumulative heritage of decision and expectation has established precedents that make much of an executive’s conduct predictable. This cumulative institutionalization of the office supplies continuity to all executive positions. Cases of sudden death or disability of the chief executive have demonstrated that the office functions in the absence of its principal. Such situations dramatically illustrate the fact that, while in normal times the corporate entity called executive leadership is sensitive to situational demands, it also has a degree of trained “insensitivity” and routine which gives it stability and continuity.

Some doubts have been raised as to whether this cumulative institutionalization might jeopardize executive capacity for decision. The growth in personal agents and ad hoc groups testifies to the vigor with which executives strive to prevent overencumbrance by bureaucratization.

Legitimations of executive behavior

The structure of executive leadership is complex because of its multirole, organizational, and institutional context. This complex structure relies on diverse legitimations for support. [See Legitimacy.] Generally, the democratic chief executive is legitimated by his identification with the central values of his social system, both nonpolitical and political; by the manner in which he is recruited; by the symbolic and effective representation he bestows; and by his decision-making performance.

Societal and political values

Chief executives are legitimated by their identification with the most pervasive goals in society—that is, their embodiment of a national consensus. Thus, Adenauer personified rebirth of the German republic, in keeping with a pre-Nazi, republican past. De Gaulle was in part legitimized by his absorption with a romantic restoration of French glory and power. The sacred values of the system, those beyond dispute, must be expressed and epitomized by the chief executive.

The political goals of the executive must conform to the traditional political value system. Even the most innovating and precedent-shattering presidents and prime ministers affirm their adherence to the traditional substantive political values of the system. In Western democracies the chief executives must also affirm their adherence to procedural values—popular consent, parliamentary representation, majority rule, and civil liberties. They must profess respect for, and act in accordance with, the traditional continuities of the system.


The manner in which executives are recruited and elected provides an important basis of their legitimation. In normal times their nomination and election reflect their acceptability to party elites and the general public. Recruitment methods chart career paths and provide a test of the skills regarded as requisite. Most American presidents have been middle-class professionals, usually chosen from the echelon of governors of the leading states. The path to the post of British prime minister has been open to those of a certain social status, educational background, and parliamentary and cabinet career. The path of political mobility reaffirms the central values of the system. [See Political recruitment and careers.]

In the United States, as an expression of American egalitarian beliefs, it was expected that a president should rise from humble origins. He would thus embody the American ideal of success by achievement and competence rather than because of family status. The same ethos influences presidential appointments to staff and cabinet.

During periods of crisis or stalemate, recruitment patterns are disrupted. Then chief executives may be co-opted from outside conventional grooves and without the usual political experience, as was the case with de Gaulle in France. Such deviations from established patterns are legitimated by crisis needs and have themselves become a “tradition.”

Symbolic and effective representation

The chief executive must represent or appear to represent the public at large and its various component segments. He does this in several ways. A common method is the appointment of spokesmen of various groups to his cabinet and to leading offices. Another method gives group representation through an executive staff accessible to various interests.

Another facet of representation by a chief executive may be called “apparent” representation. This is expressed in the many subtle forms of symbolic recognition bestowed by the chief executive upon various groups in the population. When the prime minister of England sends messages to conventions and when the president of the United States greets group delegations of many kinds, they are conferring status and symbolic recognition.

Both apparent and effective representation by the executive are important, because there are general expectations of access and status. The chief executive’s audience and clientele must be (at least in a symbolic way) all the consensual groups in the system. [See Representation.]

Decision making

Finally, the chief executive is legitimated by his decision-making performance. Despite overarching “sacred” authority, the effective influence of the chief executive is tested by his capacity to carry out certain policies. The failure or success of his leadership depends upon his effectiveness in knitting together political influence so that it responds to functional demands of the system. It is to this decision-making aspect of executive leadership that the greatest analytical attention has been devoted in recent years. [See Decision making, article on political aspects.]

Dilemmas of legitimation

The more chief executives are expected to perform, the greater the contradictory pressures which confront them. Crises of legitimation arise when acute tensions develop between several levels of legitimation. A political position that is legitimized by sacred values for what it “is” encounters dilemmas when it is called upon to “do.” Despite the secularizing separation between politics and religion, overmoralization of politics makes political tasks delicate. The holders of public office carry the burden of excessive expectations of rectitude and exemplary conduct, yet they are also expected to behave expediently in order to be responsive to public demands.

Another dilemma that confronts chief executives arises from the gap between the executive elite and the public. They must bridge the social and political distance between their special knowledge and the need for responsiveness by the public. The executives must wear different faces at different stages of the policy-making process: when they formulate policies; when they settle for those that are acceptable; and when they implement the accepted ones.

Another dilemma arises out of the conflict between the expectations of the status or position and the political capabilities to fulfill such expectations. Often the public simplifies and exaggerates expectations of executive action. Yet the modern executive in democratic societies is limited by law, administrative organization, group resistances, and the climate of opinion from fulfilling such expectations. Status and influence are not equivalents, and many chief executives fail because their power is not commensurate with their status.

Efforts to resolve these dilemmas of legitimation generate new roles for members of the executive elite. Executives need “buffers” and “catalysts,” expert bargainers whose freewheeling, unofficial conduct, is screened off from usual scrutiny. The appearance of rectitude can be maintained as long as the occupational “dirty work” is performed by executive agents.

Dilemmas are also resolved by the executive’s efforts to control public expectations. The modern chief executive has become a direct communicator with the public, in order to manage and control public attitudes effectively. The skillful use of the press, radio, and television by chief executives invites identification, which can then be used as a political weapon against resistant and parochial bureaucracies, groups of legislators, or group interests.

Research on executive behavior

Some twenty years ago a shock of realization occurred among students of executive behavior with the discovery that executive behavior deviated from its institutional prescriptions and descriptions. The rigid compartmentalization of government action implied in the separation of powers was found not to exist in fact. This principle, regarded by Montesquieu and Locke as a cardinal check to absolute power, did not realistically describe what occurred. Executive and legislative action closely interpenetrated. Moreover, the modern nation-state more and more demanded the closer integration of these functions, rather than their separation.

Dichotomous categories such as “politics” and “administration” were found to be inaccurate and insufficient for the explanation of decision making. “Administrative” behavior was found to be, not a discrete type of behavior, distinct from “political” activity, but part of a continuous stream of action in a large-scale organizational environment. [See Administration.]

While such older categorizations were thus discredited, newer concepts and models were developing, of deeper and more empirical explanatory power. Decision making and systems theory were two such models. Herbert Simon, Richard Snyder, and others elaborated decision-making models that dissected the individual, organizational, and situational components of decision making and linked them together in causal propositions. The focus of analysis shifted away from the policies themselves toward the complexities of the processes of policy making. The “how” of decisions gave more significant clues to the organization of influence in modern governmental structures than the metaphysical “what.”

Not all effort was bent on model building. Much analysis of executive behavior took the form of case studies. Many of these were narrative and descriptive, designed to illustrate and depict the variegated paths of policy formation. Some contended that many of these case studies relied on recollection, hearsay, and other questionable evidence and therefore could not be considered more than illustrative. They were also criticized for their overemphasis on the idiosyncratic and the unique, a fragile basis for theory building. Despite such limitations, in the building stages of more systematic analysis, case studies communicated a sense of executive milieu that contributed to suggestive hypotheses. [See Public administration.]

Another approach in analyzing executive behavior proceeded from institutional frameworks and demonstrated how executive behavior departed from such institutional presumptions. The work of Richard Neustadt and Don Price, among others, exemplified this category. This type of analysis was rich in insight about the interplay between the less formal and more formal factors which condition and influence executive authority.

Situational analysis

Still another way of analyzing executive behavior stressed situational factors. It proceeded from the multirole character of executive behavior in its organizational context as it confronted characteristic problem situations. Illustrative of this are the following situational typologies, derived from American governmental experience.

Executive decisions may be divided into three situational types: (1) crisis situations; (2) programmatic situations; (3) anticipatory situations. In each situation interest groups, the executive, and the presidential elite play varying roles.

Crisis situations. Under crisis conditions, public opinion is more aware of the situation, but legislative and interest-group involvement is less than in programmatic or anticipatory situations; and in these stress situations, executive discretion is greatest.

Crisis situations, which have become quite frequent in the post-1945 world, can be categorized as follows: bargaining crises (e.g., industrial disputes); legitimacy crises (e.g., the dismissal of MacArthur); crises of norms (e.g., scandals of various kinds, such as the Profumo affair); and, by far the most frequent and serious, national defense crises (situations which acutely threaten resources regarded as essential to national safety, e.g., the Cuban missile standoff and the Berlin airlift).

In crisis situations each system, in varying degrees, loses some of its pluralistic safeguards as the executive assumes broad discretion. The executive acquires exclusive control in defining the situation and in directing the appropriate measures. The normal institutional workings of decision making are reduced to an executive directorate consisting of a handful of people. The public is anxiously alert but little informed, while the legislative bodies and interest groups assume passive roles. In sum, crisis situations bring structural changes in the system that give the broadest of authority to the executive. [See Crisis; crisis government.]

Programmatic situations. Programmatic situations demand long-range and broad-gauge policies. They require strategic determinations of ends and means. When programmatic issues are faced, a moderate degree of legislative and bureaucratic involvement results and executive discretion is limited. The Marshall Plan of the United States and the European Defense Community decisions by European governments are examples.

Anticipatory situations. Anticipatory situations concern eventualities, not immediate situations. The likelihood of occurrence may not be great, but should the situation occur, a course of action will have been decided upon. Of all situations, these evoke the greatest legislative debate, the least public awareness, and the greatest interest-group concern. Executive discretion is severely limited under these conditions, because the costs of inaction arc difficult to foretell and the consequences are not close at hand.

Anticipatory situations are the result of previous crises. For example, the depression of the 1930s gave rise both to legislation and to administrative policies that anticipated a recurrence and were therefore designed to come into play when economic danger signals appeared. Programs such as the federal insurance of deposits in savings banks and the public works agendas to be used when unemployment reaches certain levels were created.

Problems of executive behavior

Within the three situational configurations described above, there are problems of executive behavior which flow from certain structural features of the system itself. Insufficient recognition has been given to the subgroups within the executive. It is traditional to think of the executive and governmental bureaucracy in hierarchic terms. In this view, the president or prime minister stands at the pinnacle of the executive, and below him are the administrators, ranged in a descending order of subordination. The enlargement of executive scope gave rise to centrifugal tendencies that dif-fused executive influence. The bureaucracies, which ostensibly enlarge executive jurisdiction, in fact dilute and disperse executive influence. These bureaucratic groups have their own biases and often act autonomously and at variance with executive policies.

As a result, a problem that executives face is the “horizontal bargaining” within the executive. Not uncommonly the executive has to negotiate with his nominally subordinate agencies. Governmental bureaucracy is pluralistic, so that each bureaucracy has its own subvalues. Out of the long-accrued interdependence between the bureaucracies and legislative and economic interests, the bureaucrats have gained considerable independence of executive authority, and a growing political division occurs between the executive and the governmental bureaucracies normally under his jurisdiction. The internal politics of the executive in decision making has, perhaps, become more significant than executive–legislative relations. [See Bureaucracyand Civil service.]

At the outset of this article, the integrating and innovating functions of executive leadership in all political systems were stressed. These functions are closely related to the expectations of executive programs, i.e., the definition of broad political goals and specific legislative and administrative measures necessary to their fulfillment. Broad and consistent national programs for economic stability and growth, foreign policy strategy, defense postures, and welfare goals are expected of the chief executive. It is through these that the executive defines the situation for all the political actors.

The winning of acceptance for these programs demands accommodation to various political subgroups, whose focus is less on the general societal effects of legislative and administrative proposals than on the special effects these have upon their particular interests. This accommodation to specialized publics and interests is a serious executive problem. The “politics” of executive behavior is largely a matter of finding some synthesis, i.e., identity of interest or complementarity of roles, between the general viewpoint of the executive and the particular perspective of various groups.

In sum, despite institutionalized continuities, executive decision making forms not a single pattern but several situational patterns, in which the roles of bureaucracies, interest groups, parties, and legislators vary. The increase of both secular and acute crises has more sharply differentiated these modes of executive decision making.

The study of executive decision making reveals the several configurations of political systems as they respond to situational demands. In an era so prone to crisis as the present, the far-reaching consequences of crisis decision making deserve fuller attention than they have yet received. As we have seen, crisis decision making is not merely a slight shift but a change in configuration of the system itself. Studies are needed, both of these structural changes and of certain secondary effects, such as changes in elite recruitment, responses of the various bureaucracies, and capabilities of the executive for prompt decision making.

The subject of leadership and executive behavior in general should draw the increasing attention of social scientists. The gap between the significance of executive behavior and current explanatory methods calls for greater research attention. The wide use of aggregate data about executive behavior and of direct empirical studies of executives in various systems has not seriously begun. If executive centralization is the trend, it must be carefully analyzed so that its processes and consequences are better understood.

Lester G. Seligman

[See also Political executive. Other relevant material may be found in Government; Political behavior; Political process; Presidential government; Public policy.]


Acheson, Dean 1956 Legislative–Executive Relations. Yale Review New Series 45:481–495.

Brownlow, Louis 1949 The President and the Presidency. Chicago: Public Administration Service.

Burns, James M. (1956) 1962 Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox. New York: Harcourt.

Corwin, Edward S.; and Koenig, Louis W. 1956 The Presidency Today. New York Univ. Press.

Fenno, Richard F. JR. 1958 President–Cabinet Relations: A Pattern and a Case Study. American Political Science Review 52:388–405.

Herring, E. Pendleton 1940 Presidential Leadership. New York: Farrar & Rinehart.

Hobbs, Edward H. 1954 Behind the President: A Study of Executive Office Agencies. Washington: Public Affairs Press.

Holcombe, Arthur M. 1954 Presidential Leadership and the Party System. Yale Review New Series 43: 321–335.

Kaufman, Herbert 1956 Emerging Conflicts in the Doctrines of Public Administration. American Political Science Review 50:1057–1073.

Koenig, Louis W. 1944 The Presidency and the Crisis: Powers of the Office From the Invasion of Poland to Pearl Harbor. New York: King’s Crown Press.

Lipson, Leslie 1939 The American Governor From Figurehead to Leader. Studies in Public Administration, No. 9. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Litwak, Eugene 1961 Models of Bureaucracy Which Permit Conflict. American Journal of Sociology 67: 177–184.

Longaker, Richard P. 1956 The President as International Leader. Law and Contemporary Problems 21: 735–752.

Milton, George F. (1944) 1965 The Use of Presidential Power, 1789–1943. New York: Octagon.

Neustadt, Richard E. 1955 Presidency and Legislation: Planning the President’s Program. American Political Science Review 49:980–1021.

Neustadt, Richard E. 1956 The Presidency at Mid-century. Law and Contemporary Problems 21:6093;645.

Prothro, James W. 1956 Verbal Shifts in the American Presidency: A Content Analysis. American Political Science Review 50:726–739.

Ransone, Goleman B. 1956 The Office of Governor in the United States. University: Univ. of Alabama Press.

Redford, Emmett S. 1952 Administration of National Economic Control. New York: Macmillan.

Rossiter, Clinton L. (1956) 1960 The American Presidency. 2d ed. New York: Harcourt.

Schubert, Glendon 1957 The Public Interest in Administrative Decision-making: Theorem, Theosophy, or Theory? American Political Science Review 51: 346:368.

Seligman, Lester G. 1955 Developments in the Presidency and the Conception of Political Leadership. American Sociological Review 20:706–712.

Seligman, Lester G. 1956 a The President Is Many Men. Antioch Review 16:305–318.

Seligman, Lester G. 1956 b Presidential Leadership: The Inner Circle and Institutionalization. Journal of Politics 18:410–426.

Seligman, Lester G. 1956 c The Presidential Office and the President as Party Leader. Law and Contemporary Problems 21:724–734.

Selvin, Hanan C. 1960 The Effects of Leadership. Glencoe, III.: Free Press.

Silva, Ruth C. 1956 Presidential Succession and Disability. Law and Contemporary Problems 21:646–662.

Smith, M. Brewster 1952 Social Psychology and Group Processes. Annual Review of Psychology 3: 175–204.

Somers, Herman M. 1950 Presidential Agency: OWMR, the Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Stogdill, Ralph M. 1948 Personal Factors Associated With Leadership: A Survey of the Literature. Journal of Psychology 25:35–71.

Stoke, Harold W. 1941 Executive Leadership and the Growth of Propaganda. American Political Science Review 35:490–500.

Turner, Henry A. 1951 Woodrow Wilson: Exponent of Executive Leadership. Western Political Quarterly 4:97–115.

Verba, Sidney 1961 Small Groups and Political Behavior: A Study of Leadership. Princeton Univ. Press.

Wildavsky, Aaron B. 1964 The Politics of the Budgetary Process. Boston: Little.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Leadership." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . 23 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Leadership." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . (July 23, 2018).

"Leadership." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved July 23, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.






The study of leadership is not only a search for understanding the thoughts and actions of leaders, but also an investigation into how to improve the performance and motivation of both individuals and groups. Given the importance of leadership to the success of groups, organizations, or even entire civilizations, there are few more pressing questions than, What is leadership? Attempts to answer this question are evident in early discussions of the notion of leaders. Governments, businesses, industries, and private organizations have all turned to behavioral scientists to better understand how organizations work efficiently, how managers can improve workers performance, how teamwork and commitment can be instilled, and how an environment conducive to change can be structured.


The notion of leadership connotes images of powerful, dynamic individuals who command victorious armies, direct corporate empires from atop gleaming skyscrapers, or shape the course of nations (Yukl 2002, p. 1). Yet, considerable debate exists among researchers regarding an understanding of who exerts influence, what kind of power or influence is exerted, when and where leadership takes place, and why and how this phenomenon occurs.

As many definitions of leadership exist as do authors who have studied the concept. Conceptions and definitions of leader and leadership have been reviewed by Carroll Shartle (1956), Bernard Bass (1960), and James Hunt and colleagues (1982), among others. Some of the more recent definitions focus on influence, collective understanding, effectiveness, and facilitation:

  • Leadership appears to be a working relationship among members in a group, in which the leader acquires status through active participation and demonstration of his or her capacity to carry cooperative tasks to completion (Bass and Stogdill 1990, p. 77).
  • Leadership is a process of giving purpose [meaningful direction] to collective effort, and causing willing effort to be expended to achieve purpose (Jacobs and Jaques 1990, p. 281).
  • A definition of leadership that would be widely accepted by the majority of theorists and researchers might say that leadership is a process of social influence in which one person is able to enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task (Chemers 1997, p. 1).
  • Leadership is influencing peopleby providing purpose, direction and motivationwhile operating to accomplish the mission and improving the organization (Department of the Army 1999, pp. 12).

The common thread in the majority of definitions is that leadership is an active process of one person exerting influence over one or more other persons toward a common goal or objective. However, the similarities end there, and leadership definitions do not always fit into the applications for which they are used. For example, Bernard Bass and Ralph Stogdills definition of leadership does not fully account for hierarchical structures, and T. Owens Jacobs and Elliot Jaquess definition does not address the interactive nature of leadership between a superior and a subordinate. A more adequate definition of leadership needs to account for both the individual person and the situational context. The definition provided by the U.S. Army is comprehensive and useful. Therefore, this entry also defines leadership as influencing peopleby providing purpose, direction and motivationwhile operating to accomplish the mission and improving the organization (U.S. Army 1999, pp. 12).

Having defined leadership, it is necessary to examine assumptions about the topic. Some commentators assume that certain individuals are predisposed to be leaders, while others are not. If the person is the most important predictor of leadership success, then personnel selection matters most. However, other scholars assume that context is most important in developing leaders. If the situational variables are the most influential aspects of leadership success, then the training models employed would seem most important. A review of the historical approaches to leadership will highlight these two divergent approaches.


An understanding of the historical literature and the changing philosophies behind leadership studies add meaning and depth to current integrated theories. The concepts examined provide a framework for understanding current models and examining future directions.

Traits and Attributes Theories Few areas of research have had a more controversial history than that on leadership traits and attributes. One question that researchers have tried to answer is who is exerting the influence? During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, great man theories dominated leadership discussions. The great man concept suggested that leaders possessed special traits or characteristics that allowed them to ascend above others and enhanced their ability to be leaders (Hollander and Offermann 1990b). This view is often linked to the nineteenth-century philosopher Thomas Carlyle, who wrote the history of the world is but the biography of great men (1841). In short, the attributes of effective leaders were seen as inborn and permanent, and they applied to various circumstances. Later, Francis Galton expounded on this concept in Hereditary Genius (1869), where he argued that reputation flows from heredity.

The great man theory led to hundreds of research studies that looked at personality traits, physical characteristics, intelligences, and values to differentiate leaders from followers. In the early 1900s, psychologists developed intelligence testing to measure individual differences in analytic ability. Initial findings that intelligences correlated with leadership led researchers toward searching for additional nonintellective traits that might be predictors of behavioral tendencies (Chemers 1997).

Ralph Stogdill was the first researcher to summarize the results of these studies. He examined 124 studies to determine the characteristic differences between leaders and followers. He came to two major conclusions. First, Stogdill found slightly higher intelligence measures for leaders, as well as positive relationships between leadership and adjustment, extroversion, and dominance. However, Stogdill failed to find traits that were universally associated with leadership and could be reliably used to predict who might be an emerging leader. Stogdill concluded that a person does not become a leader by virtue of the possession of some combination of traits (1948, p. 63). Later, Richard Mann (1959) came to the same conclusions that although individuals with certain characteristics were more likely to be successful leaders, leaders were not altogether different from followers. As a result, later researchers erroneously concluded that personal traits and attributes alone could not be used to predict future leadership success.

It was not until the publication of a meta-analysis by Robert Lord, Christy de Vader, and George Alliger (1986) that such traits as intelligence and personality regained favor with leadership researchers. Their article reexamined the relationship between personality traits and leadership perceptions and emergence. In contrast with the conclusions of earlier nonquantitative literature reviews on traits and leadership, Lord and his colleagues utilized the literature investigated by Mann in his 1959 review and subsequent relevant studies and found that prior research on trait theories was misinterpreted as applying to leader effectiveness when it actually applied to the relationship between leader traits and leader emergence. Using meta-analytic techniques, their results supported social perception theories where several traits were expected to be related to leadership perception. Specifically, they found that intelligence, masculinity-femininity, and dominance were significantly related to followers perceptions of their leaders effectiveness. Shelley Kirkpatrick and Edwin Locke (1991) found that successful leaders traits include drive, the desire to lead, honesty and integrity, self-confidence, cognitive ability, and competence. Overall, as the study of traits and attributes in relation to leadership continued, the beginnings of the study of leadership as a behavioral phenomenon began.

Behavioral Theories After World War II (19391945), researchers emphasized the observable aspects of leadership in order to differentiate not only the nature of leadership and leader activity but also the behavioral patterns of effective leaders (Chemers 1997). A research program at Ohio State in the 1940s attempted to measure leadership behavior as group members described the behavior of the leader. From this data, John Hemphill (1950) quantified 150 behavior descriptors that were incorporated into the Leader Behavior Description Questionnaire (LBDQ), which is still used as a measure in leadership research. Andrew Halpin and Ben Winer (1957), while adapting the LBDQ for use in the U.S. Air Force, identified initiating structure and consideration as two fundamental dimensions of leader behavior. Earlier, Daniel Katz and Robert Kahn (1966) had attempted to identify general styles of leadership. From interviews with subordinate employees or followers, they recognized two general styles: production-oriented and employee-oriented. The former is focused on planning, preparation, direction, and end-state productivity. In contrast, employee-oriented leaders identified with followers, exemplified openness, and showed concern for the well-being of subordinates.

With the limitations of behavioral approaches for explaining why some leaders are more effective than others, leadership researchers shifted their focus away from what leaders are toward developing a better understanding of what leaders actually do, and how such behaviors relate to leader effectiveness (i.e., how often a leader communicates with followers, what types of reward and discipline methods he or she uses, and the decisions leaders make).

Although behavioral approaches to leadership generated great interest, they also generated a number of controversies, including accusations of inconsistencies in findings (Bass and Stogdill 1990). For example, there are significant variations in most relationships between leadership styles and behaviors and the various indicators of leadership effectiveness, such as morale and satisfaction (Bryman 1992). These inconsistencies in the literature instigated the emergence of contingency approaches to leadership to account for differences found across situations.

Contingency and Situational Theories Contingency and situational theories examine both the tasks and the follower characteristics to specify what behavior is required of effective leaders. The circumstance in which leader-follower interaction takes place plays a major role in the process of leadership. Captured in the situational leadership approach are the quality of relationships, tasks, and activities to be performed, perceptions of the leader based on history, the motivation of both the leader and the follower, and personal characteristics influencing the situation. There exist several contingency and situational theories, but perhaps the most commonly researched were F. E. Fiedlers (1967) contingency theory of leadership, Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard (1969) situational leadership model, Robert Houses (1971) path-goal theory of leadership, and Victor Vroom and Philip Yettons (1973) normative decision model.

Fiedlers contingency model proposes that leader effectiveness is a function of the match between the leader and specific situational factors, including position power, task structure, and leader-member relations. Fiedlers model differentiates between task-oriented and relationship-oriented leadership styles, but also measures ratings of the person with whom employees are least able to work. Fiedler found that the effectiveness of the leader-follower interaction was contingent upon the factors of leader-follower relationship, task structure, and leader position. If these factors were all high or all low, it was determined that a task-centered leader would be most effective. However, if the factors were mixed, an employee-centered leader was found to be most effective (Fiedler 1967). Further, Fiedler argued that leaders cannot adjust their behavior to changing circumstances. If a leaders style is not appropriate for the specific situation, the leader will not be successful and an organization must change the leader. However, most contemporary theorists believe that leaders can adjust their style. If that is so, what should leaders consider in making adjustments?

Hersey and Blanchards situational leadership model sought to answer this question. There was little evidence to support a relationship between leader behavior and leader effectiveness. Instead, the relative effectiveness of these two elements often depended on the context of the task. Hersey and Blanchard used the terms task behaviors and relationship behaviors and sought to explain why leadership effectiveness varies across these two dimensions. In their model, they depicted task behavior and relationship behavior as orthogonal dimensions. They argued that this approach is useful because certain combinations of task and relationship behaviors may be more effective in certain situations than in others.

Another contingency model deals with different aspects of leader-follower relationships. Path-goal theory is based on the idea that it is the leaders responsibility to clarify the path, remove obstacles, motivate his or her followers, and provide feedback to achieve organizational goals while setting guidelines on how to accomplish those goals. Path-goal theory examines the contingency of the leaders effectiveness at increasing a subordinates motivation along a pathway leading to a certain goal. House proposed three areas that would affect the path-goals relationship: the task, the characteristics of the followers, and the nature of the group to which the followers belong. The theory hypothesizes that certain subordinates will respond better to directions when a task is unstructured (e.g., developing building plans) than when a task is structured (e.g., air traffic controlling) (House and Dessler 1974). The response is contingent upon differences in both the individual and the task. More importantly, understanding the effects of the nature of the task should influence how leaders behave.

Another influential model within the contingency approach is the normative decision model from Vroom and Yetton. In this model, emphasis is placed on increasing followers involvement. The leaders method of including followers is contingent upon such constraints as time, talents, and resources. Another important aspect of the model is to what extent the support of followers is critical to successful outcomes. The implications of this model are that leaders who possess an awareness of their subordinates involvement can improve the decision-making process.

All of these models have helped to develop an understanding of leadership complexities. Although contingency theories dominated leadership research for decades, a number of writers have questioned the methods used to tests these theories (Yukl 2002). For example, J. C. Wofford and Laurie Liska (1993) quantitatively reviewed 120 path-goal studies and found that only seven of the moderators used were significant. Katherine Miller and Peter Monge (1986) meta-analyzed research on the effects of participation in decision making on satisfaction and productivity. Results failed to support the contingency model predictions.

Transactional Theories Transactional models describe a process-oriented exchange between leaders and followers. As Edwin Hollander and Lynn Offermann (1990a) explained, transactional models focus on the followers perceptions of the leaders actions. The concern for process stems from the social exchange between leaders and followers as a function of effectiveness (Shaw and Costanzo 1982). These models emphasize persuasive influence instead of compelled compliance. Hollander developed a transactional leadership model, and in its context coined the term idiosyncratic credit. Idiosyncratic credits are often defined as a tit-for-tat exchange. Hollander (1958) explained that leadership was a social exchange transaction between leaders and followers where legitimacy was the currency of the exchange. To have a successful transaction, the leader must provide direction, guidance, and technical knowledge, as well as recognition of followers inputs. In turn, followers increase their receptiveness and add legitimacy to the leaders influence (Hollander 1993).

By demonstrating competency, assisting the achievement of group goals, and conforming to group norms, leaders demonstrate commitment to the group and in turn earn credits (Chemers 1997). By obtaining credits, the leader gains latitude to explore new and perhaps non-normative ideas, methods, and courses of action, all of which can potentially lead to innovations. Overall, the successful employment of the idiosyncrasy credit exchange leads to legitimacy in shaping the perceptions of subordinates. In a cyclical nature, from the leader-follower exchange, group performance is increased (Green and Mitchell 1979).

Other relationship- and influence-oriented theories include implicit leadership theory, leader-member exchange theory, and Pygmalion theory. According to implicit leadership theory, a leaders behavior will not be effective unless the person is perceived as a leader (Calder 1977). Leader-member exchange theory (Graen and Ginsburgh 1977) proposes that leaders have in-groups of trusted individuals within their organization. Subordinates in the out-group are supervised through a more formal authority process. Another approach is referred to as Pygmalion theory. A critical component of this theory is the self-fulfilling prophecy, which suggests that raising leader expectations regarding follower achievement produces an improvement in the followers performance (Eden 1990). Over nearly three decades, researchers have found that if leaders have confidence in followers and set high goals and expectations for them, then the followers likelihood of success is higher due to a self-fulfilling prophecy effect (see Eden et al. [2000] for a review of this literature).

From a theoretical perspective, a common complaint against these theories is their lack of generalizability to women and to established work groups (White and Locke 2000). For example, several Pygmalion studies, with the exception of D. Brian McNatts (2000) meta-analysis, have reported weak effect sizes when controlling for gender (Eden et al. 2000). Indeed, McNatt reported significant differences in the effect sizes across different leadership contexts, with the results stronger in the military, with men, and for followers for whom low expectations were initially held.

R. E. Kelly (1988) brought attention to the active role of followers in achieving group success. He argues that a prerequisite to effective leadership is followership. Effective followers are intent on high performance and recognize that they share the responsibility for the quality of the relationship they have with their leaders (Potter et al. 2000, p. 130). The study of followership includes an understanding of two separate dimensions of follower initiative: performance and relationships. Successful organizations that have the ability to change in positive directions have leaders who value and encourage partners, and followers who seek to become partners (Potter et al. 2000).

The relationship and influence theories have furthered scientific understanding of the leadership phenomena. They have also assisted in answering the question, Can we develop leaders? However, these theories do not address the most pressing questions. For example, how do leaders build more enlightened and transformational forms that create referent effects beyond mere legitimacy? Modern theories have sought to explain these challenges. These more recent ideas are examined under the umbrella of new-genre theories.

New-genre Theories New genre refers to theories that have dominated leadership research since the 1980s, including charismatic, inspirational, transformational, and visionary leadership (Bass 1998; Bryman 1992). New leadership approaches emphasize symbolic leader behavior, visionary and inspirational messages, emotional feelings, ideological and moral values, individualized attention, and intellectual stimulation. Charismatic and transformational leadership theories have turned out to be the most frequently researched theories since the early 1990s (Judge and Piccolo 2004), with the accumulated research showing that charismatic and transformational leadership is positively associated with leadership effectiveness and a number of important organizational outcomes across many different types of organizations, situations, levels of analyses, and cultures (see Avolio, Bass, Walumbwa, and Zhu [2004] for a summary of this literature).

Hollander and Offermann described transformational leadership as an extension of transactional leadership, but with greater leader intensity or follower arousal (1990a, p. 88). The study of transformational leadership is rooted in Max Webers (1946) notion of a leader. In this theory, leaders are seen as active transforming agents, changing the outlook and behavior of their followers (Burns 1978). Transformational leaders may employ one or more of the core competencies of transactional leadership to obtain greater outcomes.

Factor analytic studies have recognized four key components of transformational leadership (Bass 1985; Avolio and Howell 1992): (1) charismatic leadership or idealized influence; (2) inspirational motivation; (3) intellectual stimulation; and (4) individualized consideration. Transformational leaders act as role models to their subordinates. The use of power is a last resort for a transformational leader. Transformational leaders motivate and inspire subordinates by providing meaning and challenge through emphasis on teamwork. Inspirational motivation leads to internalization. Leaders ensure an open exchange of ideas by allowing mistakes, soliciting new methods for problem solving, and evaluating followers processes rather than just situational outcomes. The leader acts as a coach, teacher, and mentor for each subordinate, providing individual attention and feedback, both positive and negative (Bass 1996).

Components of transformational and transactional leadership principles are incorporated into training strategies used by governments, corporations, and sports teams. As a result of training and education, transformational leaders motivate and enable followers to accomplish more than what is expected, set increasingly higher goals, and achieve higher standards. Transformational leadership is particularly evident in successful teams when coaches increase performance by providing motivation and inspiration. In contrast, current research on in extremis leadership, or leadership of teams facing death (e.g., fire departments, SWAT teams, and the military) shows that the environment itself provides the inherent motivation. Therefore, leaders in these extreme environments focus on continual learning and shared risk to build competency, loyalty, and trust (Kolditz 2007).

Like transformational leadership, the concept of charismatic leadership is an outgrowth of Max Webers description of a form of influence based on follower perceptions that the leader possesses certain enviable characteristics. Weber proposed that charisma can occur when a leader with certain qualities emerges during a crisis to propose a new vision (Weber 1946). Charismatic leaders exert enormous power and influence over followers, especially followers searching for direction or for guidance during times of crisis. Leadership is considered charismatic when it inspires the follower with challenge and persuasion, providing a meaning and understanding (Bass 1996, p. 5). Robert House (1977) developed a theory of charismatic leadership based on the premise that charisma has a distinct effect on followers. Charismatic leaders tend to be self-confident and achievement-motivated; they also desire to assert influence, and they possess strong convictions. These types of leaders advocate change and are able to mass followers in support of their own vision. Other theories centering on charisma focus on attributes (Conger and Kanungo 1987), self-concept (Shamir et al. 1993), and social contagion (Meindl 1990).

One of the latest new-genre approaches to leadership is the framework proposed in authentic leadership theory (Gardner et al. 2005; Avolio and Gardner 2005; Avolio, Gardner, Walumbwa, et al. 2004). This theory holds that high levels of leader self-awareness, self-regulation, and transparency, among other things, will increase the leaders positive effects on their followers. Another current approach to understanding leadership evaluates the unique characteristics of leaders in life and death situations or in extremis leaders. These leaders demonstrate inherent motivation, continuous learning, shared risk, common lifestyle with their followers, competency, trust, and loyalty (Kolditz 2007).

A 2004 meta-analysis by Avolio and colleagues compared studies in which the researcher manipulated new-genre leadership with studies that manipulated traditional theories (e.g. behavioral, trait, or contingency theories) (Avolio, Reichard, Hannah, et al. 2004). Results showed that new-genre approaches to leadership had appreciably larger effects than those based on traditional leadership theories for both affective and cognitive dependent variables, while traditional theories had a slightly larger effect on more proximal behavioral outcomes. These findings appear consistent with the core focus of these theories. New-genre theories, such as transformational leadership, are believed to have strong affective and cognitive components, and they are thus positively linked to such dependent variables as liking, trust, or intellectual engagement. Conversely, research on contingency and other more transactional leadership approaches has focused more on short-term behavioral change.

Studies suggest that researchers will continue to examine leadership in search of both an understanding of the thoughts and actions of leaders and improvements to organizational performance and motivation.

SEE ALSO Behaviorism; Conformity; Hierarchy; Organizations; Personality, Cult of; Political Science; Pygmalion Effects; Self-Fulfilling Prophecies


Avolio, Bruce J., Bernard M. Bass, Fred O. Walumbwa, and W. Zhu. 2004. Multifactor Leadership Questionnaire: Manual and Sampler Test. 3rd ed. Redwood City, CA: Mind Garden.

Avolio, Bruce J., and William L. Gardner. 2005. Authentic Leadership Development: Getting to the Root of Positive Forms of Leadership. Leadership Quarterly 16 (3): 315338.

Avolio, Bruce J., William L. Gardner, Fred O. Walumbwa, et al. 2004. Unlocking the Mask: A Look at the Process by which Authentic Leaders Impact Follower Attitudes and Behaviors. Leadership Quarterly 15 (6): 801823.

Avolio, Bruce J., and Jane M. Howell. 1992. The Impact of Leader Behavior and Leader-follower Personality Match on Satisfaction and Unit Performance. In Impact of Leadership, eds. Kenneth E. Clark, Miriam B. Clark, and David P. Campbell, 225236. Greensboro, NC: Center for Creative Leadership.

Avolio, Bruce J., Rebecca J. Reichard, Sean T. Hannah, et al. 2004. 100 Years of Leadership Intervention Studies: A Meta-Analysis. Peer reviewed paper presented at the Gallop Leadership Institute Summit, Omaha, NE.

Bass, Bernard M. 1960. Leadership, Psychology, and Organizational Behavior. New York: Harper.

Bass, Bernard M. 1985. Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectations. New York: Free Press.

Bass, Bernard M. 1996. A New Paradigm of Leadership: An Inquiry into Transformational Leadership. Alexandria, VA: U.S. Army Research Institute.

Bass, Bernard M. 1998. Transformational Leadership: Industrial, Military, and Educational Impact. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Bass, Bernard M., and Ralph M. Stogdill. 1990. Bass and Stogdills Handbook of Leadership: Theory, Research, and Managerial Applications. 3rd ed. New York: Free Press.

Bryman, Alan. 1992. Charisma and Leadership in Organizations. London: Sage.

Burns, James M. 1978. Leadership. New York: Harper and Row.

Calder, Bobby J. 1977. An Attribution Theory of Leadership. In New Directions in Organizational Behavior, eds. Barry M. Staw and Gerald R. Salancik, 179204. Chicago: St. Clair.

Carlyle, Thomas. 1841. Lecture I: The Hero as Divinity. In On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History. London: Fraser.

Chemers, Martin M. 1997. An Integrative Theory of Leadership. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Conger, Jay A., and Rabindra N. Kanungo. 1987. Behavioral Theory of Charismatic Leadership in Organizational Settings. Academy of Management Review 12: 637647.

Department of the Army. 1999. Army Leadership: Be, Know, Do. FM 22100. Washington, DC: Author.

Eden, Dov. 1990. Pygmalion in Management: Productivity as a Self-fulfilling Prophecy. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

Eden, Dov, Dvorah Geller, Abigail Gewirtz, et al. 2000. Implanting Pygmalion Leadership Style through Workshop Training: Seven Field Experiments. Leadership Quarterly 11 (2): 170210.

Fiedler, F. E. 1967. A Theory of Leadership Effectiveness. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Galton, Francis. 1869. Hereditary Genius: An Inquiry into its Laws and Consequences. London: Macmillan.

Gardner, William L., Bruce J. Avolio, Fred Luthans, et al. 2005. Can You See the Real Me? A Self-based Model of Authentic Leader and Follower Development. Leadership Quarterly 16 (3): 343372.

Graen, G. B., and S. Ginsburgh. 1977. Job Resignation as a Function of Role Orientation and Leader Acceptance: A Longitudinal Investigation of Organizational Assimilation. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance 19: 117.

Green, S. G., and T. R. Mitchell. 1979. Attributional Process of Leaders in Leader-member Interactions. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance 23: 429458.

Halpin, Andrew W., and Ben J. Winer. 1957. A Factorial Study of the Leader Behavior Descriptions. In Leader Behavior: Its Descriptions and Measurements, eds. Ralph M. Stogdill and Alvin E. Coons, 3951. Columbus: Ohio State University, Bureau of Business Research.

Hemphill, John K. 1950. Relations Between the Size of the Group and the Behavior of Superior Leaders. Journal of Social Psychology 32: 1122.

Hersey, Paul, and Kenneth H. Blanchard. 1969. Life Cycle Theory of Leadership. Training and Development Journal 23 (2): 2634.

Hollander, Edwin P. 1958. Conformity, Status, and Idiosyncrasy Credit. Psychological Review 65: 117127.

Hollander, Edwin P. 1993. Legitimacy, Power, and Influence: A Perspective on Relational Features of Leadership. In Leadership Theory and Research: Perspectives and Directions, eds. Martin M. Chemers and Roya Ayman, 2948. San Diego: Academic Press.

Hollander, Edwin P., and Lynn R. Offermann. 1990a. Relational Features of Organizational Leadership and Followership. In Measures of Leadership, eds. Kenneth E. Clark and Miriam B. Clark, 8398. West Orange, NJ: Leadership Library of America.

Hollander, Edwin P., and Lynn R. Offermann. 1990b. Power and Leadership in Organizations: Relationships in Transition. American Psychologist 45: 179189.

House, Robert J. 1971. A Path-Goal Theory of Leader Effectiveness. Administrative Science Quarterly 16: 321352.

House, Robert J. 1977. A 1976 Theory of Charismatic Leadership. In Leadership: The Cutting Edge, eds. James G. Hunt and Lars L. Larson, 189207. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

House, Robert J., and G. Dessler. 1974. A Path-goal Theory of Leadership: Some Post Hoc and a Priori Tests. In Contingency Approaches to Leadership, eds. James G. Hunt and Lars L. Larson, 2955. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University.

Hunt, James G., Uma Sekaran, and Chester A. Schriesheim. 1982. Leadership: Beyond Establishment Views. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Jacobs, T. Owens, and Elliot Jaques. 1990. Military Executive Leadership. In Measures of Leadership, eds. Kenneth E. Clark and Miriam B. Clark, 281295. West Orange, NJ: Leadership Library of America.

Judge, Timothy A., and Ronald F. Piccolo. 2004. Transformational and Transactional Leadership: A Meta-Analytic Test of their Relative Validity. Journal of Applied Psychology 89: 755768.

Katz, Daniel, and Robert L. Kahn. 1966. The Social Psychology of Organizations. New York: Wiley.

Kelly, R. E. 1988. In Praise of Followers. Harvard Business Review 66 (6): 142148.

Kirkpatrick, Shelley A., and Edwin A. Locke. 1991. Leadership: Do Traits Matter? Academy of Management Executive 5: 4860.

Kolditz, Thomas A. 2007. In Extremis Leadership: Leading as if Your Life Depended on It. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Lord, Robert G., Christy L. de Vader, and George M. Alliger. 1986. A Meta-analysis of the Relation Between Personality Traits and Leadership Perceptions: An Application of Validity Generalization Procedures. Journal of Applied Psychology 71 (3): 402410.

Mann, Richard D. 1959. A Review of the Relationships between Personality and Performance in Small Groups. Psychological Bulletin 56 (4): 241270.

McNatt, D. Brian. 2000. Ancient Pygmalion Joins Contemporary Management: A Meta-analysis of the Result. Journal of Applied Psychology 85 (2): 314322.

Meindl, J. R. 1990. On Leadership: An Alternative to the Conventional Wisdom. In Research in Organizational Behavior, eds. B. M. Staw and L. L. Cumming, 159203. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.

Miller, Katherine I., and Peter R. Monge. 1986. Participation, Satisfaction, and Productivity: A Meta-analytic Review. Academy of Management Journal 29: 727753.

Potter, Earl H., William E. Rosenbach, and Thane S. Pittman. 2000. Followers as Partners: The Best Evidence of Good Leadership. In Military Leadership: In Pursuit of Excellence, eds. Robert L. Taylor and William E. Rosenbach, 128137. 4th ed. Boulder, CO: Westview.

Shamir, Boas, Robert J. House, and Michael B. Arthur. 1993. Motivational Effects of Charismatic Leadership: A Self-Concept Based Theory. Organization Science 4: 577594.

Shartle, Carroll L. 1956. Executive Performance and Leadership. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Shaw, Marvin E., and Philip R. Costanzo. 1982. Theories of Social Psychology. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Stogdill, Ralph M. 1948. Personal Factors Associated with Leadership: A Survey of the Literature. Journal of Psychology 25: 3571.

Vroom, Victor H., and Philip W. Yetton. 1973. Leadership and Decision-making. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Weber, Max. 1946. The Sociology of Charismatic Authority. In From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, eds. and trans. H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, 245252. New York: Oxford.

White, Susan S., and Edwin A. Locke. 2000. Problems with the Pygmalion Effect and Some Proposed Solutions. Leadership Quarterly 11 (3): 389415.

Wofford, J. C., and Laurie Z. Liska. 1993. Path-goal Theories of Leadership: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Management 19: 857876.

Yukl, Gary A. 2002. Leadership in Organizations. 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Dennis P. ONeil

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Leadership." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . 23 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Leadership." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . (July 23, 2018).

"Leadership." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved July 23, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.



Although there are seemingly as many descriptions of leadership as there are men and women who fill leadership roles, most meaningful definitions echo the one commonly ascribed to former U.S. president Harry S. Truman: leadership is the ability to get others to willingly move in a new direction in which they are not naturally inclined to move on their own. While the related but distinct concept of authority has since antiquity been a subject for scholarly analysis, the field of leadership theory and development has emerged more recently. It is primarily an American phenomenon, although its influence has quickly spread across continents.

Leadership in Historical Context

Of the myriad forms of human and social capital, leadership may be the most rare and precious. One can point to hundreds of companies that were collapsing despite legions of consultants and new plans and policies, until finally its chief executive officer was removed, a new head was brought in, and the company turned around as though by magic. History abounds with similar examples among armies, universities, churches, and nations.

Conversely, the untimely loss of a talented and effective leader can prove disastrous for the organization she was leading. Try as they may, a succession of new leaders cannot stem the inexorable decline of the very same organization that a few months or years before was at the peak of health and vitality.

Moreover, sometimes whole societies lose their ability to produce great leaders. There are numerous cases of societies that lost their earlier, highly developed culture and retrogressed to a more primitive way of life. In some of these cases, external factors such as invasion or drought played a role, but in many cases it would seem that the retrogression was due to a failure of will and a lack of leadership.

History's Slaves or History's Masters?

A striking contrast in worldviews about leadership can be found in the writings of Leo Tolstoy, who believed that history shapes and determines leaders, versus those of Thomas Carlyle, who believed that leaders shape and determine history. In his epilogue to War and Peace, Tolstoy contended that kings and generals are history's slaves. Tolstoy believed that leaders merely ride the crests of historical waves that have been set in motion by myriad forces beyond these leaders' control or comprehension. "Every act of theirs, which appears to them an act of their own free will," wrote Tolstoy, "is in an historical sense involuntary and is related to the whole cause of history and predestined from eternity."

On the other side is Carlyle, the nineteenth-century British historian and essayist, who was convinced that "history is the biography of great men," the greatest of them being kings. The very word king, Carlyle contended, derives from the ancient word Can-ning, which means "Able-man" (although his etymology can be disputed). In Carlyle's view, the Ablemen (and Ablewomen) of the human species direct the course of history and determine humanity's destiny.

Leadership as a Skill

Learned examinations of the lives of great leaders abound, among them Arrian's History of Alexander and Plutarch's Parallel Lives, bona fide leadership manuals have been relatively rare; only a few have survived the centuries, among them Niccolò Machiavelli's The Prince and Sun Tzu's The Art of War. Most such works were military in nature, where meritocracies tended to flourish.

Popular opinion through the ages has typically held that leadership flows from the throne of the gods to a privileged few, as evidenced by most societies' willing subjection to and adulation for inherited royalty. In the biblical account contained in the first book of Samuel, the Israelites beg Yahweh to abandon his plans for a pure theocracy, asking in exchange not for democracy but for "a king to lead us." The equation began to change at the end of the global tendency toward dynastic succession and the advent of republican government and other broad meritocracies.

Currently, in an era that can be considered far more Carlylean than Tolstoyan in its worldview, the analysis of living and dead authorities has given way to a dramatic development: the belief that leaders can and should be trained. The worldwide explosion of leadership study and leadership development is an even more recent phenomenon, launched primarily at American universities. Beginning in the 1960s, the most informed academic opinions held that leadership could be taught effectively if prevalent past assumptions about human nature could be overcome. The concept grew in popularity through the 1970s and 1980s, and the result by the turn of the twenty-first century was a $250 billion industrythe amount spent annually on management training and executive education around the world.

Leadership theory and development was to a degree an off-shoot of inquiry into organizational life, as industry and government bureaucracies evolved rapidly, with figures such as Vienna-born economist and management editor Peter Drucker forging roles as key commentators. Theories of organizational life gradually gave way to theories of leadership as an exalted vocation.

Once scholars began not only to assess the impact of leaders but to dissect the traits that fueled their success, a legion of authors and consultants rose up to offer seven habits, ten techniques, or twenty secrets of top leaders. Eventually American corporations, universities, and even secondary schools began setting aside funds for leadership development programs.

The Rise of Contemporary Leadership Theory

Theories of leadership in any period are driven by a set of convictions and hopes on the part of the theorist. One conviction is that rapid societal evolution makes it imperative to keep one's pulse on social changes and their implications for how groups of human beings can best be led, an inherent assumption in the writings of leadership theorist Rosabeth Moss Kanter and numerous other scholars. A competing view is that human nature is static and unchanging and that the lasting lessons of history provide surer instruction in leadership than do the passing ripples of modernity. Ironically, the exemplars of this view are relatively ancient figures such as Lao Tzu and Machiavelli.

A core Western assumption about leadership is that leaders who succeed have "vision," a tangible end goal toward which they and their followers can strive. But countless Eastern leaders have been more influenced by the worldview of Lao Tzu, who observed, "A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent upon arriving. Let go of fixed plans and concepts, and the world will govern itself" (Lao Tzu, chapters 27 and 57).

In a related manner, some maintain that the leader must be an idealist set on speaking to that which is highest, while others hold that a leader must be a realist who is aware of human limitations. Plato contended in The Republic that:

until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from their evils.

Yet as though he were responding directly to Plato, Machiavelli soberly observed in The Prince almost two thousand years later:

Many have imagined republics and principalities which have never been seen or known to exist in reality; for how we live is so far removed from how we ought to live, that he who abandons what is done for what ought to be done will rather bring about his own ruin than his preservation; for a man who strives after goodness in all his acts is sure to come to ruin, since there are so many who are not good. Hence it is necessary that a prince who is interested in his survival learn to be other than good, making use of this capacity or refraining from it according to the need.

The collective tendency has tilted toward idealism in recent decades. This shift is not a current echo of Plato's philosopher-king. It is, rather, an expression of democratic ideals, positing an assumption that intrinsic in human nature is a capacity to lead that only need be unearthed and cultivated in order to flourish.

The participative management and leadership style ascendant in the late twentieth century was exemplified by the work of Douglas McGregor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). In his landmark work, The Human Side of Enterprise (1960), McGregor distinguished between a traditional Theory X, which fundamentally viewed humanity in a negative light (the view classically ascribed to Machiavelli), and a newly emerging Theory Y, which viewed human beings in a more positive light. Given Theory X's assumption that human beings are essentially flawed and resistant to work, a successful leader presumably needed to manage them in an authoritarian manner, with rigorous controls.

McGregor heralded his new Theory Y, which demonstrated that human beings are far more willing to invest themselves in their work if it bears personal meaning. If they can escape the suffocation of being overmanaged and begin to make a collaborative investment through their labor, they will bring untapped new fountains of creativity and energy to an organization or cause. The democratic model of organizational leadership began to develop, with its flattened organizational pyramids and concepts such as empowerment and shared vision.

Unlike the so-called hard sciences, the tenets of the social sciences cannot readily be subjected to the test of falsification, and, as a consequence, are often viewed with suspicion. Nevertheless, since the mid-1950s, the social sciences produced a large number of attractive theories of leadership. Management expert Tom Peters noted that Warren Bennis's work at MIT during the 1960s "foreshadowedand helped bring aboutthe early twenty-first century's headlong plunge into less hierarchical, more democratic and adaptive institutions, both public and private." Bennis, a protégé of McGregor, found among other things that hierarchical and autocratic approaches were the best way for teams to carry out simple tasks, while democratic and collaborative approaches were the best way for teams to carry out complex tasks. In such cases, all team members experienced a high average level of contentment in their work, unlike in hierarchical arrangements, where the top person enjoyed maximum contentment and the others experienced minimum contentment.

American corporations were shaped most dramatically by such new models. The gradually increasing tendency toward participative management received a kick-start in the 1980s, when American and European business executives came to admire their Japanese counterparts. Japanese industry was remarkable for its emphasis on the group rather than the individual, and for team processes and a participative work style. Not out of idealism but out of pure self-interest, Western managers began to adopt similar practices. Within a few years, programs for and courses in leadership theory and development were more often housed in American universities' business schools than in departments of political science, psychology, history, or social science. For many years this resulted in an amoral emphasis on technique rather than ethicsin other words, democratic leadership was good for the bottom line as opposed to being intrinsically rightalthough some business-school-based experts such as Bennis and James O'Toole championed a more deontological approach.

By the last decade of the twentieth century, few successful American leaders in any profit-seeking or not-for-profit organization had avoided participating in at least one seminar, visioning session, or strategic-planning task force built on democratic management principles. However, the good intentions of democratically inclined managers and consultants collided with the limitations of human natureand a wave of satire (as evidenced in the "Dilbert" comic strip) and public cynicism followed. This cynicism, or frustrated idealism, offers a study in contrasts with Machiavelli's brutal unsenti-mentality, which had seemingly been discredited by modern practitioners of democratic management and leadership. Machiavelli was above all a coolly detached student of human nature. His repeated advice to leaders was to believe in the reality of human nature, as opposed to what they wished it were.

Quoted again more widely in an era of renewed global realpolitik, Machiavelli has proved to be neither inerrant nor irrelevant. He illustrated sides of human nature that must be closely examined by every leader, painful though that process may be. The good news for leaders is that there are nobler facets of human nature that have just as great a chance of asserting themselves as those identified by Machiavelli. As such, his greatest legacy may be his ability to help leaders develop a more integrated understanding of human nature and leadership.

Theories in Flux

Just as popular and scholastic leadership theory has been shaped and reshaped by the epochs of industrialization, bureaucratization, the communications revolution, and the widespread entry of women into management, leadership theory will continue to undergo changes, determined in part by prevailing societal values such as idealism or realism.

Through it all, a middle ground appears to exist between Tolstoy's persuasive fatalism and Carlyle's enthusiastic activism. It may well be that this world is largely Tolstoyan, subject to historical forces that no man or woman can fully measure and analyze and the consequences of which no person can fully predict. To that extent, leaders are in fact history's slaves. However, Carlyle's Ablemen (and Ablewomen) have still made an impact on the course of human events; their decisions have had a lasting influence on the world, so that historical determinism has never quite had the final word.

Finally, leadership tends to be remarkably situational and contingent: what works for one person at one point in time will not necessarily work for everyone else or even for that person at a different time. Thus, in a very real sense, leadership is an art, not a science. Effective management may be a science (though that too is questionable), but effective leadership is most certainly an art. In this sense, leadership is more akin to music, painting, and poetry than it is to more routinized endeavors. And just as there is no comprehensive theory of art, there is no comprehensive theory of leadership.

Every leader is therefore locked in a moment-to-moment struggle with the context and circumstances of his own place and time. This excruciating yet exhilarating aspect of leadership is what makes the study of great historical figures so timelessly appealingand, in this democratic age, makes millions of would-be leaders such eager students of this peculiar calling.

See also Authority ; Machiavellism ; Power .



Arrian. The Campaigns of Alexander. London: Penguin, 1976.

Bible, The. The life of David, in I and II Samuel; Jesus, in Matthew; and Paul, in Acts. Various editions, including the Revised Standard Edition.

Confucius. The Analects. Translated by Arthur Waley. New York: Vintage, 1989.

Dante. The Divine Comedy. Translated by John Ciardi. New York: Norton, 1977. Significant for its portrayal of the full range of human triumphs and foibles.

Lao Tzu. The Tao Te Ching. Translated by Stephen Mitchell. New York: Perennial, 1992.

Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince. Translated by George Bull. New York: Bantam, 1984. One of the most enduring and significant leadership manuals, with some fifty editions currently in print.

Plato. The Republic. New York: Oxford University Press, 1951.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Shakespeare's plays offer insight into the human condition and human motivations, a deep understanding of which is required for leadership. Hamlet, in particular, gives humanity a terrifying look inside itself.

. Othello. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Offers a view of how a leader is undone by an evil lieutenant.

Sophocles. Antigone. Translated by Richard Emil Braun. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. Notable for its display of the pitfalls of rigidity in a leader.

Sun Tzu. The Art of War. Translated by Ralph D. Sawyer. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1994.


Bennis, Warren. On Becoming a Leader. Reading, Mass.: Addison Wesley, 1989.

Carlyle, Thomas. On Heroes, Hero Worship, and the Heroic in History. New York: Ginn and Co., 1902. Notable for its theory of leadership in contrast to that of Tolstoy.

Drucker, Peter. The Essential Drucker: Selections from the Management Works of Peter F. Drucker. New York: HarperBusiness, 2001. A significant modern leadership book.

Kanter, Rosabeth Moss. The Change Masters: Innovations for Productivity in the American Corporation. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983.

. When Giants Learn to Dance: Mastering the Challenge of Strategy, Management, and Careers in the 1990s. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989.

McGregor, Douglas. The Human Side of Enterprise. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1960.

O'Toole, James. Leading Change: The Argument for Values-Based Leadership. New York: Ballantine, 1996.

Tolstoy, Leo. War and Peace. Translated by Louise and Aylmer Maude. New York: Oxford University Press, 1931. Of interest for its theory of leadership, in contrast to that of Carlyle.

Steven B. Sample

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Leadership." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. . 23 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Leadership." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. . (July 23, 2018).

"Leadership." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. . Retrieved July 23, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.



Leadership is a fascinating subject for many people. The term conjures up a familiar scene of a powerful, heroic, triumphant individual with a group of followers returning home after winning a national championship or a war against the evil enemy. They all march through town surrounded by a crowd waving flags. An enthusiastic orator may deliver an energetic speech, hands waving in the air, to thousands of people gathered in a plaza.

The widespread fascination with leadership may be because of the impact that leadership has on everyone's life. Stories of heroic leadership go back thousands of years: Moses delivering thousands of Hebrews from Egypt or Alexander the Great building a great empire. Why were certain leaders able to inspire and mobilize so many people, and how did they achieve what they achieved? There are so many questions that beg answers, but many remain as puzzling as ever. In recent decades, many researchers have undertaken a systematic and scientific study of leadership.

Leadership is defined in so many different ways that it is hard to come up with a single working definition. Leadership is not just a person or group of people in a high position. Understanding leadership is not complete without understanding interactions between a leader and his or her followers. Neither is leadership merely the ability or static capacity of a leader. The dynamic nature of the relationship between leader and followers must be researched. In these unique social dynamics, all the parties involved attempt to influence each other in the pursuit of goals. These goals may or may not coincide as participants actively engage in defining and redefining the goal for the group and for themselves.

Thus, leadership is a process in which a leader attempts to influence his or her followers to establish and accomplish a goal or goals. In order to accomplish the goal, the leader exercises his or her power to influence people. That power is exercised in earlier stages by motivating followers to get the job done and in later stages by rewarding or punishing those who do or do not perform to the level of expectation. Leadership is a continuous process, with the accomplishment of one goal becoming the beginning of a new goal. The proper reward by the leader is of utmost importance in order to continually motivate followers in the process.

What does leadership do for an organization? If leadership is defined as a process involving interactions between a leader and followers, usually subordinate employees of a company, leadership profoundly affects the company. It defines or approves the mission or goal of the organization. This goal setting is a dynamic process for which the leader is ultimately responsible. A strong visionary leader presents and convinces followers that a new course of action is needed for the survival and prosperity of the group in the future. Once a goal is set, the leader assumes the role of ensuring successful accomplishment of the goal. Another vital role of leadership is to represent the group/organization and link it to the external world in order to obtain vital resources to carry out its mission. When necessary, leadership has to defend the organization's integrity.


What does it take to make leadership successful or effective? Early students of leadership examined great leaders throughout history, attempting to find traits that they shared. Among personality traits that they found were determination, emotional stability, diplomacy, self-confidence, personal integrity, originality, and creativity. Intellectual abilities included judgmental ability, knowledge, and verbal communication ability. In addition, physical traits cannot be ignored, such as age, height, weight, and physical attractiveness.

It is not only inborn personality traits that are important but also styles and behaviors that a person learns. Strong autocratic leaders set their goals without considering the opinions of their followers, then command their followers to execute their assigned tasks without question. Consultative leaders solicit the opinions and ideas of their followers in the goal-setting process but ultimately determine important goals and task assignments on their own. Democratic or participative leaders participate equally in the process with their followers and let the group make decisions. Extremely laid-back leaders, so called laissez-faire leaders, let the group take whatever action its members feel is necessary.

Inspired and led by Renis Likert, a research team at the University of Michigan studied leadership for several years and identified two distinct styles, which they referred to as job-centered and employee-centered leadership styles. The job-centered leader closely supervises subordinates to make sure they perform their tasks following the specified procedures. This type of leader relies on reward, punishment, and legitimate power to influence the behavior of followers. The employee-centered leader believes that creating a supportive work environment ultimately is the road to superior organizational performance. The employee-centered leader shows great concern about the employees' emotional well-being, personal growth and development, and achievement.

A leadership study group at The Ohio State University, headed by Harris Fleishman, found similar contrasts in leadership style, which they referred to as initiating structure and consideration. The leadership style of initiating structure is similar to the job-centered leadership style, whereas consideration is similar to the employee-centered leadership style. It was the initial expectation of both research groups that a leader who could demonstrate both high initiating structure (job-centered) and high consideration (employee-centered) would be successful and effective in all circumstances.

Many students of leadership in the twenty-first century believe that there is no one best way to lead, believing instead that appropriate leadership styles vary depending on situations. Fred Fiedler (1967), for instance, believes that a task-oriented leadership style is appropriate when the situation is either extremely favorable or extremely unfavorable to the leader. A favorable situation exists when the relationship between the leader and followers is good, their tasks are well-defined, and the leader has strong power. When the opposite is true, an unfavorable situation exists. When the situation is moderately favorable, a people-oriented leadership style is appropriate. Some theorists suggest that situational factorsthe type of task, nature of work groups, formal authority system, personality and maturity level of followers, experience, and ability of followersare critical in determining the most effective leadership style. For instance, when followers are inexperienced and lack maturity and responsibility, the directive leadership style is effective; when followers are experienced and willing to take charge, supportive leadership is effective.


One major situational factor is the cultural values of the followers. People who have different cultural norms and values require different leadership styles. In a highly collective society such as Japan, the Philippines, Guatemala, or Ecuador, where the social bond among members is very strong and people look out for one another, a strong patriarch at the top of the social hierarchy tends to emerge as an effective leader. Such a leader is not only accepted by the followers but is also expected to protect their interests. China's Deng Xiao-Ping, whose influence continues even after his death, is a case in point.

On the other hand, in an extremely individualistic society, such as the United States (Hofstede, 1984), where the social bonds are loose and individuals are expected to take care of themselves, success and achievement are admired, and a competitive and heroic figure is likely to emerge as a leader. It is no surprise that John F. Kennedy became such a charismatic figure in the United States. His energetic and inspirational speeches are still vividly remembered.


Regardless of culture and time, however, a great leader is remembered for his or her charisma, which means "divinely inspired gift" in Greek. Charismatic leaders have profound effects on followers. Through their exceptional inspirational and verbal ability, they articulate ideological goals and missions, communicate to followers with passion and inspiration, set an example in their own behaviors, and demand hard work and commitment from followers, above and beyond normal expectation.

Building on charismatic leadership, Bernard Bass (1985) proposed a theory of transformational leadership. Bass views leadership as a process of social exchange between a leader and his or her followers. In exchange for desired behaviors and task accomplishment, a leader provides rewards to followers. This nominal social exchange process is called transactional leadership. In contrast, a transformational leader places a higher level of trust in his or her followers and demands a much higher level of loyalty and performance beyond normal expectations. With unusual charismatic qualities and inspirational person-to-person interactions, a transformational leader transforms and motivates followers to make extra efforts to turn around ailing organizational situations into success stories. Lee Iacocca, when he took over Chrysler as CEO in 1979 and turned around this financially distressed company, was considered an exemplary transformational leader. He was able to convince many people, including employees and the U.S. Congress, to support the ailing company and to make it a success.


Leadership qualities such as aggressiveness, assertiveness, taking charge, and competitiveness are traditionally associated with strong, masculine characters. Even women executives tended to show these characteristics in the traditional corporate world. In fact, many of these women executives were promoted because they were even more competitive and assertive than their male counterparts. These successful women executives often sacrificed a family life, which their male counterparts did not necessarily have to do.

The business world is changing, however. Today, much research has found that women leaders are different from their male counterparts in management style. Women leaders tend to be more concerned with consensus building, participation, and caring. They often are more willing than men to share power and information, to empower employees, and to be concerned about the feelings of their subordinates.

Such an interactive and emotionally involved leadership style is not necessarily negative in the business environment. Indeed, some researchers find it to be highly effective. Internally, a culturally diverse work force demands more interactive and collaborative coordination. Externally, culturally diverse customers demand more personable and caring attention. A caring and flexible management style serves such diverse employees and customers better than traditional methods of management.


John Kotter (1988) distinguishes leadership from management. Effective management carefully plans the goal of an organization, recruits the necessary staff, organizes them, and closely supervises them to make sure that the initial plan is executed properly. Successful leadership goes beyond management of plans and tasks. It envisions the future and sets a new direction for the organization. Successful leaders mobilize all possible means and human resources; they inspire all members of the organization to support the new mission and execute it with enthusiasm. When an organization faces an uncertain environment, it demands strong leadership. On the other hand, when an organization faces internal operational complexity, it demands strong management. If an organization faces both an uncertain environment and internal operational complexity, it requires both strong leadership and strong management.

see also Management/Leadership Styles


Bass, Bernard M. (1985). Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectation. New York: Free Press.

Bass, Bernard M. and Avolio, Bruce, J., eds. (1994). Improving Organizational Effectiveness Through Transformational leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Bennis, Warren G. (1959). Leadership Theory and Administrative Behavior: The Problem of Authority. Administrative Science Quarterly 4, 259-260.

Conger, Jay A., and Kanungo, Rabindra (1987). Toward a Behavioral Theory of Charismatic Leadership in Organizational Settings. Academy of Management Review 12, 637-647.

Daft, Richard L. (1999). Leadership: Theory and Practice. New York: Dryden Press.

Fiedler, Fred E. (1967). A Theory of Leadership Effectiveness. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Graef, C. L. (1993). The Situational Leadership Theory: A Critical Review. Academy of Management Review 8, 285-296.

Hall, Richard H. (1982). Organizations: Structure and Process. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Hofstede, Geert (1984). Culture's Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related Values. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

Howell, Jane M. (1988). Two Faces of Charisma: Socialized and Personalized Leadership in Organizations. In Jay A. Conger and Rabindra N. Kanungo (Eds.), Charismatic Leadership: The Elusive Factor in Organizational Effectiveness. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

House, Robert J. (1996). Path-Goal Theory of Leadership: Lessons, Legacy and a Reformulated Theory. Leadership Quarterly 7, 323-352.

Hughes, Richard L., Ginnet, Robert C., and Curphy, Gordon J. (2006). Leadership: Enhancing the Lessons of Experience. Boston: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.

Kirkpatrick, S.A., and Locke, Edwin A. (1996). Direct and Indirect Effects of Three Core Charismatic Leadership Components on Performance and Attitudes. Journal of Applied Psychology 81:, 36-51.

Kotter, John P. (1988). The Leadership Factor. New York: Free Press.

Meindl, James R. (1990). On Leadership: An Alternative to the Conventional Wisdom. In B. M Staw and L.L. Cummings (Eds.), Research in Organizational Behavior, vol. 12. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.

Meindl, James R., Ehrlich, S.B., and Dukerich, J.M. (1985). The Romance of Leadership. Administrative Science Quarterly 30, 78-102.

Trice, Harry M., and Beyer, Janis M. (1991). Cultural Leader-ship in Organizations. Organization Science 2, 149-169.

Yukl, Gary (1998). Leadership in Organizations (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

Lee W. Lee

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Leadership." Encyclopedia of Business and Finance, 2nd ed.. . 23 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Leadership." Encyclopedia of Business and Finance, 2nd ed.. . (July 23, 2018).

"Leadership." Encyclopedia of Business and Finance, 2nd ed.. . Retrieved July 23, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.



Leadership is the process through which an individual tries to influence another individual or a group of individuals to accomplish a goal. Leadership is valued in our culture, especially when it helps to achieve goals that are beneficial to the population, such as the enactment of effective preventive-health policies. An individual with leadership qualities can also improve an organization and the individuals in it, whether it be a teacher who works to get better teaching materials and after-school programs or an employee who develops new ideas and products and influences others to invest in them.

Leadership can be exhibited in a variety of ways and circumstances. Mothers and fathers show leadership in raising their children with good values and encouraging them to develop to their potential. Teachers show it in inspiring students to learn and to develop their intellectual capacity. Health care workers can be leaders and develop services that meet the needs of the communities they serve, or work in collaboration with other organizations to create cost-effective, prevention-oriented programs and services.

Many studies have been done and many books and articles have been published on this subject. Through this work a consistent set of leadership attributes has emerged. An effective leader does most, if not all, of the following:

  • Challenge the Process search out challenging opportunities, take risks, and learn from mistakes.
  • Inspire others to come together and agree on a future direction or goal create a shared vision by thinking about the future, having a strong positive vision, and encouraging others to participate.
  • Help others to act help others to work together, to cooperate and collaborate by developing shared goals and building trust, and help to make others stronger by encouraging them to develop their skills and talents.
  • Set an example behave in ways that are consistent with professed values and help others to achieve small gains that keep them motivated, especially when a goal will not be achieved quickly.
  • Encourage others recognize each individual's contributions to the success of a project.

Another way of defining leadership is to acknowledge what people value in individuals that are recognized as leaders. Most people can think of individuals they consider to be leaders. Research conducted in the 1980s by James Kouzes and Barry Posner found that a majority of people admire, and willingly follow, people who are honest, forward-looking, inspiring, and competent

An individual who would like to develop leadership skills can profit from the knowledge that leadership is not just a set of exceptional skills and attributes possessed by only a few very special people. Rather, leadership is a process and a set of skills that can be learned.

Carol Woltring

(see also: Careers in Public Health; Community Organization; Public Health Leadership Institute )


Kouzes, J. M., and Posner, B. Z. (1995). The Leadership Challenge, 2nd edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Pointer, D. D., and Sanchez, J. P. (1993). "Leadership: A Framework for Thinking and Acting." In Health Care Management: A Text in Organization Theory and Behavior, 3rd edition. eds. S. Shortell and A. Kaluzny. New York: Wiley.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Leadership." Encyclopedia of Public Health. . 23 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Leadership." Encyclopedia of Public Health. . (July 23, 2018).

"Leadership." Encyclopedia of Public Health. . Retrieved July 23, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.



The ability to take initiative in planning, organizing, and managing group activities and projects.

In any group of people, there are those who step forward to organize people and events to achieve a specific result. In organized activities, leaders can be designated and, in informal contexts, such as a party, they may emerge naturally. What makes certain people into leaders is open to debate. Luella Cole and Irma Nelson Hall have written that leadership "seems to consist of a cluster

of traits , a few inborn but most of them acquired or at least developed by contact with the environment." Psychologists have also defined leadership as a mentality, as opposed to aptitude, the assumption being that mentalities can be acquired. Leaders can be "idea generators" or "social facilitators." Leaders have their own leadership style, and that style may not transfer from one situation to another.

Child psychologists who study girls, and particularly educators and parents advocating equal-opportunity education for girls, have remarked that girls with leadership potential often have to struggle with various prejudices, which also include the notion that leadership is a "male" characteristic. In a study of 304 fourth-, fifth-, and sixgraders enrolled in 16 Girl Scout troops, Cynthia A. Edwards found that in an all-female group, leaders consistently display characteristic qualities such as organizational skills and independent thinking. Significantly, election to leadership posts was based on perceived managerial skills, while "feminine" qualities, such as empathic behavior, were generally not taken into account. However, in examining the research on mixed (male-female) groups, Edwards has found studies that show "that the presence of male group members, even in the minority, suppresses the verbal expression and leadership behavior of female group members." The fact that leadership behavior can be suppressed would seem to strengthen the argument that leadership is, indeed, a learned behavior.

A study by T. Sharpe, M. Brown, and K. Crider measured the effects of consistent positive reinforcement , favoring skills such as leadership, sportsmanship, and conflict resolution , on two urban elementary physical education classes. The researchers found that the focus on positive skills caused a significant increase in leadership and conflict-resolution behavior. These results seem to support the idea, discussed by Maynard, that leadership behavior can be non-competitive (different individuals exercising leadership in different areas) and also conducive to group cohesion.

Zoran Minderovic

Further Reading

Edwards, Cynthia A. "Leadership in Groups of School-Age Girls." Developmental Psychology 30, no. 6, (November 1994): 920-27.

Sharpe, T., M. Browne, and K. Crider. "The Effects of A Sportsmanship Curriculum Intervention on Generalized Positive Social Behavior of Urban Elementary School Students." Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 28,(1995): 401-16.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Leadership." Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology. . 23 Jul. 2018 <>.

"Leadership." Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology. . (July 23, 2018).

"Leadership." Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology. . Retrieved July 23, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.