People have been trying to gain a deeper understanding of leadership for centuries. In their search for knowledge, they sought wisdom in the writings of great scholars and the prophecies of oracles. They begged their gods for enlightenment and consulted soothsayers. They studied the autobiographical accounts of people widely recognized by others for their skills as leaders, and they pored over historical documents that they hoped would provide answers to their questions about leading and being led. But in the last 50 years or so, scholars and researchers around the globe have taken a new approach to studying leadership. Intrigued by leaders, followers, and the interpersonal processes that conjoin them, they use the theories and methods of the social sciences—psychology, anthropology, social psychology, sociology, and so on—to guide their search for understanding.

Researchers are studying may aspects of leadership, and leadership in a wide variety of domains: government, education, military, business, and so on. As a social psychologist, I’m particularly interested in how leaders are perceived, and such questions as “Who will emerge as the leader within a group of strangers,” “What qualities are thought to be typical of leaders,” and “Do expectations about the qualities of leaders bias followers?”

Resources on Leadership

Seeing Leaders:  My colleagues and I have done several studies looking at leadership as a conferred quality: individuals must be seen as leaders by those they lead, otherwise they are not–in a very real sense–leaders.

Leadership in extreme situations: My colleagues Jeff Pollack and Jeni Burnette have been working on an analysis of leadership in difficult, challenging circumstances, and have developed a “groupthink type II” explanation for leadership failures in such situations.



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