Political Leadership

Political Leadership

New Horizons in Public Policy series

Howard Elcock

Political leadership is a concept central to understanding political processes and outcomes, yet its definition is elusive. Many disciplines have contributed to the study of leadership, including political theory, history, psychology and management studies. Political Leadership reviews the contributions of these disciplines along with a discussion of the work of classic authors such as Niccolo Machiavelli, Max Weber and Robert Michels.

Chapter 5: The Psychology of Leadership

Howard Elcock

Subjects: politics and public policy, leadership


PSYCHOLOGY’S CONTRIBUTION TO THE STUDY OF LEADERSHIP The initial focus of this chapter is on the personality of individual leaders, on which ‘much intellectual energy has been spent’ (John and Cole, 2000: 100). In contrast with the previous chapter, which ended by discussing theories of management which relate the role to be played by the leader to the nature of the task he or she is set, together with the nature of his or her subordinates, this one will focus initially on issues more closely related to Handy’s ‘trait’ theories of leadership. It discusses how such traits develop through processes of upbringing and socialization. Later it discusses group dynamics, which may be the most important contribution social psychology has made to understanding political leadership and indicating ways of improving the quality of leaders’ decisions, or at least reducing their propensity to make mistakes. The beginning is the recognition of leadership as ‘a reciprocal, transactional and transformational process in which individuals are permitted to influence and motivate others to promote the attaining of group and individual goals’ (Forsyth, 1990: 216). Alternatively, as Harry Truman put it, ‘a leader is a man who has the ability to get other people to do what they don’t want to do and like it’. The focus of this chapter is therefore on leaders’ behaviour and its sources. Psychological studies seek explanations for their subjects’ behaviour on the basis of their upbringing and the processes by which they are socialized into their expected social roles (see...

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