The Phenomenon of Leadership – The Theory, Conception & Analysis


Many theories try to explain the phenomenon of leadership. Perhaps the oldest of them, which has not lost its relevance today, is the theory of devils. It was created by identifying the qualities inherent in the ideal leaders – heroes. The essence of this theory is to explain the phenomenon of leadership by outstanding human qualities.

As one of the founders of this theory, E. Bogardus, wrote, “superior intellectual talents deliver personalities an outstanding position, sooner or later leading to leadership.” 

Among the traits inherent in a political leader are usually called a sharp mind, strong will and determination, seething energy, outstanding organizational skills and, especially, a willingness to take responsibility and competence. The necessary qualities of modern political leaders in democratic countries are increasingly adding a photo and telegenic, visual appeal, the ability to instill confidence in people, etc.

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The theory of traits

Extensive case studies were conducted to test the theory of traits. They in no small extent questioned this concept since it turned out that in a detailed analysis of the individual qualities of the leader almost precisely coincide with the full set of psychological and social personality traits in general. Also, in some areas of activity, primarily in the field of entrepreneurship, high intellectual and moral qualities are more likely an obstacle to occupying a leading position than a condition for success. Besides, many of the outstanding abilities of people over the years, and often the whole life, are unclaimed.

All this does not mean a complete denial of the theory of hell. To take a leading position in a competitive environment, we need certain psychological and social qualities. However, their set varies considerably depending on historical eras, individual states, and specific situations. Even today, personal conditions that give chances for political success are significantly different, for example, in Sweden, Afghanistan, Korea, and Somalia. Besides, in many, mostly non-democratic states, mediocre, gray individuals who do not have a strong personality often become political leaders.

Accounting for all this gave rise to the second wave of the theory of hell, or its factor-analytical concept. She distinguishes between purely individual qualities of a leader and characteristic features of behavior associated with the achievement of specific political goals. There can be significant differences between these two groups of leader properties.

The example of Lenin can illustrate them. His traits, which were manifestations in relations with close associates, did not in any way show in him a cruel despot, eager for violence and indifferent to the sufferings of people. However, his stubbornness and even obsession in striving for a generally good, but perfect goal of building communism were made of him a dictator, who rejects universal moral norms and for the sake of retaining power and the future “liberation of all mankind” who does not stop at crimes. It was manifested, for example, in his orders about the shooting of hostages, in the cruel reprisals against priests, etc.

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The theory of leadership

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Factor-analytical concept introduces into the theory of leadership the idea of goals and objectives associated with a particular situation. As a result of the interaction of the individual qualities of the leader and the goals set before him with the real position, a style of his behavior is developed, which constitutes his “second nature.” The leader’s style and target orientation bear the imprint of certain social conditions.

Situational conception

The idea of the dependence of leadership on certain social conditions is substantiated and developed by his situational concept (R. Stogdill, T. Hilton and others). It comes from relativity and multiplicity of leadership. Leader – a function of a particular situation.

As R. Stogdill wrote, “leadership is a connection that exists between people in a certain social situation, and people who are leaders in one situation will not necessarily be them in other situations.” 

The prevailing specific circumstances determine the selection of a political leader and define his behavior. For example, the situation in Islamic Iran will inevitably reject politicians of the European or American type. In the same way, the religious leader-prophet will not be able to prove himself in the political arena of the West. It is evident that the requirements for the leader vary considerably, depending on whether the given state is in a state of crisis or is developing steadily.

From the situational approach, leadership qualities are relative. One person can show the features of a leader at a rally, another – in everyday political and organizational work, the third – in interpersonal communication, etc. Overall, purposefulness, willingness to take responsibility for solving a particular task, as well as competence distinguish leaders.

Based on the situational concept, confirmed by empirical research, many scientists (E. Fromm, D. Rismen, and others) concluded that in modern Western society, a dishonest person who is not politically motivated and does not think about moral significance has a greater chance of success.

A situational theory does not deny the critical role of individual personality traits, but does not absolutize them, gives priority in explaining the nature of leadership to circumstances. However, the central for the situational theory statements about the leading role of the situation in the formation of administration is far from being fully confirmed. This concept is a subject to sharp criticism for the fact that it does not sufficiently reflect the leader’s activity, his ability to correctly and timely assess and change the situation, to find a solution to acute problems.

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Some new supporters of the situational theory of leadership are trying to adapt it to the realities of life through some additions. So, E. Hartley proposes to supplement the situational approach with the following provisions:

  • Acquiring the status of a leader by a person in one situation does not exclude, and even increases the chances of his leadership in another case.
  • Being a leader in a precise location, a person gains authority that contributes to his appointment or election to a leadership position and thereby consolidate leadership.
  • Due to the stereotypical perception, a person who has become a leader in a particular situation is perceived by the group as a leader in general.
  • The leaders most often are people who strive for this, have the appropriate motivation.
  • Hartley’s additions to the situational theory of leadership are largely supported empirically and generally contribute to the disclosure of the nature of this phenomenon.

Constitutional theory

The refinement, development and qualitative enrichment of the situational concept was a theory explaining the phenomenon of leadership through its followers and constituents. “It is the follower,” states F. Stanford, “perceives the leader, perceives the situation and ultimately accepts or rejects the leadership.”

The advantage of this approach to leadership is its consideration as a special kind of relationship between the leader and his constituents, acting as a chain of interrelated links: components – followers – activists – leader. The leader and his constituents constitute a single system. The understanding of the circle of parts of a leader in modern science is quite broad. It includes not only political activists and all quite well-defined supporters (followers) of the leader, but also his voters, as well as all those who interact with him, have an influence on him. The analysis of constituents in many ways allows us to understand and predict the political behavior of a leader, who often acts contrary to his political habits, likes, and dislikes.

The role of activists is especially significant in the formation and functioning of the “leader-constituents” relationship. It is they who assess their personal qualities and capabilities competently enough, organize campaigns in his support, act as a “drive belt” connecting him with the masses, that is, “make” the leader.

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Through constituents, the influence on the politics of the dominant political culture and, above all, the value orientations and expectations of the voters, is manifested. In a democracy, candidates for the role of political leaders can count on success only if their image coincides with the expectations of the majority of the people.

Having considerable advantages, the interpretation of a leader as a spokesperson for the interests and expropriations of constituents (followers), as well as his situational interpretation, does not work well when explaining innovations, independence, and activity of a leader. History shows that some significant actions of leaders run counter to the interests and expectations of the social strata and supporters that brought them to power. A vivid example of this is the political activity of Stalin, who in nearly a decade and a half of his rule almost completely, destroyed the Bolsheviks, who earlier brought him to power, and at the same time over half of the members of his party.

The interaction of the leader and his constituents is a two-way movement. Moreover, leaders can significantly change their social support. The independence of the leader concerning the components directly depends on the nature of the political system, on the degree of concentration of power in the hands of the leader, and the political culture of the society as a whole. The most significant opportunities for subjectivist and voluntarist policies are leaders in authoritarian and totalitarian systems, where they can sometimes threaten the very existence of the whole nation, as Hitler tried to do, for example, on the eve of the defeat of Nazi Germany.

Psychological concepts and interactive analysis

The nature of political leadership is quite complex, and one cannot interpret unambiguously. Psychological theories and, in particular, a psychoanalytic explanation of command help clarify its subjective mechanisms as the founder of psychoanalysis believed 3. Freud, at the heart of leadership, is repressed libido – a predominantly unconscious sexual attraction. (Freud’s followers interpret libido more broadly as psychic energy in general). There is a manifestation in the desire for creativity, including leadership in the process of sublimation.

For many people, possession of leadership positions performs subjective-compensatory functions, allows suppressing or overcoming various kinds of complexes, feelings of inferiority, etc. Specific psychological needs reflect the subordination of the leader. Subjective acceptance of leadership is laid in childhood when a child needs the protection and authority of parents. In this sense, the power of the head of state is similar to the authority of the father of the family.

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Scholars of the Frankfurt School E. Fromm, T. Adorno, and others made a notable contribution to the development of psychoanalysis. They revealed a personality type, predisposed to authoritarianism and striving for power: such a person formed in unhealthy social conditions that give rise to mass frustrations and neuroses, and the human desire to escape from all this in the sphere of domination and subordination. For an authoritarian personality, power is a psychological need that allows one to get rid of one’s complexes by imposing one’s will on other people.

Possession of unlimited power over others, their complete submission gives such a person a particular pleasure. It is a form of a kind of sadism. At the same time, an authoritarian personality has masochistic features: when confronted with a superior force, it admires and worships it. The weakness of others makes her contempt and desire to humiliate them.

This type of behavior in a psychological sense is not a manifestation of strength, but weakness. An authoritarian person, having no real inner power, tries to convince himself of having it with the help of domination over others. This personality is irrational, prone to mysticism, guided primarily by emotions and does not tolerate equality and democracy. It perceives other people and the world as a whole through the prism of the relationship of power – weakness, sadomasochism.

Empirical studies conducted by Adorno and other scholars have confirmed the real existence of an authoritarian personality type, revealed some of its new features. In general, this area of psychoanalysis has significantly expanded the idea of the internal motivations of striving for leadership, although it, of course, does not exhaust all types of such motives. As already noted, there are some other types of mental attitudes towards leadership, for example, playing, instrumental, etc.

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Final Words

The Phenomenon of Leadership - The Theory, Conception & Analysis

The combination of different interpretations allows you to see the various sides of political leadership but still does not give a holistic picture. An attempt to solve this problem, to carry out a comprehensive study of leadership is its interactive analysis. It takes into account four main points of administration: traits of a leader; the tasks that he is called upon to perform; his followers and constituents; the system of their interaction, the mechanism of the relationship between the leader and his components. And yet, it is probably impossible to create a single, universal concept of leadership, since this phenomenon itself is exceptionally diverse in its manifestation and functions, depends on historical eras, types of political systems, characteristics of leaders and their constituents, and other factors.

This article is written by Melisa Marzett. She is a copywriter with more than five years of experience. She is currently working for Big Essay Writer, a custom writing company and do translations now and then. Melissa likes being busy, so she tries to spend every single moment productively. Her lively mind and luxuriant imagination make her one of the best custom writers.

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