Psychology of Leadership

Interest in leadership increased during the early part of the twentieth century. Early leadership theories focused on what qualities distinguished between leaders and followers, while subsequent theories looked at other variables such as situational factors and skill levels.

Leadership has been described as the "process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task". Definitions inclusive of nature of leadership have also emerged.

Peter Drucker famously stated that "management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things." Great leaders possess dazzling social intelligence, a zest for change, and above all, vision that allows them to set their sights on the "things that truly merit attention.

Great man theories assume that the capacity for leadership is inherent - that great leaders are born, not made. These theories often portray great leaders as heroic, mythic and destined to rise to leadership when needed. The term "Great Man" was used because, at the time, leadership was thought of primarily as a male quality, especially in terms of military leadership.

Similar in some ways to "Great Man" theories, trait theories assume that people inherit certain qualities and traits that make them better suited to leadership. Trait theories often identify particular personality or behavioral characteristics shared by leaders. If particular traits are key features of leadership, then how do we explain people who possess those qualities but are not leaders? This question is one of the difficulties in using trait theories to explain leadership.

Behavioral theories of leadership are based upon the belief that great leaders are made, not born. Rooted in behaviorism, this leadership theory focuses on the actions of leaders not on mental qualities or internal states. According to this theory, people can learn to become leaders through teaching and observation.

Understanding how and when to share leadership roles is an important leadership skill. A trip is safer and the successes and failures of the experience are more readily accessible to the participants if they feel control over the outcome. Appropriate sharing of leadership jobs in the effective and psychological domains is a way to include participants more in the internal process of the trip-and, by extension, in the group accomplishments, both tangible and intangible. Through this lesson students can learn about the responsible, effective, and psychological functions of a leader and learn more about doing all three jobs as a leader as well as sharing the jobs appropriately.


Three functions of leadership are essential to the welfare of a group: responsible leadership, effective leadership, and psychological leadership (Berne 1963; Clarke 1983).

The responsible leader is the person with a title and the person who, if anything goes wrong, is called to account by a higher authority. The responsible leader has the last word on safety issues and must constantly be mindful of safety considerations. This person has the ultimate responsibility for maintaining the goal of the trip or program. As part of the responsible leadership job, the leader is constantly monitoring the group members and thinking about the group's process.

An effective leader makes sure things get done and also may be the one who does those things. This includes taking leadership, for example, in problem solving, getting the canoes loaded, starting dinner, and teaching participants how to kayak. The effective leader gives direction, and the direction is most likely followed.

A psychological leader motivates group members and self, encourages and supports group members, and tends to the emotional needs of group members and self and other relationship considerations.

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