Alex Haslam – Social Interactions Identity and Well-Being, Fellow
There’s an old school of thought that says the course of human history is charted by “great men:” Heads of church and state, generals and business magnates whose individual qualities of vision, courage, and charisma (not to mention rage, hatred and greed) are so powerful that they shape the fate of nations and economies.
This school of thought is gravely and dangerously misguided. We say “dangerously” because it is predicated on some major misimpressions about the nature of great leadership. We need a smarter, better answer to the question of what makes a great leader, and we need it quickly. In a world where politics, economics, business and activism are all more global, complex and interconnected than ever before, good leaders and good leadership have never mattered more.
There are some obvious problems with the “great men” theory, not least that it suggests that men are better leaders than women. There is still a strong and erroneous association in many people’s minds between female leaders and failed businesses, projects and political movements. We have found that the correlation exists, but the causality goes in the other direction: women are more likely to be put in charge of organizations that are already in trouble. We call this “The Glass Cliff.”
There are subtler but equally important misconceptions about what makes a great leader, having to do with identity. The traditional models are built around an “I-based” model of identity, where the individual’s personality is so strong that others cleave to the leader out of sheer inspiration and loyalty. The truth is, though, that the most effective leaders draw on a “we-based” collective identity –followers see their leader as “one of us.” It is group identity, not a single person, that makes or breaks the leader. In fact, to really understand what makes an effective leader, we also have to understand what makes a dedicated follower.
The Bottom Line:
“What makes a great leader?” is the Next Big Question because a better understanding of leadership is key to dealing with every major political, environmental and economic crisis in the world today.