‘The Vision Thing’

As well as challenging received answers to these questions, our forthcoming book, The New Psychology of Leadership(Haslam, Reicher & Platow, 2007; see also Reicher, Haslam & Hopkins, 2005; Reicher, Haslam & Platow, 2007), focuses on four factors. As John Turner and others have previously argued, these center around the argument that effective leadership is agroup process that involves creating, co-ordinating and embedding a sense of  social identity that is shared between leaders and followers (e.g., Turner, 1991; Turner & Haslam, 2001; see also Haslam & Platow, 2001). In short, successful leadership involves creating a sense of ‘us’, and then translating this into practices that advance the interests and outcomes of the group as a whole.

1. Leaders need to be ‘one of us’

A key plank in our argument is that leaders’ capacity to display leadership will depend upon their ability to embody those norms and values that the group they lead shares in any given context. Leaders need to tap into ‘who we are’ and to project this to both internal and external audiences. To be effective they can’t stand out on a limb, apart from the group, but need to be seen as central to what the group is about and what its members stand for. Evidence consistent with this claim emerged from the BBC Prison study (Reicher & Haslam, 2006; see also Haslam & Reicher, 2007; Reicher, Haslam & Hopkins, 2005) where individual leaders could only convince followers to take up their cause as democrats or authoritarians once the views they espoused had come to be seen as representative of followers as a whole — either through their own actions or through changes in broader group dynamics that made democratic or authoritarian strategies seem attractive and appropriate.

One fairly straightforward implication of this claim is that if group activities and interaction serve to emphasize what makes leaders different from other ingroup members in a way that undermines the collective meaning of the group, then their leadership may be undermined and rendered less effective. Groups have little need for maverick leaders who are intent on ‘doing their own thing’ with no heed to the concerns of the team as a whole. This is not to say that leaders cannot be creative or different, only that their creativity and difference from others must be seen to promote rather than to compromise the interests and identity of the group. 

We have found support for this idea in studies where leadership selection processes suggest either that leaders are similar to other group members or that they are fundamentally different (Haslam et al. , 1998; Platow et al. , 2006). In the latter case, followers prove much more reluctant to support the leader or engage in group activities, and group performance as a whole is found to suffer. Along related lines, work by Julie Duck and Kelly Fielding (2003) at the University of Queensland has shown that group members show high levels of identification with their group when their leader is representative of that group — whatever course of action the leader chooses to pursue. However, if the leader is representative of another group then group members’ identification — and their willingness to do the leader’s bidding — is much lower, especially if that leader displays favoritism towards members of that other group.

2. Leaders need to be seen to be ‘in the same boat’ as followers

Following on from the previous point, one of the important conclusions that emerges from empirical research is that leadership appears to be enhanced to the extent that followers perceive that they and their leaders are ‘in the same boat’. This means, for example, that if leaders receive rewards (financial or otherwise) that are perceived to unfairly differentiate them from their followers then this will tend to undermine group (and leadership) effectiveness. 

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