Leadership ≠ Charisma + Intelligence
Was sorting through my old magazines the other day and came across an Aug 2007 edition of Scientific American Mind which contains an interesting article on leadership called “The New Psychology of Leadership“. It dispels the conventional wisdom that effective leaders must always have charisma, intelligence and other “domination” personality traits. And it confirms what I’ve observed for years working in IT for many different companies: slick, charismatic, command and control leadership does not work for technology teams.
Clearly, for many leadership roles intelligence is required. Try putting yourself into a talented group of software developers without intelligence and see how far you get as a leader. What the article suggests is that emphasizing maximum leader intelligence is short sighted in the face of research showing the importance of a leader’s ability to establish a shared identity. Traits such as being down-to-earth and trustworthy can provide much more leadership value than being an Einstein, depending on the leadership context.
Leadership = Shared Identity
Analysis has revealed that the key to effective leadership is establishing and building a shared identity with one’s group, aligning the identity of the group towards planned strategies and policies. Your team/group/country must be see you as one of them, positioned amongst them, not above them. I include “country”, because it was noted that George Bush’s skill as a leader was very much related to his ability to be seen as a regular guy, not an intellectual.
Other Article Highlights
- Effective leadership is not about enforcing compliance. It’s about defining and shaping the identity of one’s group.
- From the 60s to the late 70s, there’s been a flip-flop between the view that effective leadership is borne of charisma and the view that it’s borne of the ability to identify with one’s “followers”.
- Psychology studies conducted in the 70s illustrated the power of social identities and shared goals. Although not directly focused on leadership, those studies helped clarify the need for leaders to act and be seen as group members.
- Historical perspective on Europe shows the correlation between social/national identity and the type of leader that arose. No/little social identity = autocratic ruler focused on power over true leadership. National identity = monarchs ruling as patriots.
- A social behavior experiment called the BBC Prison Study showed that effective leadership arose within the prisoners, but not the guards, because of the much stronger social identity shared by the prisoners. The prisoners more desired to resist the guards, than the guards desired to guard the prisoners.
- No surprise that favoritism and large salary gaps between leaders and their groups can easily turn into destructive forces, undermining a leader’s credibility.