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Leadership as Relationship

Leadership as Relationship

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Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour34:2
0021\u2013 8308
\u00a9 The Executive Management Committee/Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2004. Published by Blackwell Publishing, 9600
Garsington Road, Oxford, OX4 2DQ UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.
Blackwell Publishing Ltd
Oxford, UK
Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour
\u00a9 The Executive Management Committee/Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2004
Original Articles
Leadership as Relationship
Micha Popper
Leadership as Relationship

The \ufb01rst modern attempt to formulate a theory of leadership appears to be that of the Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle (1841). Carlyle ascribes the entire phe- nomenon of leadership to the leader himself. It is he who leads the masses, who creates history and society, who molds the masses in his own image. Carlyle claims that general history, the chronicles of all the deeds performed by man on earth, is essentially the chronicles of the great people who acted in it. Those great people were the leaders of people. They were the ones who created everything that humanity enacted. The leader\u2019s in\ufb02uence, according to Carlyle, is not limited to the social and political level. He is above all a spiritual leader, and therefore Carlyle numbers among his heroes, leaders and prophets, whose outstanding characteristic is genius. Carlyle\u2019s hero stands above others in courage, originality, and ability to see the truth.

Marx and Engels (1968) represent a diametrically opposed approach. In their view,circumstances are the decisive factor, not the great man . They believe in the existence of a historical order that is socio-economic, not spiritual-mystic. It is the circumstances that dictate events, hence the leaders, whatever their character- istics, are bound by circumstances whose dialectics dictate development. Marx and Engels claim that people create their own history, but they create it not just as they imagine it, not in circumstances they choose for themselves, but in the circumstances in which they \ufb01nd themselves.

Max Weber\u2019s discussion on leaders (1946) is in a certain sense a conceptual solution to the contradiction between these polar approaches. Moreover, his ana- lyses helped to focus the current discussion on leadership on the informal aspects of in\ufb02uence, namely, on the distinction betweenauthority \u2014which Weber calls \u201clegal\u201d authority\u2014which is based on law and bureaucratic rules,power \u2014 derived from control of certain resources that appear mainly in con\ufb01gurations of authority that Weber calls \u201ctraditional\u201d (e.g., hereditary monarchy), and

in\ufb02uence, which has its source in personality traits and behaviors of the leader
Micha Popper
\u00a9 The Executive Management Committee/Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2004

himself as they are perceived by the people\u2014in\ufb02uence that is characterized by Weber as the result of \u201ccharisma.\u201d Weber\u2019s argument is that charismatic relations are based on perceptions and emotions that are generated by a certain leader, not necessarily connected with his place in the hierarchy (social or organizational) or his control of physical resources or powers (e.g., military). He claims that:

In charismatic relations people no longer obey customs or laws, instead, the followers submit to the imperious demands of a heroic \ufb01gure, whose orders are legitimated not by logic, nor by the hero\u2019s place in an ascribed hierarchy, but solely by the personal \u201cpower to command\u201d of the charismatic individual ( Weber, 1946, p. 52).

Weber\u2019s third distinction is the core of the current discussion in the leadership literature (see, for example, reviews by Burns, 1978; Bryman, 1986; Lindholm, 1988, 1990; Bass, 1990). Leadership of the kind that Weber calls charismatic, is largely \u201cin the eyes of the beholder,\u201d and indeed, a considerable proportion of the research literature today deals with the interpretation and identi\ufb01cation of patterns of emotional relationships between the leader and his followers (e.g., Lindholm, 1990; Shamir, 1991; Shamir, House & Arthur, 1993; Popper, 2001).

The dialectical approach to leadership, \ufb01rst expressed in philosophical and sociological thought, is re\ufb02ected in the history of psychological research on lead- ership. At the beginning, the romantic, one-dimensional approach characterized the empirical research on leadership (Stogdill, 1974; Bass, 1990). Later, after the disappointment with the \u201cgreat man\u201d approach (termed in psychological research the \u201ctrait approach\u201d), the emphasis in research shifted to the situation or circum- stances as the major factors explaining events that were hitherto explained solely through the leader (e.g., Leavitt, 1955).

In recent years, \u201cIn\ufb02uence,\u201d in senses such as internalization of values (Burns, 1978), inspiring people through vision or ideas (Bass, 1985), or building trust ( Bass, 1999) have been the major themes in leadership literature. These themes differ from the way in which people were usually moved to act in earlier periods of human history. Figures such as Herod, Nero and Julius Caesar, who are described as leaders in history books, made people act by coercion and performed acts that are today considered unacceptable. Thus, the essential difference between what was described as leadership in earlier periods of history and leadership in the modern era (after the \u201cspring of nations\u201d) is the centrality of \u201cwilling in\ufb02uence,\u201d of persuasion. This, as Burns (1978) argues, is the essence of the distinction between leadership and rulership. In this sense, according to Burns, many \ufb01gures described in the literature as leaders were rulers more than leaders. Leadership today, as mentioned, is analyzed in terms of notions such as \u201ccharisma\u201d and \u201ctransformational leadership\u201d (e.g., \u201cneo\u2013charismatic\u201d approaches, Avolio & Yammarino, 2002). But, unlike the days of the trait approach, it is discussed very much from the perspective of the followers (e.g., Meindl, Erlich & Dukerich, 1985; Meindl, 1995). As Meindl (1995) typically claims: \u201cFollowers, not the leader, and not researchers, de\ufb01ne it . . .\u201d ( p. 131). Indeed, there is a growing

Leadership as Relationship
\u00a9 The Executive Management Committee/Blackwell Publishing Ltd. 2004

body of research on leadership from the followers\u2019 angle (e.g., Lord, Fotti & Devader, 1984; Klein & House, 1995) in an effort to unravel the systematic aspects in the process of \u201cconstructing leaders.\u201d

Although inclusion of the followers in the discussion and research on leadership is a very important conceptual development, this approach still reveals prevalent inherent biases with regard to the leadership phenomenon in general and the \ufb01gure of leaders in particular. I will argue in this article that there is a need for a more complex view and for different units of analysis in order to characterize the leadership phenomenon as in\ufb02uence. But before proceeding to this argument, I will review the explanations for the major bias concerning leaders\u2014the tendency to give them exaggerated weight.


There are cognitive as well as emotional explanations for the systematic biases in the direction of magnifying the leader. Research in cognitive psychology reveals a bias known as \u201cthe fundamental attribution error\u201d ( Ross, Amebile & Steinmatz, 1977), whereby people tend to see behavior as deriving from the characteristics of the performer and to minimize information regarding situational factors. This bias may have a signi\ufb01cant effect when it comes to analyzing leadership from the point of view of the followers. For example, regular public opinion polls and even expert analysis of the population\u2019s trust in senior role-bearers and perception of their functioning, indicate that the tendency to trust them rises substantially as soon as they are elected to of\ufb01ce ( Popper, 2001). There are examples showing that shifts that occurred in the American economy due to external changes were attributed to the president elect before he had even had an opportunity to make relevant decisions (Calder, 1977).

Cognitive psychologists (e.g., Fiske & Taylor, 1984) refer to concepts such as heuristics, schema, prototypes, attributions, and similar constructs that help the individual to \u201cinterpret the world.\u201d This is an active process from the point of view of the individual and is based on cues that he or she receives. In certain circumstances, these cues may be of particular relevance to the magni\ufb01cation of leaders in the eyes of the beholder, namely to the reinforcement of the inherent fundamental attribution error with regard to leaders. Shamir (1995), for example, showed the effect of social distance on followers\u2019 evaluations. In one study, 320 students were asked to choose two types of leaders: a close leader, namely one with whom they had face to face contact, and a distant leader, with whom they never had close contact (e.g., political leaders). The subjects\u2019 attitudes towards the two categories of leaders were collected through interviews, and thoroughly coded and analyzed. In general, it was found that distant leaders were perceived in a much more stereo- typed manner as \ufb01gures \u201clarger than life.\u201d The conclusion is that when the followers

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