Academic journal article Review of European Studies

Studying Leadership in the Context of Existential Personality Psychology

Academic journal article Review of European Studies

Studying Leadership in the Context of Existential Personality Psychology

Article excerpt


The author suggests two new principles of addressing the phenomenon of leadership: 1) leadership is an integral trait of personality and represents a person's willingness and ability to influence the environment with his values and ideas. Existential reflection is the necessary basis of leadership. 2) Leadership is a phenomenon of "psychic reality" and may differ from one culture to another. The article describes a series of experiments that examine the personality qualities most frequently associated with leadership in the Russian mass consciousness.

Keywords: psychic reality, psychology of personality, existential psychology, existential reflection, proactive psychic activity, leadership, personality traits, repertoire grids technique

1. Introduction

Psychology of leadership is one of the popular research topics in contemporary social psychology. It can be explained by the fact that there are now more and more evidence of the influence that acts of leadership can exert on various social processes, ranging from family matters and classroom behavior to running corporations and even nations. In our media-governed world successful leaders quickly become universal role models, with millions aspiring to emulate their life styles and philosophies. Leadership training courses are suggested by all business schools, and books about leadership and its secrets top the charts of best-sellers. However, there is still no recognized system or school that could reliably "produce" leaders. We do not even have an understanding of the notion of leadership that would be shared by majority of researchers and coaches. This contradiction between growing interest to the phenomenon of leadership and the abundance of available information-and distinct lack of serious results in leadership training worldwide, as well as inconsistency of scientific studies of this phenomenon, makes our research important for understanding what leadership truly is and how it can be recognized and developed-provided such development is possible at all.

We suggest two main principles of addressing the phenomenon of leadership that would help overcome both the terminological chaos caused by often contradictory understandings of leadership, and the rift between theoretical studies of the phenomenon and their later practical application. First, we draw a bold line between "leadership" and "administration" and define leadership as an integral trait of personality which is expressed through the person's ability to exert purposeful and targeted influence on other people and socio-psychological processes by means of creating values and organizing activities corresponding to these values. According to this understanding, running a successful corporation does not necessarily make you a leader; in fact, no amount of prestige or profit can make a leader. Leadership is all about inner values and the person's ability to express these values, to find and organize followers-which makes leadership more a personality phenomenon than a function of in-group interaction. Leadership starts with the person creating a system of values that can make people act that can serve as the meaning of their lives. That certainly makes leadership an existential phenomenon, the process of creating, expressing and fulfilling of not only values, but life meanings (as in Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning").

Second, we believe that trying to discover any sort of truly universal and objective formula of leadership is counter-productive. Leadership, as any other psychological phenomena, is subjective and can be interpreted and responded to differently by various people and in various circumstances or cultures. That is why leadership styles and models that were reasonably successful and effective in USA or Western Europe do not produce similar results when applied in Russia or Oriental countries-they are unable to overcome the differences in cultural codes. So, we suggest studying leadership as a phenomenon of "psychic reality" and paying greater attention to qualities attributed to leaders and leadership by constructs of mass consciousness in a given culture of region. …

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