The history of the psychology of leadership dates back to the days of the Greek philosopher Plato (427-327 BCE) who explored traits of leadership, and more recently in the writings of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and psychologists who adopted behaviorist theories. In an article Leadership Theory and Human Nature (2004) Mostafa Rejai and Kay Phillips discuss the writings of Plato and Freud among others. One of their conclusions was that there was a major shift in psychological theories of leadership following World War II. Theorists preceding the war focused on the leader and his ability to impose a vision on followers, while researchers in the post-war years stressed the importance of a leader-follower interaction, concluding that "without the voluntary participation of the followers there would be no leadership."
Rejai and Phillips examined the concept of the philosopher-king in Plato's The Republic (360 BCE) and how it is "purposefully and deliberately set apart from the people," the leader's primary function being the administration of justice through the establishment of harmony between the three parts of the soul - reason, spirit, and appetite, and the three classes of individuals - rulers, soldiers, and artisans. The followers are not a part of the leadership equation. The classic work Leadership (1978) by James MacGregor Burns stresses several aspects of the concept. These are that leadership is contentious in that it is rooted in conflict and power over the authoritative allocation of values for a society; it is also collective and involves leader-follower interaction, and it is "purposeful and causative" in that it leads to the creation of ideas, movements, institutions and nations.
Myron F. Weiner, writing in the American Journal of Psychotherapy in an article entitled Ideology, Conflict, and Leadership in Groups and Organizations (1999) examined the influence of Freud, who believed that members of both structured and informal groups "derived a sense of intimacy from identification with each other and projection of their super-ego onto the leader." According to Martin M. Chemers in An Integrative Theory of Leadership (1997) the crucial question to ask is ‘exactly what should leaders do to be effective?' Although Chemer focuses on leadership in modern organizations, he also reflects on the work of Plato, the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), Italian philosopher Niccolo Macchiavelli (1469-1527) and Chinese sage Confucius (551 BC-479 BCE), stating: "They usually reflect the influence of strong cultural assumptions about the bases of human nature, for example, an emphasis on individualism in the European writings contrasted with the collectivism of the Asians. "
Chemer outlined five different theories of leadership. They include the contingency model of leadership effectiveness, found in the writings of Fred Fiedler in the 1960s. Fiedler, who was a top researcher in the field of industrial psychology, concentrated on individual leadership and the traits of leaders. Chemer also studied the work of Robert House and his ‘path-goal' contingency theory which follows the train of thought that a leader's behavior is dependent on the actions of his co-workers. The final contingency theory discussed by Chemer is that of Canadian professor Victor Vroom, who looked at motivation of employees in the context of the psychology of leadership.
Chemer then moves on to discuss transactional and exchange theories, which concentrate on the relationship between the leader and followers and the mutual satisfaction of goals and needs of each party. The exchange theory is built on principles of behavioristic psychology adapted to social interactions, and employs metaphors drawn from the field of economics, including reward and cost, and profit and loss. In examining transformational leadership methods, Chemer stated: "Although theorists acknowledge that leadership occurs at all levels of the organization and that the impact of all leaders contributes to organizational performance, a fascination has always existed with the larger-than-life, earth-shaking leaders who do more than transact the mundane concerns of everyday activity. These are the leaders who foment revolutions in politics or commerce and divert the streams of history. "
Bernard Bass and Ralph Stogdill's Handbook of Leadership: Theory, Research & Managerial Applications (1981) has played a key role in developing the psychology of leadership. It was published at a time when increased levels of competition triggered interest among managers in investigating ways to improve their organizations. Chemer believes that the widespread interest in the subject meant it was easier for researchers to contact senior managers and gather more research as a result.