Comparing Leaders: An Interactional Theory

By Rejai, Mostafa; Phillips, Kay | Journal of Leadership Studies, Winter 1998 | Go to article overview

Comparing Leaders: An Interactional Theory


Rejai, Mostafa, Phillips, Kay, Journal of Leadership Studies


Executive Summary

This paper proposes an interactional theory to explain the rise of leaders by stressing the interplay between sociodemographic variables, psychological dynamics, and situational factors. The theory is applied to three large-scale empirical studies of revolutionary leaders, loyalist elites, and military personalities that reply on careful data collection and analysis. The theory is confirmed, as the findings demonstrate that the three elite groups share a large number of commonalities as well as some differences. Some leadership dynamics appear to be universal, oblivious to time, place, culture, national frontier, and the like.

In this paper, the researchers propose an interactional theory of the emergence of political and military leaders (political leaders include both loyalists and revolutionaries). This theory is supported by drawing upon the findings of a serious of empirical studies. The paper offers certain projections about the traits and attributes that may motivate persons toward political and military leadership.

I. Theory

Political and military leaders emerge upon the scene as a consequence of the interaction of three sets of variables: the sociodemographic, the psychological, and the situational. The hypotheses and propositions presented in Sections I. A, B, And C below are extracted from Rejai and Phillips 1996.

A. Sociodemographic Variables

Political and military leadership is positively correlated with middle age. Political and military leaders will be in their forties and fifties upon reaching the highest office or rank. Although political and military leaders may have been exposed to political and military ideologies--and may have participated in political and military activities--at much younger ages, the development of the requisite verbal and organizational skills and the assumption of leadership roles require gestation and refinement.

Political and military leadership is positively correlated with the heightened awareness and activism nurtured by urban life. Accordingly, political and military leaders either come from the urban centers or, if born and raised in rural environments, they acquire early and sustained exposure to urban cultures. Early involvement in national affairs in urban areas--and the values and skills found therein--is likely to be pivotal to the development of political and military elites.

Political and military leadership correlates positively with the dominant indigenous culture of a society. Political and military elites of all persuasions most likely belong to the main ethnic groups in their societies. Their religious backgrounds and orientations are also of the mainstream variety.

Political and military elites are largely representative of their respective social strata. However, middle and upper classes will be over represented.

Should the foregoing propositions be confirmed by the data, one may postulate that political and military leaders are likely to experience stable and tranquil family lives. Instances of family conflicts and stormy childhoods will be rare.

As a component of their family lives, political and military leaders will have many siblings. However, one can expect the leaders to be either the oldest or the youngest children. Middle children will be under represented among political and military leaders because middle children are relatively passive and inactive.

Given their urban, social, and cultural backgrounds, political and military leaders are highly educated, many at prestigious schools and academies. It is a rare leader who lacks a formal education. Higher education, in turn, is conducive to the development of verbal and organizational skills.

Consistent with their social backgrounds, political and military leaders are likely to be cosmopolitan in orientation. They travel far and wide, gaining exposure to various societies, languages, and cultures. …

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