Who would YOU vote for?

Scientific leadership study offers revealing perspective into leader psychology. Commentary

Mordechai Sones ,

Oren Hazan: Which type of leader?
Oren Hazan: Which type of leader?
Flash 90

The Psychological Institute of the University of Wuerzburg published a case study of one hundred young leaders in the city of Wuerzburg[1]. The age of the leaders ranged from 14 to 21, the average being 17.6 years. This may be the only scientific personality study ever undertaken with regard to leaders' character traits and attitudes[2]. The leaders represented a fair sampling in age and occupational distribution. The study was carried out over a period of two years.

The main results of the study can be briefly summarized as follows:

1. Of the one hundred leaders only twenty-eight were “spontaneous leaders.”

2. Sixty-one were “unspontaneous leaders”

3. Eleven leaders could not be definitely classified as belonging to one group rather than to the other.

The spontaneous leader is described as the leader who is both willing and anxious to assume leadership tasks without being prompted to do so by outside influence or pressure. The unspontaneous leader is described as the person who fulfills his leadership tasks because induced to do so by someone else, usually a superior. Although he may occupy the position of the leader, he has the temperament and character of the official or bureaucrat.

The willingness to assume responsibility is another basic criterion of distinction. Whereas the spontaneous leader will naturally tend to assume responsibility, the unspontaneous leader seeks continually to pass on responsibility if he has to take it on or, preferably, to avoid it altogether. Thus the “typological” study of the one hundred leaders shows that only 28 per cent of the leadership have leadership personalities, whereas the other seventy-two, and certainly sixty-one out of the seventy-two, merely have the name and position of leadership but not the stuff of which it is made. It is thus the official or bureaucrat who predominantly occupies the position of the leader in the selection of the leadership elite.

The leaders were divided into three groups according to the following criteria: How many considered their privileged positions as leaders primarily as service to an ideal? How many as comradely relation with other boys? And, third, how many looked upon their leadership positions primarily as a means of satisfying private interest?

The first group numbered only nine out of one hundred. Only nine leaders considered their position primarily in terms of service to their cause. In the second group sixty-seven looked upon their position primarily as a comradely fellowship with other boys. In the third group seventeen considered their leadership status essentially as a means of furthering their private advantage.[3]

From the more detailed description of the qualities with which these three types of leaders are respectively endowed it would appear that:

· The smallest group of only nine leaders represents the genuine activist who takes his cause seriously, for whom it is a worldview, a definite way of looking at things;

· The largest group is represented by the sixty-seven leaders who would be the natural material for a Boy Scout movement. These sixty-seven leaders are described as genuinely interested in other boys, moderately interested in abstract ideas, and fond of hikes and outdoor camping.

· The third group of seventeen leaders is described as consisting of persons who have little or no idealism or character, but enough ambition, drive, and personal salesmanship to exploit for their own benefit any given situation. They represent the selfish careerist who is primarily interested in promoting himself rather than ideas or other persons.

Thus the classification of the leadership group into three types shows the following: First, the number of genuine leaders who can be counted upon to stand by their cause and party is only nine out of one hundred. At the other extreme, those who look upon their leadership primarily as a means of self-promotion number seventeen, that is, almost twice as many as the genuine leaders. The careerists and unreliable leaders thus outnumber the devoted idealist leaders by two to one. The middle group, too, is very interesting. It suggests by its very size that the bulk of leaders have no firm convictions or loyalties one way or another save in terms of personal contacts.

In any disaster the third group of the seventeen careerist leaders will be the first to leave the sinking ship. However, like clever rats they will not jump into the cold water but will try to land on another ship bound for a haven of refuge and prosperity. The first group of the idealistic nine leaders will be the group of leaders who will probably attempt resistance as long as possible and remain loyal to their cause. The middle group will be most likely to adopt a policy of “wait and see”, and then join another organization where they can hike in moonlit nights and camp on high mountain peaks. If they are older leaders, their sense of comradely fellowship will express itself in joining or leading another organization, as long as it has plenty of meetings in which much is debated and a good deal of coffee and cigarettes consumed.

On the basis of this scientific analysis of leaders in terms of basic character traits and attitudes it would seem that we are very far as yet from having solved the perhaps insoluble problem of breeding leadership, spontaneity, initiative, and daring. This impacts the quantity and quality of our leadership, and will likewise have impact on the future of our community in every measurable way: spiritual, health, and livelihood.

Hazan: Which type of leader?
Flash 90

[1] Data and analysis in this article appeared in a book published in the 1940's documenting the early days of Nazi Germany. The book has unfortunately been destroyed and the author is unable to give proper credit for information contained within. Anyone able to identify the source of the study is kindly requested to inform the author so that full attribution can be posted.

[2] Dr. Ludwig Hemm, Die unteren Fuchrer in der HJ: Versuch ihrer psychologischen Typengliederung, supplementary volume No. 87 of Zeitschrijt juer angezvandse Psychologic und Charakierkunde (Leipzig, 1940).

[3] Ibid., p. 88.



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