Fundamentals of Social Psychology

Chapter 35: Mental Leadership

Emory S. Bogardus

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AN important phase of intersocial stimulation is leadership. In primitive, feudal, and monarchical societies, a relatively few people in any group exercised arbitrary control, but in modern days there has been a marked expansion of leadership opportunities, which, together with the extension of educational advantages, is democratizing leadership. In this chapter it is proposed to deal more with the specific mental phases of the subject; and in the next chapters with the social aspects. In this chapter, of course, the social elements will repeatedly come to the surface; and in the following the psychic factors will be often referred to—for there can be no separation of the two.


The bases of leadership are found in many of the qualities which have been discussed in preceding chapters. The self-assertive impulses which become organized into the desire for recognition and power are important. It is probable that everyone not mentally defective has enough initiative, original "urges," assertiveness, which if properly stimulated and trained, would result in leadership, at least to some small degree. This is an assumption that may be accepted until disproved.

A child with a reticent disposition, whose self-assertive impulses are weak or are not developed, early forms an inferiority complex. If he is especially sensitive he may falsely imagine that other persons are passing unfavorable judgments on him or making fun of him, or he may take the ridicule of others much more seriously than it is intended. He may let others lead the way so often that he reaches the conclusion that he is inferior in type and cannot be a leader. Thus a person develops an evaluation of himself as a weakling, a born follower, and so forth. He scarcely dares "to say that his soul is his own."

Slavery developed an inferiority complex in a whole repressed group ; so also the patriarchal family system. Where either parent is excessively assertive, the other tends to develop an inferiority complex, or else an intolerable situation arises, ending in separation or divorce. A strong

( 410) parental type may unwittingly produce an inferiority complex on the part of one or more children in the family. In fact, whenever assertiveness is found in a social relationship, individuals of a reticent disposition are likely to be repressed, to rate themselves too low, and develop an inferiority complex, leading to a false status of habitual followership, rather than to leadership.

There is a false and a true inferiority complex. Many persons easily underestimate their abilities and acquire a false impression of inferiority. Because such persons get the idea that they cannot do certain things, they cannot do them. They may have fine leadership ability in some lines but have come to a false conclusion because of the unscientific attitudes of other persons who seriously or in fun have been repressive. The true inferiority complex refers to the situation when a person's leadership possibilities are less than normal, and he knows it.

The superiority complex may represent a fairly accurate estimate of one's self, or it may be an inflated estimate. The latter, being a false product of social interaction, is apt to collapse in the form of personal failures. The false estimate may be caused by the undue attention that the given individual has received.

Habit also produces a superiority complex. A child in being chosen to lead and in responding a few times soon comes to act the part of a leader habitually and without discriminating between situations. He develops a leadership technique which he tends to use in all his social contacts. Moreover, his fellows habitually call upon him to lead, which still further strengthens his superiority complex.

The exercise of leadership power is somewhat intoxicating. It seems to create desires for more recognition and power, which being won, inflates the ego. Soon, short cuts to power are sought, arbitrary methods are resorted to and a false superiority complex becomes established.

Opulence, a position of social prominence, or an atmosphere of class privilege, develops false superiority complexes, even in those who do nothing, except to live upon the earnings of others and submit to a "meaningless round" of bridge parties and afternoon teas. The social heritage of the privileged tends to form superiority complexes.

Similarly, the defeated classes of society suffer from inferiority complexes, but some of their members remonstrate and stimulate a revolutionary spirit. Among the privileged, however, it is rarely that anyone rebels against a superiority class status. The blindness of the exalted, despite greater opportunities for thought and vision, is often as pitiful as the humility of the suppressed and weak.

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Marginal uniqueness, as outlined in a previous chapter,[1] is a basis of leadership, because it sets persons off from their fellows, and enables each to do one or more things better than his fellows are doing them. Inquisitiveness is necessary to leadership, for it is the inquiring mind which obtains the background of knowledge and experience that is common to leaders. A social imagination likewise is helpful, for its possessor thereby "puts himself" into the experiences, problems, and attitudes of other persons and thus comes to understand them. A socialized imagination is still better, for it habitually "puts one into the positions" of others for the purpose of serving them, without expecting something in return and without taking advantage of this understanding of others.

A fine physique is essential for certain types of leadership and helpful in all, because in the processes of social interaction the group oftentimes falsely identifies size and ability. As a substitute for a tall stature, Napoleon appeared before his soldiers on a horse. It was found by E. B. Gowin that the executives of insurance companies are taller in stature than the average person who holds an insurance policy, that bishops are taller than the rank and file of clergymen, university presidents than presidents of small colleges, city superintendents than principals in small towns, sales managers than salesmen, railroad presidents than station agents.[2] When the group ranks a tall man superior to a short man it is confusing size with mental ability. Mental ability which produces leadership is found as frequently in small or short people as in tall or large persons, and hence size as such cannot be considered a leadership asset except as it is coupled with endurance or as it is valuable for certain types of leaders such as policemen, and so forth.

Physical energy and endurance are more important fundamentals than size or height, for they enable mental ability to function continuously. They support mental ability well in times of crisis. They more than compensate for lack of stature. In the long run they enable a person to make a record of achievement which causes the group to forget the person's physical handicaps.

Mental energy and its focalization is a more consequential element in leadership than physical energy. In the clash of mind with mind superior psychical qualities assert themselves. It is unfortunate, however,

( 412) that modern social interaction overstimulates countless persons of fine psychical energy, transforming them into mental automatons. Pity rather than praise is justly accorded the college "grind," or the business man who sacrifices health for financial success. "I work fifteen hours a day," proudly asserts an able physician, but later finds himself the victim of nervous and physical exhaustion and unable to enjoy the fruits of his achievements.

Confidence in one's ability is a factor in leadership. To lead well one must feel confident that he can measure up to the occasion, or else his followers will quickly sense his wavering and become fearful. To rely on confidence chiefly or unduly to puff up one's confidence is also fatal. Circumstances will easily deflate a leader's over-confidence and generally undermine his leadership prestige. Many persons, on the other hand, feel that they cannot lead, and fail to lead from want of trying. Encouragement from friends together with being given an increasing degree of responsibility and a growing self-confidence transforms many a timid person into a fit leader.

Whatever destroys confidence is fatal. While over-confidence begets disaster, under-confidence stifles latent abilities. Hence the need of deliberate social stimulation as a means of bringing unsuspected leadership possibilities into operation. An unadvertised confidence is the best for it drives a person forward without attracting jealous or distrustful attention to him.

Intelligence tests have graded individuals regarding one main phase of personal activity. Oftentimes, the findings of these tests have been taken as final indications of leadership ability. Achievement and will-temperament tests are significant but these have not been developed far. Leadership tests, as such, are needed. If they should show positive gradations of leadership capacity, such findings are likely to be falsely interpreted.

It is hard to see how tests of this kind can discover potential leadership ability under unforeseen circumstances. As hydrogen and oxygen when put together in certain proportions produce a liquid with wholly new properties, so under the stimuli of a new crisis a person may manifest totally unsuspected leadership qualities, which no tests could measure beforehand.

Tests and ratings encourage persons to rest upon their oars. Those who rate high will feel satisfied with themselves, while those of "average" or little ability, feeling hopeless, will not develop their latent abilities. If they do not grade high, they still have enough possibilities, which if fully

( 413) stimulated and given proper opportunity may eventuate into leadership of no mean character.

Painstaking forethought builds leadership ability. The following excerpt from the biography of a college student is a case in point:

J— desired to become a public speaker and so upon entering college he applied to and was received into membership in a debating society. He did not stop with taking his place on the program once every six weeks according to his turn. He prepared for every debate so that whenever one of the regular participants did not appear at the weekly meetings and a volunteer was called for, he was ready for the emergency, and soon became recognized as a debater of merit. The next year, as a sophomore, he "made" the university debating team, although at the beginning of his freshman year he was an untrained and green debater.

A successful general foresees all the possible attacks of the enemy and hence is rarely taken by surprise. A wise public leader in any field postulates the possible ambushes, the various chances of defeat, and prepares beforehand to meet them. He is "not caught at a loss for information, nor taken by surprise." One who thus sees into the future better than others do has acquired superior leadership ability. A seer is a leader who "sees farther" and more accurately than his fellows, but these are traits that arise chiefly out of experience, knowledge, and imagination. Note the following reactions of a successful business man, Franklin Remington :

If I were a stenographer, a clerk, or an office assistant in a big company, and had ambitions to become an important executive of it, I would study that business from the ground roots up. I would learn every last detail of the domestic markets. If supplies came from foreign countries, or any of the finished products were sold in them, I would learn the histories of those countries, the business and social customs of their peoples, and whatever else was available in the line of general information. In short, I would see that I was better informed on some things, at least, than the head of my department or the head of the business. Sooner or later, when some question was under discussion, I would be in a position to volunteer information that would surprise him. Nothing more surely attracts an executive's attention to an employee than to learn from that employee something that the executive didn't know himself.[3]

A variety of interests may help to multiply leadership ability. Be for many things, Franklin K. Lane once wrote,[4] because by so doing you increase the possibilities of developing well-balanced judgments. A person in any vocation needs to support and balance himself by developing several important avocational activities. The specialist, in other words, is

( 414) always in danger of exaggerating the importance of his work, and of failing to see it in its proper relationship to all human activities, but a program of several interests will safeguard him against a bigoted leadership. The leader who has one interest only is apt to take an unduly critical attitude toward persons with other interests, and sooner or later develop into a cynic.

Power of inhibition is vital. The true leader holds himself in reserve for emergency purposes, if for no other reason. He maintains self-control ; he remains calm in social crises. Under strain of modern social life with its unending demands, many of a trivial nature, one must constantly inhibit impulses in order to concentrate properly on a few activities. Lester F. Ward did not strive for popularity, for he felt that he "could never accomplish the work he had laid out for himself if he allowed the social element to enter too largely into his life."[5] In an additional statement Mrs. Cape says that she does not believe "there ever lived a soul that practiced inhibition more than he did."[6] Of himself, Ward says that to inhibition he attributed most of his success. "Character is made up of all the moral qualities, and inhibition is the one perhaps most essential to genius."[7] . By inhibition one may own his own mind and become a leader.

The leader succeeds better than others in overcoming obstacles. He masters difficulties before which his companions quail. What others say cannot be done he does. Booker T. Washington whose leadership illustrates the point once said: "I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed."[8]

The leader is emantatory. He throws out one idea or suggestion after another. His followers turn to him for new ideas and proposals as plants turn toward the sun for light and heat. He sends forth programs to be carried out, and because of their applicability they are widely adopted. Francis. E. Clark, or "Father" Clark, the founder of the United Society of Christian Endeavor, at the organization of the society established the practice of announcing a new two-year world program at each biennial convention. By the time one program was being completed, another was on its way to the ends of the earth. Such a method requires constant study and counseling; it is creative, and it almost automatically establishes leader-follower situations. In general, it requires the leader to set ex-

( 415) -amples of activity as well as to suggest ideas. Without activity practical ideas are not apt to be forthcoming. Without it, also, followers do not usually possess the dash and vim as well as the persistence that they do when the leader exemplifies his ideas in action. After leadership prestige has been established, then the leader may cut down the frequency of his appearance "on the front lines."

Achievement is fundamental to leadership. "The chieftain in the clan or tribe was given the place of honor, because of his ability to do what his followers could not do." Romanoff, the wrestler, was once described as a man of "a thousand holds ;" that is, he had a thousand ways of achieving a certain goal. The person who does something better than I do is my leader in that respect. Achieving means experience, technique, and if repeated an habitual and hence dependable leadership.

Organizing ability multiplies a leader's effectiveness. In order to arouse individuals in support of a new cause, it is necessary to formulate plans of organization, to analyze the abilities of each individual, and to see that each seeks and finds his proper place in the organized whole—these traits are peculiarly essential to executive and administrative leaders.

Merely to build a powerful machine, however, is not enough, for such a procedure leads to a form of aristocracy if not of autocracy. The best leader is one "who makes his associates great." By this method he may perpetuate ideas and personality in the most dynamic ways known to man. A true leader builds his personality into the lives of others and thus achieves a multiple immortality.

Mental flexibility is vital to leadership. The leader is one who is "old enough to have assimilated the work of his predecessors, but not so old as to have lost the ardor and flexibility of youth." Mental habits and attitudes, as stated in an earlier chapter,[9] are not wholly determined by physical age. The best way to maintain mental flexibility is found by establishing wholesome contacts with the young, by entering into their life and interactions as one of them. A youthful attitude cannot be kept except by functioning in the mental interactions of youth.

Mental versatility multiplies leadership possibilities. The versatility of Roosevelt has often been remarked, while Herbert Hoover's aptitude for versatility has also been frequently commented upon. Note the following observation concerning President Harding's cabinet :

What Mr. Hughes does not know about international affairs—and that is considerable—Mr. Hoover does. What Mr. Mellon does not know about foreign finance—that is less—Mr. Hoover does. What Mr. Davis does not

(416)     know about labor—and that is everything—Mr. Hoover does. What Mr. Wallace does not know about farm marketing—and that is nothing—Mr. Hoover does.

Herbert Hoover is the most useful supplement of the administration. He possesses a variety of experiences, gained in making money abroad, in administering the Belgian relief, in husbanding the world's food supply after our entrance into the War, in helping write the peace treaty, which no one else equals.[10]

In this analysis of mental leadership the importance of inheritance has been ever evident; likewise, in every instance, intersocial stimulation has functioned. The two, heredity and social stimulation, explain leadership.


1. All mental interaction consists of leader and follower phenomena.

2. The desire for recognition is one of the most important traits that underlie leadership.

3. Marginal uniqueness of personality is a fruitful source of leadership.

4. The focalization of psychic energy produces leadership.

5. Intelligence tests, while significant, do not give a full measurement of leadership qualities.

6. Inhibition is characteristic of most leaders.

7. The leader radiates stimuli.

8. Achieving is the best test of leadership.

9. Organizing ability multiplies leadership.

10. Mental flexibility and versatility prolongs and enhances leadership.


1. What is leadership?

2. What is the most common type of leadership?

3. How is the desire for recognition both a help and a hindrance in leadership?

4. Why is marginal uniqueness in itself a leadership trait?

5. Why does the group falsely rate physical size as a leadership quality?

6. What is the chief value and the main weakness in self-confidence as a leadership factor?

7. What is the danger in stressing the results of intelligence tests in estimating leadership ability?

8. Illustrate the way in which inhibition explains leadership.


9. Why is organizing ability a significant leadership trait?

10. When is organizing ability a weakness in a leader?

11. What is the relation of mental flexibility to leadership?


1. Are leaders egotists?

2. Explain : Be your own Thomas A. Edison.

3. Under what conditions is the desire for recognition developed best?

4. Illustrate marginal uniqueness.

5. For what reason is focalization of one's psychic energy becoming more and more difficult?

6. What scientific values do intelligence tests have in determining leadership ability?

7. How does the specialization that creates leadership often produce mental habits that defeat leadership?

8. How may inhibition be both helpful and harmful to leadership?

9. How may a leader radiate stimuli and still not exhaust his supply of new ideas and procedures?

10. "Should a young man dependent upon his own efforts for support pursue (for four years) a liberal-culture college course?"


Baldwin, J. M., Social and Ethical Interpretations (Macmillan, 1906), Ch. V.

———, The Individual and Society (Badger, 1911), Chs. I, V.

Cooley, C. H., Human Nature and the Social Order (Scribners, 1902), Ch. IX.

Davis, Jr., M. M., Psychological Interpretations of Society (Columbia Univ. Studies, 1909), Ch. XV.

Gowin, E. B., The Executive and his Control of Men (Macmillan, 1915).

James, William, The Will to,Believe (Longmans, Green: 1905), pp. 216-54.

———, "Great Men, Great Thoughts, and the Environment," Atlantic Mon., XLVI: 451-59.

Joly, Henri, Psychologie des grands hommes (Paris, 1891).

Tagore, Rabindranath, Personality (Macmillan, 1917).

Terman, L. M., "The Psychology and Pedagogy of Leadership," Pedagogical Seminary, XI:113-51.

Ward, L. F., Pure Sociology (Macmillan, 1914), Chs. XVIII, XIX.


  1. Chapter XXXII.
  2. These leaders also weigh more than average individuals, but they are undoubtedly better fed and better cared for physically—circumstances which partially explain the greater weight, and are a result as well as a cause. See E. B. Gowin, The Executive and his Control of Men (Macmillan, 1915), which contains considerable data upon leadership of the executive type.
  3. American Magazine, XCIV:16 if.
  4. Letters of Franklin K. Lane (Houghton Mifflin, 1922), p. 4.
  5. Emily P. Cape, Lester F. Ward (Putnam, 1922), p. 60.
  6. Ibid., p. 61.
  7. Ibid., p. 92.
  8. Up from Slavery (Doubleday, Page : 1901), p. 39.
  9. Chapter IV, on "Habitual Nature."
  10. The Mirrors of Washington (Putnam, 1921), pp. 107-108.

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