Fundamentals of Social Psychology

Chapter 38: Democratic Leadership

Emory S. Bogardus

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THERE is an increasing demand for leadership which is democratic. In order to survive long in the present era even the autocrat must put on the cloak of democracy. As one way of getting at the meaning of democratic leadership, 158 persons who are known as intelligent leaders in their respective groups, among them public school administrators and teachers, ministers, business men, Federal Board men, university professors, and post-graduate men and women, and social workers were asked recently to choose an outstanding leader in American life and history who illustrates the principle of democratic leadership, and to indicate three or more things which this leader did that are evidences of the democracy of his leadership. The emphasis thus was placed on behavior rather than upon subjective traits, such as generosity or nobility of character, because the existence of these subjective traits is probably proved only by conduct over a period of time. The best evidences of leadership of any kind are found, not in what one person thinks about a so-called leader, but in what the alleged leader actually does.

When the 478 evidences of democratic leadership that were cited by the 158 judges were examined it was found that 52 were stated "subjectively" and hence were discarded, leaving 416 evidences available for study. The classification was difficult, partly because of an overlapping of evidences. The data showed at least eight different types of evidences of the democracy of leadership.

1. The first grouping into which the "evidences" fall, referred to "increasing the opportunities for the development of other persons." W. E. B. DuBois once put the idea as follows: Democracy is "a willingness to look for and encourage ability wherever found." Representative evidences of this type together with the name of the leader in each case are given herewith:

Originated the normal school for the training of teachers (Horace Mann). Led the movement for giving votes to women (Susan B. Anthony). Provided industrial training for fellow Negroes (Booker T. Washington). Brought classic music within the reach and appreciation of the masses (Theodore Thomas).

Manufactured inexpensive motor cars for the common people (Ford).

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The data in hand indicate that Dewey takes too narrow a view when he says that "democracy multiplies occasions for imitation, not occasions for thought in action."[1] Our facts show that in a democracy leaders stimulate other persons to be leaders as well as imitators.

2. A second type of evidences of democratic leadership emphasizes promoting the welfare of the group, as such. It is the nation group, the labor group, the world group in whose behalf effort is expended.

Formed a nation out of discordant colonists (Washington).

Held the United States together (Lincoln).

Made the whole country's welfare his reason for a conservative program (Roosevelt, Pinchot).

Established and maintained a confederate organization composed of many varieties of local labor unions (Gompers).

Spoke and wrote for world friendship and world democracy (Wilson).

3. The evidences of democratic leadership also indicate how the respective leaders have taken the side of weakness against power and of injustice against special privilege.

Struck off the shackles from enslaved Negroes (Lincoln).

Fought the trusts to a standstill and urged on every hand a square deal for the weak (Roosevelt).

Supported helpless women in industry against corporate greed (Brandeis).

Championed immigrants and the poor when in trouble (Jane Addams).

Took the part of the "kids" (Ben Lindsey).

4. Another evidence of democratic leadership is the leader's showing an at-oneness with the humbler members of his groups.

Identified himself with the philosophy of Poor Richard (Franklin).

In simple speech and deed he voiced the ideals of the peasantry (Lincoln).

Rode to Washington on horse-back without attendants, tied his horse to the fence and walked unceremoniously into the Senate Chamber for his inauguration as president (Jefferson).

He chose plain people, plain ways, plain clothes, and simple plainness of speech (Emerson).

Did not hesitate to talk, dine, or work with the plainest citizen (Roosevelt).

Never forsook the poor and the defeated classes, living always after their fashion (Jane Addams).

This at-oneness is sometimes simulated in order to take advantage of the unthinking. Tammany's hold over the East Side is due to what is alleged to be partly feigned attitudes. In season and out Tammany

( 437) can count on support irrespective of the qualifications of its candidates for office. The explanation is found in the activities of Tammany precinct captains who are "on the job" continually of identifying themselves with the people's immediate problems. It has been said that if there is an eviction, the precinct captain is present to render help; if there is an arrest, the captain goes to court with the one charged with guilt; if there is sickness, the captain arrives ahead of the priest ; and if there is a death the captain is on hand before the undertaker comes. The charges of graft against Tammany do not obscure the fact that the at-oneness principle is operative and effective.

5. Another trend of democratic leadership is found in the habit of consulting with authorities, even opponents, before acting.

Put opponents in the Cabinet (Lincoln).

Called in and consulted with persons of opposing beliefs as a basis for action (Roosevelt).

In educational situations, tries to understand the point of view of all persons concerned (J. R. Angell).

6. A tendency to use the discussion method of securing adjustments is stressed in the evidences of democratic leadership. This procedure differs from the fifth classification in that the leader subordinates himself more definitely. Decisions are made by the group of consultants including the leader as an individual member.

Called a peace conference between the Russians and Japanese in 1905 (Roosevelt).

Called a conference on the limitation of armaments (Harding).

Established the open forum (Coleman).

The method of leading, not by ordering but by sitting down and talking matters over with lieutenants is well illustrated by Alexander Johnson, the social welfare leader, who says :

If I (a member of the State Board of Charities, Indiana) found something I thought was wrong, I talked to the Superintendent, not as a superior officer ... but as man to man. . . I believed that a reform brought about in this way from within, was a real one, while a new procedure forced on an official by pressure from without and not really appreciated by those who must practice it might have worse results than the method it had supplanted.[2]

7. Other evidences of democratic leadership relate to the methods of carrying out decisions when they have once been determined upon.

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While these are difficult to frame, the chief one may be stated as follows : (a) By showing the way and sacrificing himself; (b) by exhibiting self-restraint and not giving in to egoistic desires and appetite.

He made people feel that he was their servant rather than their overlord (Lincoln).

He led the way and others were stimulated to follow (Roosevelt).

In his autobiography, Alexander Johnson [3] explains the democratic method of a friend in these words : "He never said, `Go ;' he always said, `Come.'" In other words, leadership that is called democratic rarely drives ; it attracts, magnetizes ; it arouses one's social nature and offers co÷peration. It consists in wanting people to feel toward you "as loving children do their father."[4] In referring to his own methods of leadership, Mr. Johnson declares that a leader (of the type of which we are now thinking) will not preclude his followers from questioning his decisions or from giving criticism. When a decision is questioned the democratic leader will give explanations both willingly and cheerfully ; otherwise, he will not be fit to lead. The significance of the statement : "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me,"[5] is found in the fact that a wholly self-sacrificing, loving personality is being lifted up and not a domineering, arbitrary one.

8. The eighth type of evidences of democratic leadership emphasizes rendering service without expectation of reward. Profits, position, power —none of these mundane and material enticements appeal. A cause is espoused for its own sake even though it cost the leader his life. It is only when a leader acts without accepting reward over a long period of time that his conduct may be given this highest of all ratings.

He refused to be made a king (Washington).

He sought neither wealth, rank, power, nor any other reward for his services to his country (Lincoln).

In examining the eight aforementioned types of evidences of democratic leadership it is seen that they fall into five classes. (1) The first three types relate to the welfare of other persons as the goal which is sought. (2) The fourth reveals the characteristic manner of living of the democratic leader. (3) Types five and six disclose manner of coming to a

( 439) decision. Because of autocratic elements, type five may be considered as only semi-democratic. (4) The seventh type explains the democratic manner of carrying out decisions, of getting things done, of securing action. (5) The last mentioned set of evidences of democratic leadership reveals "motive," and is the most difficult of all to diagnose.

It is at once apparent that in nearly all democratic leaders these five classes of conduct are not found in equal proportion. Some may be missing entirely. In certain cases the goal may be democratic; and the method of coming to a decision autocratic. In other instances the goal and the method of arriving at decisions may be democratic, but "a big stick" may be used in attaining the goal. And all of the first seven types of democratic leadership may be exhibited—but in the end for purposes of gaining self-advancement. The first class, that of seeking democratic goals, is apparently the easiest and most common phase of democratic leadership to be achieved. The fourth class, that of leading democratically by democratic means without any thought of personal reward, is evidently most difficult and rare. In its fullest and richest sense democratic leadership is personal conduct which seeks to increase the welfare of other persons, which is arrived at by the combined judgment of those concerned, which emanates from a simple mode of living, which is carried out magnetically by example, and which seeks no rewards.

A further analysis of the data [6] makes possible additional conclusions concerning democratic leadership. The first is that, barring accident, democratic leadership is possible of attainment by normal persons.[7] All above the moron level possess traits which indicate that they might qualify regarding the five phases of democratic leadership which have been summarized in the preceding paragraph.

I. All normal persons show concern in the welfare of at least a few other persons; they manifest interest in the welfare of a few social groups, as such, of which they are members; and on occasion they take the side of injustice against brutal strength. The difficulty, of course, in this connection is that of making one's attitudes all-inclusive. It is easy to want to help a few persons, one's own immediate friends, but to respond similarly toward all human beings, especially those of social groups widely different in ideals from one's own group, is a matter of broad and sympathetic education.

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2. All ordinary persons at times show an at-oneness with common folks. Even the "great" and the wealthy often "put on superior airs" for purposes of social effect, but in inner circles reveal longings for simplicity.

3. The democratic method of arriving at decisions, namely, by securing the combined judgment of all concerned, is a method any person is capable of using, unless perchance he has become possessed of fixed autocratic habits.

4. Every person is capable of setting constructive examples, and by kindly, sympathetic means of stimulating a following for a socially worthy cause.

5. Every person, at least in behalf of a few, acts without expectation of reward. Again, the difficulty of extending this principle to include large numbers of people is an educational problem of far-reaching proportions.

Despite all the difficulties involved, however, it may be said that democratic leadership activities are not reserved for the few, but rather are possible for many. If democratic leadership is not only mystically enshrined in the memory of a revered Lincoln or a "square deal" Roosevelt, but may also be found in the actions of normal persons, then the possibilities of human leadership are almost unlimited. If the essence of democratic leadership may be expressed through striving for the welfare of mankind in need anywhere, then it makes a difference how one conducts himself, whether he addresses his associates in choice English or slouches back into the use of slang, whether he speaks unfeelingly or thoughtfully and sympathetically, whether he acts wholesomely, or ten degrees less than wholesomely, whether his behavior is self-centered or others-centered.

At moments of greatest discouragement and severest defeat a person may remember that his democratic-leadership possibilities cannot be stolen from him. Moreover, he may also take courage from the fact that his very defeats afford him new sympathies and a better understanding of the struggles of other persons, and hence, may multiply his democratic leadership possibilities manyfold. What a stimulating concept, the democracy of leadership, universally available—perhaps the most dynamic and precious of personality traits.

Persons may falsely delude themselves into thinking that they are democratic leaders. A foreman who has come up from the ranks of unskilled labor may na´vely declare that he knows all about working conditions, but as a matter of fact be quite "unable to guess at the picture in the

( 441) worker's head, and hence to understand his actions."[8] The exercise of power has given the foreman new experiences and new attitudes which tend to separate him from the men working under his orders. A foreman or even a corporation president may feel that he knows the worker's mind because he himself was once a day laborer or perhaps a newsboy. He overlooks one important fact, however, that he has developed a success complex or success habits; that is, he has been moving up round by round, while the day laborers, of whom he was once one, are the victims of non-success or even repression complexes. He who has risen from a humble level of life has had success promotion experiences, and hence has developed a success complex, while he who has worked hard for a lifetime at the same routine task has experienced disappointment after disappointment, a non-promotion existence, and has acquired attitudes of defeat and acquiescence or of defeat and restlessness—depending on the nature of his experiences and on his temperamental dispositions.

A manufacturer may feel that he understands his employees who are working for him at long hours, because he himself is working ten or twelve hours a day. Even though a Christian, a churchman, and one trained in the principles of democracy, he turns against his employees when they become restless and go on a strike. He points out that he works a long day, and why shouldn't they do likewise? He forgets, however, that his long day's work is self-imposed, while his employees feel that their long day has been imposed upon them perchance by soulless corporations, interlocking directorates, and an unjust economic system. He forgets, also, that his work is full of interesting problems at which he labors hour after hour without realizing the passage of time, while the factory man's task or the coal miner's job has no new stimuli in it day after day, and hence becomes dull and stupid. The employer's work is stimulating, thought-provoking ; the employee's is devoid of mental electricity. One thinks of nothing but his work ; the other cannot keep his mind on his work, for it has nothing in it to excite him. Hence, he grows restless and mayhap revolutionary, as the employer would do if tasks were interchanged. A man working long hours at a self-appointed enterprise that is full of vibrant stimuli easily loses the point of view of other persons who are crushed beneath arduous tasks that possess no stimulating elements. With this loss in social understanding there depart one by one the possibilities of democratic leadership.

The very exercise of social power tends to weaken a person's spirit

( 442) of democratic leadership. An illustration is the president of the United States. In this connection says Bruce Bliven :

It is impossible not to swell a little when you are subtly reminded a thousand times a day of your own greatness, when your casual cough is worth a hundred feet of motion picture film, and it is a great event in the life of any fellow citizen to be seen coming down a flight of steps with you.[9]

One president of the Republic of China after another has started out as the exponent of democratic principles, but has become obsessed with the use of power and has turned out to be a menace.[10] In the United States Jefferson and those of the Jeffersonian traditions have contended for the liberties of individuals and of states, and have feared a strong federal control, and yet when they have come into power, from Andrew Jackson or even Jefferson himself to President Wilson, they have "become converted to the idea of the powerful exercise of central authority and have out-Hamiltoned the Hamiltonians. And it has been equally curious that a man of the Hamilton tradition, when his party was out of power, has always been impressed by the terrible autocracy of the executive."

The influences due to exercising power often defeat one's democratic tendencies. For example :

The evolution of Boies Penrose is an amusing commentary upon American politics in more ways than one. Three years after he was graduated from Harvard College he was elected to the Pennsylvania Legislature on a reform ticket. His election was made the occasion for great rejoicing on the part of the good people of Philadelphia. And well might they rejoice. They had at last driven a wedge into a sinister political machine that had brought the city of brotherly love into disrepute as a boss-ridden municipality.[11]

It is significant that James Bryce in the first edition of his American Commonwealth cited Penrose as an example of the sterling type of young Americans who were rescuing the municipal and state governments from the grip of the vicious boss system, and that in later editions of this book the name of Penrose as a reformer was expurgated.[12] The exercise of power has produced new experiences, new social contacts, and new attitudes. The intoxication of power had turned the enemy of "bossism" into an arch-boss.

The most promising democratic leaders in any country are not those

( 443) who grow up in the peasant class and who afterwards receive professional or business training and then enter into political or religious leadership, but those who "having achieved an intellectual and social superiority over the average peasant class yet remain members of this class and continue to share all the interests of their class."[13] It is the Lincoln type of man who maintains the principle of democratic leadership best. Because Lincoln maintained a warm sympathetic attitude he never fell from grace democratically speaking, he was able to recognize the secret doors in human walls, which he sooner or later discovered and passed through, going "unerringly to the place within those walls that was his."

The social psychology of exercising power is that of making a leader arbitrary and forgetful of the attitudes and experiences of those over whom it is exercised. Power-using habits are inimical to the exercise of sympathy, patience, and wholesomeness. A religious leader, preaching the spirit of love and meekness of Christ, easily falls into the habit of praying that "love may dominate in the world," implying that love "lords it" over people rather than serves.

A leader may undertake a position of power fully determined to act democratically, but before long finds that sometimes it is easier to act for others than to get them to act. A leader becomes so efficient through practice that he grows disheartened in "breaking in" newcomers. He tends to shift to the practice of selecting a few trusted and capable lieutenants with instructions to act for the multitudes as they think best. And the multitude through lack of proper education, through being interested in matters of a close personal nature, through bewilderment at the complexity of a large-scale social organization are content to turn over their democratic sovereignty to aristocratic leaders, providing the social control conditions remain favorable and yield them a measure of enjoyment. Many factors, thus, operate to shift democratic leadership into autocratic channels.

Democratic leadership produces results slowly. It takes time to train others to act efficiently. Tact and skill are necessary in getting persons to assume responsibility. The hopeful phase of this situation, however, is that in stimulating others to become leaders, they are being made new centers of influence. By putting responsibility upon worthy persons a leader may create a thousand other leaders.

The autocratic leader may secure results quickly and rule reasonably well, but he will produce subservient followers rather than large numbers

( 444) of democratic leaders, and hence, his leadership will not remain permanent. The democratic leader, on the other hand, by following slower and more tedious processes of social stimulation, may train up a host of leaders who will carry forward democratically his ideals to countless people. The autocratic leader may create a remarkable organization and thus perpetuate his personality for a time, but history shows, however, that social organizations built up under autocratic leadership lack the social sympathy and intelligent co÷peration that is necessary for permanence. Democratic leadership, on the contrary, throbs with the spirit of love, and therefore naturally expands into immortal deeds of mutual helpfulness.


The main shift in leadership ideals is from the autocratic to the paternalistic, and then to the democratic. The autocratic has already been discussed; the democratic will be considered in the chapter that follows; and the paternalistic will be mentioned here.

The paternalistic leader is willing to do for others, but whenever and in whatever ways he pleases. Oftentimes he renders aid as a means of self-inflicted penance for wrongs he has committed. He is willing to help individuals, but not the whole group. He will help generously a selected few, but is unwilling to raise an entire class to his own social level. By helping a few he can quiet a conscience uneasy because of wrongs he has done ; he receives much applause as a social benefactor, and at the same time the masses are left on a level on which they can be used and manipulated for the gain and power of those at the paternalistic apex.

The paternalist does things for persons or even communities, but fails to create the means whereby persons or communities "may do for themselves." Paternalism weakens initiative. It makes devotees rather than self-reliant leaders. It results in a kind of slavery, putting its recipients under such obligation that they cannot say that their souls and minds are their own. "Every time the leader does something for the community it may do for itself, he prevents the community from developing its own resources."


I. Evidences of democratic leadership fall under eight headings : (I) increasing the opportunities for the development of other persons; (2) promoting the welfare of groups as such; (3) taking the

( 445) side of injustice against special privilege; (4) showing an at-oneness with the humbler members of society ; (5) consulting with authorities, even opponents before acting; (6) using the discussion method of securing adjustments; (7) showing the way and sacrificing self; and (8) rendering service without expectation of reward.

2. These evidences relate (1) to the goal which is sought, (2) to the manner of living of the leader, (3) to the manner of coming to decisions involving others, (4) to the manner of carrying out decisions, and (5) to the "motives" of the leader.

3. Arbitrary persons may falsely delude themselves into thinking that they are democratic leaders.

4. The continued exercise of social power tends to weaken a person's spirit of democratic leadership.

5. Democratic leadership produces results slowly, because of its indirect methods.


1. What is democratic leadership?

2. Why is democratic leadership more elusive than autocratic?

3. Why is Lincoln usually rated highest in a list of American democratic leaders?

4. Why is it difficult for a democratic leader to remain democratic?

5. Why is it difficult for a bank president who has been a day laborer to understand day laborers' attitudes, after he has risen to prominence?

6. What is meant by the universality of democratic leadership?

7. Why does democratic leadership produce results slowly?

8. What is the chief advantage in getting others to do things for themselves instead of doing things for them?

9. What is meant by the evolution in leadership ideals?

10. Why do many leaders begin maturity as radicals and die conservatives ?


1. Why is democratic leadership a theme of special importance?

2. What are the possibilities of scoring or grading the democracy of a person's leadership?

3. What advantages might be gained from doing so?

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4. How would you rate in order of importance the five classes of democratic leadership that are cited in this chapter?

5. Which would you rate higher, a democratic goal as such, or democratic methods? Why?

6. Which is easier, to lead democratically or autocratically?

7. Which requires the greater ability?

8. Should an elected leader of the people really represent the wishes of his constituents, or should he exercise his own judgment?

9. Should leadership in the family be centered in one person, or should it be shared?


Cooley, C. H., Human Nature and the Social Order (Scribners, 1922), Ch. IX.

Ellwood, C. A., Christianity and Social Science (Macmillan, 1923), Ch. VIII.

Mirrors of Washington (Putnam, 1921).

Theodore Roosevelt, an Autobiography (Scribners, 1920), Chs. XII, XIII.


  1. Human Nature and Conduct (Holt, 1923), p. 72.
  2. Adventures in Social Welfare (Fort Wayne, Indiana: 1923), p. 89.
  3. Adventures in Social Welfare, p. 84.
  4. Ibid., p. 197.
  5. John 12: 32.
  6. Given in the preceding paragraphs.
  7. By persons who are not definitely subnormal mentally.
  8. C. R. Walker, Steel (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1922), p. vii.\
  9. New Republic, XXXVI: 332.
  10. Ibid., XXXVI : 328.
  11. The Mirrors of Washington (Putnam, 1921), p. 234.
  12. Ibid., p. 235.
  13. Thomas and Znaniecki, The Polish Peasant in Europe and America (Badger, 1920), IV: 185.

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