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The ability to take initiative in planning, organizing, and managing group activities and projects.

In any group of people, there are those who step forward to organize people and events to achieve a specific result. In organized activities, leaders can be designated and, in informal contexts, such as a party, they may emerge naturally. What makes certain people into leaders is open to debate. Luella Cole and Irma Nelson Hall have written that leadership "seems to consist of a cluster

Martin Luther King, Jr. walking arm-in-arm with marchers, leads a march on Washington, D.C. (National Archives and Records Administration. Reproduced with permission.)

of traits, a few inborn but most of them acquired or at least developed by contact with the environment." Psychologists have also defined leadership as a mentality, as opposed to aptitude, the assumption being that mentalities can be acquired. Leaders can be "idea generators" or "social facilitators." Leaders have their own leadership style, and that style may not transfer from one situation to another.

Child psychologists who study girls, and particularly educators and parents advocating equal-opportunity education for girls, have remarked that girls with leadership potential often have to struggle with various prejudices, which also include the notion that leadership is a "male" characteristic. In a study of 304 fourth-, fifth-, and sixgraders enrolled in 16 Girl Scout troops, Cynthia A. Edwards found that in an all-female group, leaders consistently display characteristic qualities such as organizational skills and independent thinking. Significantly, election to leadership posts was based on perceived managerial skills, while "feminine" qualities, such as empathic behavior, were generally not taken into account. However, in examining the research on mixed (male-female) groups, Edwards has found studies that show "that the presence of male group members, even in the minority, suppresses the verbal expression and leadership behavior of female group members." The fact that leadership behavior can be suppressed would seem to strengthen the argument that leadership is, indeed, a learned behavior.

A study by T. Sharpe, M. Brown, and K. Crider measured the effects of consistent positive reinforcement, favoring skills such as leadership, sportsmanship, and conflict resolution, on two urban elementary physical education classes. The researchers found that the focus on positive skills caused a significant increase in leadership and conflict-resolution behavior. These results seem to support the idea, discussed by Maynard, that leadership behavior can be non-competitive (different individuals exercising leadership in different areas) and also conducive to group cohesion.

Zoran Minderovic

Further Reading

Edwards, Cynthia A. "Leadership in Groups of School-Age Girls." Developmental Psychology 30, no. 6, (November 1994): 920-27.

Sharpe, T., M. Browne, and K. Crider. "The Effects of A Sportsmanship Curriculum Intervention on Generalized Positive Social Behavior of Urban Elementary School Students." Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 28,(1995): 401-16.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaPsychological Dictionary: Ibn Bajjah (Abu-Bakr Muhammad ibn-Yahya ibn-al-Saʼigh, c.1106–38) Biography to Perception: cultural differences