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« Ozodi Osuji Weekly Series on Psychology 2006, #34 of 52: Political Psychology | Main | Ozodi Osuji Weekly Series on Psychology 2006, #36 of 52: Life is Relationships »

April 04, 2006

Ozodi Osuji Weekly Series on Psychology 2006, #35 of 52: Leadership Psychology

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji, Ph.D. (Seatle, Washington) --- Leaders are members of groups who study and understand what their groups want and set out to bring them about. Leaders posit goals, objectives, dreams, and visions for their groups and mobilize other members of the group in pursuit of those group goals. Leaders are people who dedicate their lives to knowing what their groups want and finding ways to satisfying them.

Leaders are not just seeking to meet their own personal goals but organizational goals. Of course, an individual can know what he needs to survive and seek to attain it. Most of us do that; it is called living on planet earth. But that is not leadership behavior.

Leadership behavior must be related to doing what a group of people desire. People live in groups and want to do what serves their group interests. Leaders are folks who do what serves group, not just individual interests. Leaders are committed to their groups’ well being and do whatever they could to serve group members interests. They are willing to work hard and long to meet their group’s desires. Whereas the average Joe Blow worker works eight hours a day and goes home, a real leader often works around the clock for his group’s interests.

There is academic debate going on out there as to whether leadership capabilities are learned or inborn characteristic. In the nature of things, it is probably both. Whatever is their origin, understanding of what leaders do and doing it is our present concern.

Leaders serve public good; leaders are persons who set out to serve what, in their opinions, and generally the opinions of others, serves the common good. They are motivated by public welfare (as well as their own personal welfare, of course). They work long and hard for the good of other people without asking for what is in it for them.

The average person asks: what is in it for me before he does what he does. He wants to be paid for his labor and services. He puts in his eight hours of work a day, five days a week and expects to be paid at the end of the week.

Leaders put in twelve or more hours a day to their work and do so for public good and do not concern themselves with whether they are paid for their labor and services or not. What gratifies them is working for the public welfare itself. Of course, if they are paid that is good but payment is not leaders’ primary motivation. Their primary motivation is doing something that serves an aspect of their group’s welfare.

Leaders are people who ask: how can I help other people rather than how can other people help me? President Kennedy summarized the leadership attitude of mind when he called on his people to ‘ask for what you can do for the nation and not just ask for what the nation can do for you”.

(Nigerians generally ask for what their country, other people, can do for them, not what they can do for their country, other people, and hence are not leaders. I am yet to see a Nigerian who has heroic leadership qualities: a person who so dedicates his life to the public that he forgets that he has an independent and separated self.)

Interestingly, if the individual sets out to help other people, other people tend to want to help him, too, or, at least, help him do those things that serve their group interests.

Leaders tend to generate public follower ship. People see the leaders’ visions, see what they want to do for the group, their passion and enthusiasm for accomplishing common good and follow them, and help them accomplish those goals and objectives. Indeed, just as leaders are willing to bend over backwards to help the people, the people are willing to bend over backwards to help their leaders accomplish their goals for them.

People will do anything to help their leaders accomplish their group goals and objectives, including placing themselves in harms way.

Define your goals clearly. Let the people see how it serves their interests. Have good interpersonal relationship skills. Respect other people. Show the people how the goals you posited are good for them and they would buy them and work very hard to achieve them.

The public generally follows charismatic leaders for the public perceives that they live for them rather than for themselves. No greater love is there than that a man should serve and die for his own people. When a charismatic leader comes along, admittedly once in a while, people are willing to die for him. It is reported that when Napoleon Bonaparte, a charismatic leader, asked his generals to jump into icy cold waters that they would do so, even die obeying his orders. They did so because they recognized his total dedication to goals larger than his puny life.

(Nigerian so-called leaders are known to be thieves and no one is willing to do anything thieves ask him to do.)

Leaders posit goals they deem good for their polities and attempt to realize them through the auspices of other people. Goals are attained through the mobilization of human labor and materials, capital.

Leaders must get other people to follow them. Leadership psychology consists in how to get the led to follow the leader. How do leaders generate obedience in those they lead?

To answer this question requires a review of individual and social psychology. In a brief essay, I, obviously, cannot possibly review the literature of a broad field. I will, therefore, pick and choose points to be stressed.

First we have to understand why human beings select certain types of persons to lead them. Not every human being is selected for leadership position.

Human beings generally feel inadequate and lack self confidence. They are always on the look out for the person who seems to feel adequate and have confidence in him or herself.

People look unto the person who appears confident and is self assured. People look unto somebody who appears to know what he is talking about and speaks with authority, that is, speaks as if what he is talking about is true (even divine truth, never mind that nobody knows what the truth is).

If a fellow carries himself in such a manner that those around him feel that he is happy to be who he is, is comfortable living in his own skin (body) and is not going about timidly seeking acceptance and approval from other people, people tend to admire him. Most people have low self confidence and poor self esteem and when they see a fellow that appears to have high self confidence and high self esteem they tend to admire him and want to be like him or her.

People generally feel weak. If they see a person who appears physically and psychologically strong, they tend to look up to him. Leaders thus generally tend to be persons who appear and or act physically and psychologically strong.

In primitive societies, the man who killed the lion menacing the village, the best at performing certain sporting activities valued by the band was most likely elected the band’s leader.

No one elects a wimpy man into leadership position. (A wimpy scholar may be made an advisor but certainly not president of the polity).

In the contemporary world, we are more likely to elect into office vigorous athletic persons. We tend to elect ex-military generals, particularly those who were victorious at wars, for our top leadership positions. This is because living on earth is always a dangerous business and we need men who can protect us from danger to lead us, not idle talkers. When there is a crisis men are separated from boys, for boys cry and call for their parents to protect them, whereas men rise up to the challenge and do what needs to be done to cope with the crisis confronting the group’s survival?

Generally, people prefer tall men for leadership positions (and this includes for work place leadership positions). What is tall is group related. Among the pygmies of the Ituru forest, a five foot tall person is tall. In Nigeria, a six foot person is tall. In the USA the ideal height for a politician is six foot two inches (to six foot six inches; anything above that one is considered an abnormally, not admired but an object of curiosity).

Leaders are men who stand strong and tall; men who are physically and psychological strong and imposing.

Leaders tend to be fearless and courageous human beings. In street language, when shit hits the fan you know who is a leader and who is a follower. When the goings get tough real leaders of men stand up and are counted, whereas chicken shit men who hide their identity and talk rubbish are ignored.

Leaders are willing to fight and die for what they believe is right for their people. Leaders do not hide; they stand up front and are willing for all to take shots (literal and metaphoric) at them.

Leaders are men who are decisive and do not vacillate in making needed decisions. Generally, human beings are filled with self doubt and do not know what to do. But they want a person who is decisive, who does what needs to be done, to lead them. When a lion is confronting a primitive band, some one must kill it before it eats some of the children. There is no time to have committee meetings and vote on how to deal with the lion. The lion must be attacked and killed now, not tomorrow when it would be too late to do so.

Men look unto decisive men, and generally have contempt for vacillating, fence sitting type persons. This is one reason why all over the world men do not elect intellectuals, artists and university professors to leadership positions (appointive positions, yes, but not political positions). Academicians tend to see problems as issues to be studied to death and discussed forever in their Ivory Tower seminars. They are mostly talkers not doers. If you relied on a typical university professor to get a job done you would not have it done. (I have had both academic and executive backgrounds and know what I am talking about. In my capacity as a CEO I made quick decisions and took the consequences; but in academia, I had to attend forever meetings to decide how to do simple things. It took six months to make a decision on hiring a freaking assistant professor. I do not have the time for such bureaucratic waste of time, so I left academia. At any rate one had to be a hare brained politically correct liberal to be in academia. I am a proud conservative, a capitalist and a believer in democracy. I have settled political views and have no time to waste debating children on issues that I have already made up my mind on.)

Apparently, professional teachers are best left to relate to children and talk forever but are not relevant when it comes to making leadership decisions. Here, we need confident men and women, folks who are not afraid of sending their relatives to the battle field and have them killed, if that would help win the war.

(Interestingly, I have the appearance of a scholar; I seem mild mannered. This appearance generally misleads folks into underestimating me. In the past, I have summarily fired top managers without sympathy. Do you do your work or not? If not, you are out of here. Only a few weeks ago, some Nigerians in partnership with me in a project misbehaved, acted like criminals, and I summarily let them go. No sentiments, no compassion, they were out the moment they acted unlawfully. I am totally a law and order person. The slightest evidence that you toy with the law and I send you packing and would not regret my action, not even if you are my own child. My daughter once skipped school and I called the police to arrest her and take her to a juvenile detention center, to learn a lesson that one does not skip ones job.)

Leaders cannot be perceived to be weak and lacking in decisiveness. Human beings simply want a self assured person who does what has to be done to lead them.

Leaders are generally selected from those who, though they can forcefully articulate the group’s aspirations, tend to be less talkative in real life. Men do not like men who talk too much. If a person is perceived as a wind bag, men suspect that he may not be a man of action, a woman may be, and they prefer a man of action in their leadership positions.

Men prefer the silent strong types who do not talk a lot but when something needs to be done spring into action.

Simply stated, men prefer men who seem to have visions, who seem to know where they are going, to lead them. If you have no dreams, no visions, no goals and objectives for the group that you want to lead, so why do you want to lead them?

I see, you are a Nigerian and in Nigeria the world is upside down. A Nigerian seeks leadership position not because of what he wants to do for the people but because of what he wants to get from the people. We essentially have criminals seeking political positions in Nigeria. These folks see political offices as from which they steal from the public and while at it satisfy their childish vanity; the crooks want to seem the most important persons in the banana republic, the most important apes in the jungle is more like it. (As I see it, a human being is a person who works for our mutual social interest, for our common good. If an individual works only for his self interests I tend to see him as an animal, an ape, really. I tend to see self-centered Nigerians as apes, not human beings. I have no respect whatsoever for thieving Nigerians. I want to put them all in prisons, lock them up and throw away the key. I do not make excuses for their criminal behaviors. I am done with understanding why criminals do what they do, I just want them punished.)

Generally, people behave differently in groups than they behave as individuals. There is such a thing as mob psychology.

In groups folks suddenly loose their good judgment and simply go along with the mob. A mob leader initiates an action and the group follows him and does what he asks them to do, regardless of whether what he wants them to do is right or wrong. Men are mindless animals in mobs and thoughtful persons as alone individuals.

Social psychology teaches us how people behave in groups: conformism to group requirements. A leader, therefore, must understand this phenomenon and not try to reason with the mob. He must select mob leaders (peer leaders) and have them do something and wham the rest of the mob follows suit.

You do not reason with the crowd, for in crowds pure adrenaline takes over and influences people’s actions, not reason.

For example, at present, there is political debate as to whether the Nigerian president should be limited to one, two or three four year terms in office. The group I associate with prefers one but not more than two terms for the president of Nigeria. They want to quickly get rid of the president so that another politician could attain the presidency and gratify his own narcissistic desires. The chorus sings: Obasanjo get out of office, so that we occupy it and take our turns stealing from it.

One asks: does it take time to accomplish anything in office or not? If affirmative, how long does it take historic leaders to accomplish all that they could possibly accomplish in office?

Twelve years appears to be the optimal time folks can be in a particular office before they run out of things to do. What a fellow has not done in twelve years he is not likely to do, ever.

So structure the presidency so that nobody occupies it for more than twelve years. You could do so by having, say, two six year terms or three four year terms. The idea is to give folks time to initiate programs and carry them to fruition.

One is not concerned about the present occupant of the presidency; he is irrelevant, what matters is what pure reason would suggest.

But the mob wants the president to quickly get out of office, so that they may have their own opportunity to steal money from the government. They are not motivated by what is good for the polity but by what they can get from the polity. Thus, a brain dead Igbo Nigerian governor runs around preaching against a third term for the president because he wants the opportunity to occupy the office of the presidency. In the meantime, he forgets to tell us what he is out to do for Nigeria. Those clamoring to replace the do nothing Obasanjo have zero goals for Nigeria. When push comes to shove they play the ethnic card and tell you that it is time for their tribe to produce the president, but a president to do what? They have no idea.

Unscrupulous leaders can peruse what social psychologists have studied and concluded about human group behavior and use them to manipulate people into electing them into office. For example, during times of economic uncertainties, people tend to look for princes on white horses to come and rescue them. If one presents ones self as strong and decisive and knows exactly what needs to be done to get the people out of their economic quagmire, the chances are that the people would select one to lead them.

In the last presidential election in the USA (2004) John Kerry came across as knowledgeable but indecisive, like he is a university professor who sees both sides of every issue and is paralyzed by inability to decide what to do about the issues. On the other hand, Mr. George Bush, came across as not particularly intelligent, but nevertheless came across as a man who knows where he is going. Bush appeared not bothered by academic debates as to what is right or wrong. If you attack him he simply defends himself. If you attack his country he would attack and kill you and would not loose sleep from doing so. In other words, he came across as natural man, a leader of natural men.

American liberals generally come across as wimpy intellectuals that no reasonable man would trust to lead him when there is fire in the house. When the polity is sailing smoothly, it may be okay to elect an academic into office, so that we have ourselves good intellectual discourse and in the meantime produce nothing, but when a country is attacked and need to defend itself, it needs a strong conservative hand that loves his country’s tradition and is out to defend it.

As for socialists, they are as good as useless in leadership positions. They are best left debating what Karl Marx said or did not say, as if what some idle European said hundreds of years ago matters in present Africa. What matters is what needs to be done, now, not yesterday, not tomorrow.

Real leaders tend to be pragmatic and opportunistic. They do what is necessary for their group’s survival and let others worry about the morality of their action. Drop the atomic bomb and prevent the death of American GIs from invading Japan and worry whether it is right or wrong to drop the bomb, later.

(What exactly is moral behavior? That which serves social interests? Is that not a pragmatic statement? If you sacrificed an individual for the good of the community, is your action good for the individual? Clearly, morality is a subject for philosophers but in the world of leadership, men do what they have to do to get goals implemented, goals that protect the interests of their groups.)

In developing countries, particularly poor ones like Nigeria, leadership psychology takes into consideration the behavior of hungry persons. Despite their noise making, their posturing as wealthy persons, Nigerians are poor persons. Folks with income per capita of less than $1000 are not exactly rich folks.

Nigerians are starving persons (their food is mostly carbohydrates and they die at age 43 from this poor nutrition and from lack of access to good medial care). These poor people tend to flock to politicians who seem capable of giving them food, money. They elect rich old men into political offices because they think that such money bags would help them get access to food.

The USA and Britain elect forty something year old men (Clinton, Blair) with vision into office and Nigerians elect sixty something year old tired bones that have no clue as to what to do to fix the house of problems that is Nigeria

In poor countries the electorate is easily swayed by appearance of wealth, not real wealth. Actually, those Nigerian politicians who appear wealthy are no wealthier than janitors in the West.

Nigerians have a political culture that precludes electing men with visions to political offices. Nigerians are swayed by the appearance of importance in politicians. Consider Azikiwe. I have read just about everything the man wrote. I honestly cannot ascertain what exactly he wanted to accomplish for Nigeria. I do not see a well thought out articulation of a blueprint of what needed to be done in Nigeria: what type of political structure Nigeria needed, his idea of what the executive, legislature, judiciary, economic programs, and education programs for Nigeria should be. I see zero vision for the country. All I see is the man’s impressionable grandiloquent English. (An inadequate feeling man may believe that if he spoke in big words that he would seem big and powerful in other people’s eyes. A self confident person speaks in simple English.) Zik bamboozled his preliterate Igbo crowd into seeing him as godlike, when, in fact, he had no useful political agenda for the Nigerian polity. The Igbos of the man’s generation would die to get him elected to office. But elected to office to do what is a different question.

Nigerian leaders are really not leaders in the real sense of the word but something else. Nigeria, a country of over 100 persons, can hardly be said to have produced a leader of world note. In Africa we had Kwame Nkruma and Nelson Mandela, but from Nigeria? Nigeria has produced no historic leaders unless, of course, you count kleptomaniacs as leaders.

To conclude, leadership, like everything else in life, has a psychology to it. In this brief essay, I call attention to the need to study leadership psychology.

Ozodi@africainstituteseattle.org

Posted by Administrator at April 4, 2006 12:58 AM

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