Leadership is mobilizing others to take responsibility for necessary changes . But who is able to mobilize others? Who turns out to be the ‘natural’ leader of a group ? Who is the Nelson Mandela of each group ?
Scientific studies have shown time and again that it is the person who best represents the ‘we – feeling’ . The man or woman who is most ‘ prototypical ‘ for the values and norms of the group, a kind of ideal group member. In this person, we can recognize ourselves the easiest, he / she is the most “one of us ” and therefore gets the most confidence . Nelson Mandela spent 27 years on Robben Island and his picture was banned because he represented best the violent fraction of the ANC , and he deliberately dressed in batik shirts as a symbol of African nationalism.
The leader derives its influence of being similar to the group, but doesn’t coincide with it . Leadership is more than doing what the group wants and being her spokesperson or champion. They use the trust that they receive from the group to help the group progress and develop. They play devil’s advocate. They allow the group to rise above itself and become ‘entrepreneurs of the group identity’. They make themselves prototypical for the future of the group, a new collective identity. Consciously Nelson Mandela learned Afrikaans in prison, the language of the oppressor. By being witnessing the final of the World Cup Rugby as a black man, dressed in the symbol of the white people: the shirt of the white national rugby team, he symbolized the future : South Africa as the rainbow nation.
Conclusion for all those who want to do more than lead by position, but also want to be a leader: first ensure that you become one of them, and then announce your changes. Leaders are masters, not slaves , of group identity.
Reference and further reading
Haslam, S.A. Reicher, S.D., Platow, M.J. (2011). The New Psychology of Leadership: identity, influence and power. Psychology Press: East-Sussex