Reflecting on the genesis of the study of Leadership in our course materials, a salient dimension is omitted. While it’s not uncommon for psychological models that emerged from the Behavioral school, and especially in the postwar period, to reject the origins of the contemporary study of human psychology, it is odd that beyond defining personality and stating that human personality remains fairly consistent over one’s lifetime, there is no discussion of the role of family. In particular, parental leadership is scarcely mentioned. Now that we enjoy the luxury of searching entire texts for keywords, looking for “parenting,” “parents,” “mothering,” “fathering,” “parental roles” result in very few (read: fewer than 20 total for all of these subjects) references in our textbook (Northouse, 2016).
While one could respond that examining the psychology of leadership has to do with many of the personality traits that do remain constant through early infancy through adulthood, the role of the parent, who is de facto an assigned and an emergent leader (if he or she decides to raise said child) (Northouse, 2016, p. 32) is impossible to ignore. Seeing the early research by French and Raven (1959) referenced by Northouse, the dyadic relationship among the leader and his or her followers cannot be divorced from the most important dyadic relationship of any human: that of the parent and the child.
Examples of the influence of parenting upon the development of great leadership skills are aplenty. In Michelle Obama’s biography Becoming (2018), she spends nearly half of the book on her childhood alone, emphasizing the roles that her parents and in particular her harsh aunt, who taught her piano, played in making her the strong leader she became. In particular, Obama cites the humility and strength of her father, who suffered from debilitating Multiple Sclerosis. She describes her awe at his never mentioning his illness, though it was clear to the family that his condition mediated most of their family activities.
Our class discussions featured great commentaries from Caroline, Tyler, and others whose strong examples of leadership emerged from personal stories involving parents and grandparents. This is a testament to the primacy of parental role as the leader of the child/children as the first role model of leadership and also define the dimensions of being led as defined by French and Raven, including legitimacy, power, rewards, and coercion.
While these early chapters do mention the important roles of Emotional Intelligence, human skills and crystallized cognitive ability, the only hint of the role of the parent in shaping leadership might be in the idea of environmental influences from the work of Mumford, Zaccaro, Harding, et alli (2000). One counter-argument to the importance of the role of the parent-child relationship determining the child’s future leadership skills is explored in Maria Konnikova’s piece in the New Yorker, which explains that scientists have not found a strong correlation between parental roles and the development of resilience (the capacity to recover quickly from challenges) in children (2016).
That said, if the qualities of leadership were easier to suss out, there would not be enough material for this course. I expect that as this course evolves, we will explore more of the social determinants that create great leaders.
French, J.R. & Raven, B.H. (1959). The bases of social power. In D. Cartwright (Ed.) Studies in social power (pp. 259-269). Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research
Konnikova, M (2016, February 11). How people learn to become resilient. New Yorker.
Northouse, P.G. (2016). Leadership: Theory and Practice. 7th Edition. Los Angeles: Sage Publications
Obama, M. (2018). Becoming. New York: Crown
Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2016). PSYCH 485 Lesson 2: Emotional and Social Intelligence. https://psu.instructure.com/courses/2075467/modules/items/30110379