Forget the notion of projecting winning charisma, sharp intelligence and an aura of absolute authority. Researchers who study leadership say those traits are not the ultimate keys to greatness. Good leadership isn’t something you can create by yourself—after all, the followers have their own ideas and needs. And although coercion through carrot (reward) or stick (punishment) may be sufficient to achieve short-term goals, neither will change minds and hearts.
As social psychologists Stephen D. Reicher, S. Alexander Haslam and Michael J. Platow describe in their cover story, “The New Psychology of Leadership,” heads of state and bosses alike must work to understand the values and opinions of their citizens or team members. The goal is a dialogue about what the group embodies and stands for—and thus how it should act. The best leaders, therefore, shape what their followers want to do by molding the group's identity in ways that promote their agendas. For more, follow us to page 22.
Exerting influence over another individual's decisions and thoughts about any given issue can be as simple as adjusting how you broach the topic or pose the question. Intriguing research shows that the language used profoundly biases the choices we make. In “When Words Decide,” starting on page 36, psychologist Barry Schwartz explains how descriptions may steer not only what we select but also whether we enjoy or appreciate that option.
Complex social give-and-take is at work in humanity's virtual worlds as well. Tens of millions of people send checks to perfect strangers they encounter on the Internet at eBay. Why? Logically, it would be most profitable for sellers to pocket the money from would-be buyers without shipping the merchandise. They don’t do so, however, because it's not fair. Buyers know that, so they trust sellers to hold up their end of the bargain. “Is Greed Good?” asks Christoph Uhlhaas in his article, which begins on page 60. Whether they have consciously considered the matter or not, people who use eBay intuitively know the answer.