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  David Messick
© Evanston Photographic
Professor David Messick
  The Psychology of Leadership

Faculty Bookshelf: The Psychology of Leadership

Following the leaders
Professor David Messick’s new book examines what makes strong leaders — and what happens when they fail

By Deborah Leigh Wood

David Messick sits at his office computer, types in “leadership” at and up pop more than 92,000 entries.

“Do you think they represent 92,000 different ideas on leadership?” the Kellogg School professor asks wryly. “Fifty to 100 is more like it.”

So why did he decide to add yet another entry?

Because The Psychology of Leadership: New Perspectives and Research offers something different, he says of his latest book.

“Typical books on leadership tell you how to get to the top. But they don’t answer the question, ‘What do I need to do to be a better leader,’” notes Messick, the Morris & Alice Kaplan Professor of Ethics and Decision in Management. Nor, he says, do these books examine the underlying psychology of leadership and how people change once they climb into executive positions.

Messick has spent much of his career examining leadership as well as the dynamics of ethical and social decision making. A psychologist by training, he has been a member of the Kellogg School faculty since 1992 and has published more than 150 articles and book chapters.

Among The Psychology of Leadership’s 14 essays, written by Messick and other top scholars, enquiring minds will find answers to questions surrounding leadership failures, such as those perpetrated by Ken Lay, Bernie Ebbers, and Conrad Black, plus serious missteps by government officials and trusted members of the Catholic Church.

Messick says he was inspired to produce his book by a remarkably prescient 1998 text, The Servant Leader: Unleashing the Power of Your People. The book was penned by Robert P. Neuschel, a Kellogg School professor of corporate governance who died in February. The Servant Leader extols the wisdom embodied in a motto by which Neuschel lived: “Serve your troops first, so that you can then lead them better.”

The essays in Messick’s book address the conceptions, effectiveness and consequences of leadership. His own essay examines the changeable relationship between leaders and followers — specifically, how someone can be a leader in one group and a follower in another. He asks: “Why do people follow or allow themselves to be led? And why do people lead when leading is often costly, risky or dangerous?” He answers by explaining that a type of equilibrium exists between leaders and followers in which both parties benefit from this arrangement’s dynamics.

For the text, Adam Galinsky, associate professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School, collaborates with three other experts to contribute an essay examining how power affects leaders’ views of themselves, their work, their actions and their colleagues. The authors emphasize that power can get the best of even the most well-intended leaders. To be successful, they argue, leaders should understand how they use their power and learn to manage it effectively.

Also appearing in the book is Kristin M. Behfar, visiting assistant professor at Kellogg. She and a colleague investigate the role of a leader in regulating group behavior.

Messick says he hopes The Psychology of Leadership, which he co-edited with Roderick M. Kramer, professor of organizational behavior at the Stanford University School of Business, will enliven the study of leadership and provide insight to students, executives and social psychologists. He is donating royalties of the book to the Kellogg School’s Ford Center for Global Citizenship, of which he is co-director.

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University