Leadership & social change

At times of social turmoil and change, leaders loom large. They are looked upon to stabilise the economy, resolve protracted conflicts at home and abroad, protect our jobs and mortgages, and make us believe that, in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges, "Yes, we can".

While leadership and social change are both burgeoning areas of research within social psychology (as well as sociology, political science, management, economics, etc.), they are largely considered in isolation from each other. Leadership tends to be studied either as the property of individuals or, more recently, as emanating from the relationship between leaders and followers as group members. Social change, on the other hand, is seen as an intergroup process by which people come to a collective understanding that a particular social system is untenable and therefore in need of change.

Recent research at ANU has started from the premise that such a fragmented approach is no longer viable. Social change cannot be understood without taking leadership processes into account, nor can how changes in the broader context of intergroup relations, and their affect the dynamics of leadership, be disregarded. This research provides an innovative analytical framework that allows a systematic investigation of how social identity and self-categorisation processes shape the dynamics of social power and influence and, as such, enable change in the reality of intergroup relations. It also redefines understandings of leadership and social change and the more specific question of their mutual interdependence, and also re-orients the field of social psychology and other relevant social sciences towards a more sophisticated understanding of the interplay between intra- and intergroup dynamics.

The hope is to inform the practice of leadership and social change as this research illuminates a core concern in this area - a process through which leaders and followers come to a shared vision for social change and translate that vision into reality.