Ever thought of yourself as a leader? If so, what kind of leader? Do you lead by example? By showing others? By exuding confidence? Or do you do it simply by thinking?
Cognitive leadership is growing and changing the world. Let me share with you what I mean.
I believe that cognitive leadership has helped tremendously in the fight for the human rights of the GLBTQI community. Such a change in thinking has given the GLBTQI community a voice and a confidence that we have not seen before. I think you would probably agree that the notion that we are now in the age of being heavily influenced by social media is an understatement, yes?
Well, even if we do not aspire to being interested in pop culture or impacted by television or movies, most of us are privy to names like Ellen DeGeneres, Lady Gaga, Anne Hathaway, and/or Neil Patrick Harris despite our desire to run the other way. They are hard to miss and they are leaders because they think loudly.
Yep, that’s right. They think loudly.
Not only are they prominent entertainers, but they have all spoken out very loudly in their support of gay rights, either by being gay themselves with no apology or being empathetic of those who are. By these thoughts, that have led to actions, some inadvertently, they have become cognitive leaders of our time. By being such leaders, in the way they behave, engage and motivate others, as well as inform the public, they have unconsciously influenced others’ behaviors and ways of thinking (Lord & Brown, 2001 as cited in Avolio, Walumbwa, & Weber, 2009). They have presented to the public certain values that have created change in others.
For instance, many of us may remember Neil Patrick Harris as the little boy who played Doogie Howser on television – a cute little boy that was never in any sort of trouble that many young stars find themselves in. He grew up to become a well-respected entertainer and was also very open about being gay, despite playing a pompous heterosexual playboy in How I Met Your Mother. He is now married to his partner and they have adopted two children. He has become the poster child for a “normal” guy when, for a long while, being gay was considered “abnormal.” He has become a cognitive leader that has influenced many people who may not have necessarily thought this of the gay community beforehand.
An important part of the cognitive leadership role is self-concept. Self-concept consists of a multiple identity of our self-views, current goals, and our possible selves (Lord & Brown 2004 as cited in Avolio, et al., 2009). A leader “activates a speciﬁc identity to which followers can relate, creating a collective identity that the follower ultimately embraces as his or her own” (Lord & Brown, 2001 as cited in Avolio, et al., 2009, p. 427). The public related to Neil Patrick Harris. Whether they wanted to or not.
And what about Ellen Degeneres? She came out on television way before the public was ready to embrace that cognitive idea. But she forged ahead anyway. Now, her healthy self concept, her no apologies, here I am regardless of whether you are comfortable or not attitude has helped breed acceptance in others. That’s a cognitive leader, people. By seeing her make fun of herself, dance shamelessly, and be in love with her wife just like any heterosexual couple (imagine that!), she has bridged a gap between her actions and her follower’s actions and thoughts.
People such as this are seen as strong individuals with likeable personalities who have surpassed the bullying and the name calling and have, in turn, helped change the behaviors and attitudes of others (Homan, 2011). They have made it safer for those who are gay to come out and they have made it normal to be gay. By having wonderful self-concepts that are hard to ignore, Ellen and Neil are examples of cognitive leaders that “motivate and develop followers into better followers or leaders themselves” (p. 427).
What leaders who adhere to this theory manage to do, whether on purpose or accidentally, is to build a new schema or concept of an ideal. They have a sense of power, which is the “capacity to move people in a desired direction to accomplish some end” (Homan, 2011, p. 154). They have a willingness to use that power through the use of the large network of social media with a plethora of constituencies (Homan, 2011).
When such positive role models who also happen to be gay are out there displaying healthy self-concepts, and showing that they are just like anyone else but uniquely his or her own self as well, this not only changes perceptions, but changes overall ideals. I am proud to be a part of a world that has strong female and male figures who are also part of the GLBTQI community and are changing the world’s thinking for the better. Such cognitive leaders have helped expand the minds of others and helped our world as a whole embrace positive social change. Kudos to them.
So, go ahead. Think out loud. Change the world.
Homan, M. S. (2011). Promoting community change: Making it happen in the real world (5th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole. Chapter 6, “Power” (pp. 153–178), Chapter 7, “Powerful Planning” (pp. 179–205)
Avolio, B. J., Walumbwa, F. O., & Weber, T. J. (2009). Leadership: Current theories, research, and future directions. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 421–449.