There is a lot of literature about leadership, there even is a lot of literature about political leadership, written by political scientists, philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, neuro-scientists ...
- but which of those books are the classics, which maybe the most innovative or most insightful, which the most controversial or most influential?
And there is a lot of talk about leadership, in the media, at the pup, even at work ... , almost always demanding more, better, stronger or just questioning current political leadership.
We are concerned about and we talk passionately about leadership, we write about and research political leadership - but what do we really know?
And why is it even important to understand?

Monday, December 3, 2012

James W. Pennebaker [2011]:

The Secret Life of Pronouns. What Our Words Say about Us 

Quote: "Words, in my world, are a window into the inner workings of people, a fascinating and revealing way to think about language and its links to the world around us all." [p. 17, pos. 367]

Abstract: The renown social psycholgist, James W. Pennebaker, analyzes the use of function words (prounouns, articles and conjunctions) in relation to different personalities, status, power and leadership. "By looking more carefully at the ways people convey their thoughts in language we can begin to get a sense of their personalities, emotions, and connections with others." [p. 3, pos. 133]

Key-Words: personal prononouns, function words, language of status, power and leadership, language style matching

Definition of Leadership: "Attaining a leadership position is different from being an effective leader. (...) An effective leader is someone who works and interacts with others, who makes decisions that others will agree with." [p. 193, pos. 3199]
  • the language of status, power and leadership
"Human relationships are not rocket science - they are far far more complicated"[p. 43, pos. 840] and status or power can be traced through the use language: "If you don't have power in a situation, it is in your best interests to pay attention to others. But if you are the boss, you should pay close attention to the task at hand." [p. 71, pos. 1279]

People of high status/power speak more loudly, tend to interrupt and seek physical closeness with a more open body orientation. They look at their audience while speaking, but look away while listening.

They tend to use more active language, especially revealing are function words, particularly pronouns: the more dominant people in a situation use ´we`- and´you`- words. "Most people if thrust into a high-status leadership position will likely start to talk like a leader." [p.191, pos. 3159]

  • the Meaning Extraction Method
The method looks at the most common, the most frequently used content words within essays or speech and how they are used together, searching for underlying themes via computerized factor analysis.

It allows to find language patterns and furthermore allows to draw conclusions concerning personality/behaviour patterns. 

  • the Method of Language Style Matching
The method allows to look at conversations comparing the use of function words by those participating in the conversation and how those participants adjust their language style to each other. It shows the importance of the use of pronouns and the development of identitiy.

Critique: Pennebakers's "The Secret Life of Pronouns" isn't exactly a book about political leadership but it gives us an insight into the use of language and how it relates to personality.
In so far it is an interesting read for students of political leadership.

Language: english

Assessment: recommended complementary reading

Link to Author`s Site: including exercises and lots of videos

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