What is a great leader? What is a popular leader? Are they the same? Are they the result of the same or different factors? Our naive belief in the "great person" theory of leadership, that the person shapes events and the leader creates his or her own greatness, has long been challenged by scholars from diverse disciplines who analyze leadership appeal and performance into broad impersonal forces and social-structural factors. Yet in the real world of politics, the factor of personal appeal or having (in the language of the Harris poll) "an attractive, forceful personality" is of enormous concern to campaign strategists and journalists (even if it is largely treated as error variance by voting analysts; see Nie, Verba, & Petrocik, 1979; Sears, 1969). And in the real world of history, successful leaders such as Abraham Lincoln or Franklin D. Roosevelt display such a blend of wisdom, flexibility, and good tactics that we conclude their greatness must be based, at least in part, on personal characteristics (e.g., see Burns, 1956; Haley, 1969; Vidal, 1984). Can these phenomena of greatness and appeal among political leaders be analyzed in psychological terms? Several classic theories and a good deal of contemporary social psychological research suggest a variety of models for a leader's appeal and performance. This article presents data on the psychological characteristics of one kind of leader--American presidents-- and one series of followers--American society from the 1780s through the 1960s--as an empirical commentary on (not a test of) these theories and issues
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