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Eye on Psi Chi: Spring 2002

Leadership Matters
Peter J. Giordano, Psi Chi President, and Kelly D. Voss
Belmont University (TN)

. . . one popular leadership myth portrays the leader as a renegade who magnetizes a band of followers with courageous acts. In fact, leaders attract constituents not because of their willful defiance, but because of their deep faith in the human capacity to adapt and grow and learn."

Kouzes and Posner (1995, p. 15)

Leading an organization is a task that is universally characterized by ups and downs. As a result, being a leader can be overwhelming and at the same time highly rewarding. As any Psi Chi officer can tell you, there are many challenges in guiding a successful chapter. The seemingly simple task of scheduling meetings for officers, who are typically the most involved, to organizing and planning events can be complicated by busy student schedules and diverse interests. These issues are exacerbated when member participation is not strong. At schools of all sizes, it is disappointing to plan an event, no matter how small, only to have poor turnout and then feel like the efforts were in vain. These difficulties can be discouraging. Member participation can affect not only the success of isolated activities, but also the mood of the entire chapter and the motivation to continue attempts at vitality.

Because the success of Psi Chi chapters depends so heavily on the leadership of its officers, we thought it was worth addressing the topic directly in this essay. In the future, you likely will be hearing more from the Psi Chi National Office about the importance of leadership training for Psi Chi officers. As we thought about this essay, an important book on the topic informed our thinking about leadership issues. In The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner (1995) outline several principles for effective leadership. Although the authors' primary focus is on business and management aspects of leadership, the philosophy they outline and the suggestions they make can be implemented in many domains, including Psi Chi chapters. Certainly there are other models of effective leadership, but the ideas presented in this book make good sense to us.

Kouzes and Posner underscore five central practices of exemplary leadership: (a) challenging the process, (b) inspiring a shared vision, (c) enabling others to act, (d) modeling the way, and (e) encouraging the heart. By following these practices, Psi Chi student leaders can establish good rapport with chapter members, maintaining interest and participation as the chapter moves forward.

The first step of taking the leadership challenge is to challenge the process. The authors propose that this component requires a realistic understanding of the chapter's status quo, so that a leader can recognize and seek attainable opportunities. Getting to know the status quo helps the chapter understand its limitations and, therefore, question why things are done as they are. As a result, new possibilities might emerge. For Psi Chi leaders, challenging the process may mean looking for new programs or activities to try. For example, the Psi Chi National Council has recently established a number of new grant programs including the NSF/REU and Summer Research Grant programs as well as the new Undergraduate Research Conference Grant program. Perhaps your chapter has never taken advantage of these opportunities. Or possibly your chapter has never participated in a service project in your surrounding community. An effective chapter officer might challenge this status quo and encourage the chapter to identify a service need in the community and go for it! Any chapter activities, even if they are worthwhile, might get boring and need reinvigoration. Challenging the status quo helps breathe life into the chapter.

Keeping good records is part of understanding the status quo of the chapter. If your chapter's records have not been maintained in the past, do your best with what you have, but begin keeping records and submitting annual reports to the National Office. Chapter records should include the most mundane of facts, such as who has been inducted, as well as important contact information for members and community partners (e.g., guest speakers, service project contacts). Records should also include details of past events with information about which ones flopped and which ones soared and speculations about why. By preserving and organizing this type of information, Psi Chi leaders give an advantage to their successors, just as scientists provide complete logs of their work, including mistakes and accomplishments. This information allows future researchers to sidestep or correct the failures and build on the successes of the past.

Once the status quo has been challenged and goals for a chapter have been identified, the final four fundamental principles proposed by Kouzes and Posner are designed to sustain success and to expand the scope of the chapter's ambition. In order to get member support in reaching goals, it is absolutely necessary to inspire a shared vision with officers and members alike. It is easy enough to become self-inspired, by finding something personally engaging, but most goals cannot be reached without teamwork, and certainly the aim of member participation requires consensus and common desires.

As simple as this principle may seem, most leaders come to realize that implementing a shared vision can be altogether elusive. How do we get people to come to our meetings, service projects, fundraisers and other events? Perhaps the most effective way is to provide concrete benefits to members, from the basics that all good college students wantlike foodto more intangible rewards such as opportunities for professional growthlike research presentations, graduate school information, or the chance to make local professional contacts. If your chapter is financially viable, scholarships or research awards are also surefire crowd-pleasers. Above all, Psi Chi leaders should inspire the vision that Psi Chi membership is more than a line on a vita! Underscoring the concrete benefits may go a long way in this regard. With specific rewards to offer, approaching members with the request for their time and effort becomes less daunting and brings the chapter closer to its shared vision for the future. Faced with actual benefits, members will become more aware of all that the Psi Chi chapter can offer and will be more likely to contemplate involvement and connect to the chapter's activities.

Once members take the time to be involved, leaders have an opening to enable others to act. When leading a Psi Chi chapter, it becomes clear very quickly that the organization of almost any activity requires teamwork. It sometimes can appear that to get something done right it is best to do it yourself, but that is rarely the case. Instead, collaboration provides not just a relief in labor, but a fresh look at how things should be done. Perhaps the easiest mistake to make that limits member mobilization is to assume responsibility too quickly. Good leaders know how to step forward, certainly a definitive characteristic of leadership, but even better is the ability to step back and wait to see what or who emerges. Similar to skilled interviewers, who patiently wait through the silent moments to allow the respondent to formulate a thoughtful reaction, leaders will best serve their cause by allowing others to volunteer before jumping to task.

In enabling others to act, Psi Chi leaders cannot just talk the talk; they must walk the walk as well. In other words, leaders must model the way by setting the example. Notice the fine line between stepping out of the way to let others act and modeling the way to enlist their action. But this tightrope is worth walking. In planning a fundraising activity, for example, effective leaders should certainly participate actively in the event, while simultaneously giving others the room to step up and demonstrate their willingness to be engaged. Out of this engagement future chapter leaders will emerge, a phenomenon that is most important to the life of the chapter!

Appreciating the effort it takes to recruit and involve members, thus ensuring their continued contributions, is the final and perhaps most important key to leading a successful and active chapter. Kouzes and Posner call this principle encouraging the heart. To augment chapter vitality, be genuine and attentive in recognition of member participation. From the top, it is sometimes easy to be myopic and underestimate the contributions of others. However, it should be easier to show sincere appreciation if leaders remember how much members and other officers work to accomplish chapter goals. A wrap-up meeting at the end of the semester is a good way to review the chapter's accomplishments and begin plans for the future. Our chapter has evolved a nice tradition of breakfast for all officers at a local favorite restaurant to fulfill this purpose. To encourage the heart, a good rule of thumb is that leaders should never spend more time considering what some members haven't done than celebrating what other members have.

Psi Chi chapters are certainly works in progress, and we make no claims that we have discovered the magic bus to chapter success. Like all advisors and chapter presidents, we have experienced our share of the ups and downs inherent in leadership. We hope the ideas from Kouzes and Posner have provided you some food for thought, as they did for us, in your effort to move from a good chapter to a truly great one.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (1995). The leadership challenge: How to keep getting extraordinary things done in organizations (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Contributing author Kelly D. Voss is a senior psychology major and Psi Chi chapter president at Belmont University. Her research has focused on the effects of both positive and negative stereotypes on test performance. In addition to these studies, Kelly has worked on research projects at Vanderbilt University related to psychological factors in childhood illnesses, aspects of adolescent delinquency, and issues in child advocacy. After graduation this May, she hopes to continue research in these areas, with the ultimate goal of obtaining her PhD in either social or clinical psychology.

Copyright 2002 (Volume 6, Issue 3) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology


Eye on Psi Chi is a magazine designed to keep members and alumni up-to-date with all the latest information about Psi Chi’s programs, awards, and chapter activities. It features informative articles about careers, graduate school admission, chapter ideas, personal development, the various fields of psychology, and important issues related to our discipline.

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