The requirements for leaders are constantly changing, because in most cases, the previous solutions do not work. And then a new approach is needed. How to choose a strategy to win? Who is more successful in leadership: women or men? And what do a chameleon or mongoose have to do with it? We asked Professor of the Department of Social Psychology of Lomonosov Moscow State University T. Y. Bazarov about this


- Takhir Yusupovich, in your lectures you claim that “leadership is the ability to play without stopping.” Why so?

The European Football Championship is going on now, you can watch it. I was surprised at one time by a commentator who said, “You see, these teams are of different classes.” I’m not an expert, I began to listen carefully and tried to understand what his criterion of “classiness” is. And suddenly, I realized that a really cool team is when each of the players does not stop to get the ball. They move in their own directions and pass the ball along the way. This struck me. It seemed to me that this is a good metaphor for understanding who a leader is. He also does not stop but, while moving, he manages to understand several things.

What is expected of a leader? If you conduct a survey or an in-depth interview with participants, it will turn out that most often, at least three things are expected: first, an understanding of what is happening. People are waiting for the leader to tell them what is happening, where they stand and what the situation is. Secondly, the leader is expected to make a forecast: how will the situation unfold? What will happen and what should we be prepared for? And, finally, the leader is expected to be able to manage the situation itself. For example, as in a car. You are sure that when you press a certain pedal, the car accelerates, then slows down. But everyone understands perfectly well that in the situation of managing a group, such manageability is rather akin to a miracle. And the amazing significance of leadership itself is to combine “three in one.” On the one hand, the leader sets the meaning of what is happening, and on the other hand, they always do it through something new, offering a different reading of the situation, a special technological course, and an unknown solution. And for this, you need to play without stopping. It is perceived by others in this way. That’s why I liked this metaphor, everyone can observe continuity in the lives of leaders they know.


- That is, a leader is both a guarantor of success and an innovator?

He is an absolute guarantor of success, as a person with a special vision of the situation and of what can be done in this situation.


- Does a leader always emerge when there is interaction within the group?



- And how can you explain it?

There is a scientific explanation, that as soon as two or more people get together, regardless of their goals, there are always three aspects. The first one is related to the task that they are solving – they have gathered for some reason: go to the cinema, solve some mathematical problem, or establish a company. But every time there are also relational aspects: likes, dislikes, someone has a greater passion for something. And this second aspect always comes along. And the third aspect concerns the organization of such interaction and the construction of joint activities.

Therefore, leadership always arises, but it is not always possible to personify it. Often there is a moment when one person collects it in oneself. And it happens that one person understands the solution of the problem better, while someone else is the emotional leader. There is an instrumental leader, and there is an emotional leader, and then at some point, we see that an organizational leader grows up, someone who suddenly makes this road map of the movement clear and transparent for the participants. Therefore, always. This applies to both friends and family relationships.

Look at the kids: they always offer some kind of leadership option. Of course, they do not know all these aspects, but they try to influence emotionally and immediately assign roles. No one wants to be White Guards, but it’s cool to be Chapaev. I remember the Soviet times and the games that children played, including me.


- Can instrumental and emotional leaders, for example, coexist in the same team?

That’s exactly how it happens. In good teams, there is a gentle attitude to role differentiation. This is the subject of reflection. We always find someone who is better in one of these three aspects. In general, there are significantly more of them than I have named. And in bad teams, two leaders do not get along, because they struggle to destroy the other.


- Are leadership and management related?

Of course, they are related. As different sides of the same process. Management is focused more on the formal side. Management is the idea of strategic goals, what technologies can be used, planning, organization, motivation, control. And leadership is a purely human aspect of influence. I sometimes say that leadership is an enzyme.

Today, many companies discover that they lack leadership qualities. It seems that there are leaders, however, they lack leadership qualities. Leadership is going beyond the formal framework of what is happening. It is clear why this trend has intensified today: due to the high degree of uncertainty. There are no ready-made solutions. Most of the solutions that were successful in the past stop working in the new conditions. This means that there is a need for special abilities of people that allow them to work in conditions of uncertainty. What do I mean by that? The situation suggests a funny thing: to change, you need to change twice. It is necessary to change not only activity but also ideas, perception. The entire worldview should change.

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When we talk about a change of activity, it is enough to manage, to have the technologies, and describe the business processes. And when we say that we need to change our perception and attitude to this reality, then there is a need for leadership. 

I would say that there are two canonical and fundamental ways of dealing with changes. One I metaphorically call a chameleon. Who said that this animal changes the most? This is the most stable animal. Everything is changing around it. And it is constant in relation to changes through internal mechanisms. This is not unscrupulousness, but the ability to integrate into an ever-changing situation. This is very difficult. As we blink and refresh our eyes, the refreshment happens constantly, we refresh the picture. And we have to integrate into this picture.

The second approach is the mongoose approach. It’s an animal, and there were many different legends about it. All the Europeans who returned from the jungle described their surprise in their diaries and said that they saw an amazing animal doing God knows what, performing acrobatic tricks for many hours a day: pirouettes, flips, and so on. No one could understand why it was doing this. There was a good guess on the part of Norbert Wiener, who said that this animal was preparing for a meeting with a cobra. And the outstanding philosopher Merab Konstantinovich Mamardashvili once expressed his assumption at one of the conferences. It was 1978, I listened to him and was surprised that Merab Konstantinovich just used this metaphor to show that there is a space inside our consciousness in which we build a meeting with a cobra, relatively speaking. Meeting with a cobra is a very important moment.

The leader “plays” non-stop, even when they are having a rest, going to the theater, or reading a book, the scenario of a meeting with a cobra is always played in his head. Because they absolutely understand that when this meeting takes place, it will be a duel that they have already mentally won. The cobra does not know this, and for the mongoose, this is a winning situation. And it makes it practically done long before the meeting itself.

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- Does the leader always have to win? What if it’s a failure?

When leaders are faced with failure, they learn lessons. The new experience is extracted equally from victories and failures. There is a very interesting new trend: to learn from mistakes. Alexander Pushkin has a wonderful line: “experience is the son of difficult mistakes.” Many leaders use this technology: they experiment and rejoice at the mistake because it makes it possible to gain new experience and become stronger through analysis.

When we discuss it with leaders, there is a “new formation” of sorts – the “effortization of success.” It’s not just about learning from mistakes. Today it is more important to learn lessons from victories. And not everyone manages to do this because winning often resets motivation. But not for a true leader.


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- Can any charismatic person become a leader?

Charisma translates as “something from God.” Since ancient times, this word has been used to describe something that does not lend itself to a simple and reasonable explanation. Of course, the search for natural data that explain the phenomenon of leadership continues. These are both anatomical and physiological features of a person and the properties of their nervous system. In other words, that, on the basis of which the makings are realized and the abilities are formed. But you need to be aware that some abilities can be developed in adulthood, and some are quite difficult to develop. If we take, for example, such a quality as customer orientation, then we have to agree that it is formed at an early age and, apparently, precisely in those family circumstances when a child is surrounded by brothers and sisters. Training in customer orientation in adulthood is associated with the formation of the ability to decentralize, to overcome egocentrism, the ability to see the world through the eyes of another person. Experience shows that all this does not come easy for those who did not develop such an ability in childhood.

The leader’s communication skills cannot be ignored either. Despite the extensive arsenal of modern means – business communication training, public speaking, and acting skills, it seems that again, we are dealing with inclinations that manifest themselves and can also be formed in very early childhood. Let me give you an example. Within the framework of the university course on leadership, students live the essence of the phenomenon, moving along hypothetical steps from innate qualities to political leadership. Along the way, we obtain situational, team, and strategic leadership. At first, we go through these five steps by playing a small game for one and a half to two hours. The very first task that participants need to perform is to write out their innate abilities related to leadership. Initially, the task seems unsolvable. The first reaction is “How do we know? We don’t know them, it’s someone who has to name them, the adults.” Then I answer, “With adults it’s clear. Surely, you know something by listening to their description. Write that down.” After that, there is a procedure for all sorts of experiments: students are divided into groups, we have a hard situation when we need to survive in difficult conditions. In the end, all these groups must choose one leader who will lead them forward to overcome all the difficulties that arise. The candidates present their programs, and the main leader is chosen by secret ballot. After that, I ask them to describe what qualities of the applicant determined their choice. I do not know how to explain this – the research is ongoing, but the most interesting thing is that among the qualities that others noticed in this person, there are a lot of those that he described at the start as his innate. It turns out that the hypothesis about innate qualities is confirmed by the perception of others: I don’t seem to know about my innate abilities as a leader, but other people see it.


- Is the argument about whether leadership is innate or acquired over? Is leadership, after all, innate?

I don’t think it’s that simple. This is still some kind of system of ideas: I assume that these are my innate qualities, and then the mechanism of self-fulfilling prophecy begins to work. Why would it be good for the parents to see the abilities of children from early childhood, support them and strengthen them? In this case, they develop these abilities. It’s like a two-way street. We notice it and it’s real – we see the actions of a little person and what they prefer, and we say to a two-year-old kid who plays with the numbers, “Listen, I think you’re a wonderful mathematician,” this can be the basis for them to realize this prophecy. And today we talk to adults and dive into their past in search of what is the essence of this person.


- Can it be that a person cannot successfully interact in a team, but at the same time builds his life strategy “in a leadership way?”

When we talk about leadership, we often mean two different phenomena. They sometimes overlap, but in general they are different. Leadership as superiority and the desire for superiority and leadership as the ability to work in a team, lead and organize a team. These are two different phenomena.

If we talk about the first, then yes, they will be a brilliant chemist or poet. Such a person does not need anyone to be around at all, there is no need to organize anyone. Such individual leadership is quite possible, as superiority. But most often, when we talk about leadership, we mean a group phenomenon in which a person receives the authority from a group to lead it. At the same time, those who follow hope that this is the way to a decent result.


- Is it true that there are conditions for successful leadership, if we are talking about a second meaning of the word? 

Definitely. There are many such conditions, social psychology has been devoting the last hundred years to the study of this, probably. And here I would like to single out three main factors. These are experimental data that I have been recording for the last 30 years. If we generalize, we have an idea of three factors of leadership: the first factor is the way of organizing joint work. There are three classic ways. Imagine that we need to move a certain number of bricks from point A to point B. What would we do? First, we’d form a chain and move it. The second is that everyone takes a certain number of bricks and transfers them. Third, we all put the bricks together in a cart, move them all together and unload them altogether from this cart. Here they are, three basic ways. Our wonderful Russian psychologist Lev Ilyich Umansky once described this. I think it’s a classic. Over time, we realized, especially in the field of management in the 80s, that there are other types of activities with a different way of organizing work. For example, science or art. A fourth type was also described – co-creation activity. That is, when we become a chain, we act together, but consistently. When each of us took bricks and transferred a certain amount, we acted together, but individually. And when we all work together with this task, moving this cart and unloading, we act together and interact at the same time.

Co-creation activity is a special type.

Once, when I was in Boston, I noticed bricks. Again, we talk about bricks. They seemed to me like those I had seen in England. And suddenly it turns out that the houses were built earlier than the first brick factory was built. But is it possible to imagine that bricks were transported across the Atlantic in the 17th century? This is a huge risk. And we managed to reconstruct this story with the help of creative methods. The bricks were transported as ballast, that is, they were transported not as bricks, but for a completely different functional purpose. This is a kind of illustration of a co-creative type of activity when suddenly all the activity turns into a game.

Returning to the subject of football again, I watched the French national football team when there was a World Cup in Russia, the final in Moscow. I kept trying to figure out what the secret of head coach Didier Deschamps was. Some more or less clear things were noticeable: his focus on heterogeneous teams and diversity, role-playing diversity, ethnic diversity, and so on. It was obvious that he was coming from the idea of planned improvisation. As the French say, a good impromptu is the one that is well prepared. I managed to find the key during the final press conference when everything was over. This is, technically, a very serious event. Journalists, representatives of various media are sitting, the head coach is in front of them as a birthday boy, that is, a person who made world-class gold medals. They want to ask him questions, but it doesn’t work out, because these guys – newly minted champions fly in, pour champagne on everyone and run away. As soon as he changes his shirt and tries to answer, again they fly in. And then I understand that he managed to return the original meaning of the game to football. The players didn’t work – they played. And the game has the property of overcoming the boundaries of time. It’s always very difficult to get out of the game. This is a very important point.

When we talk about co-creation activities, we often deal with teams that are very light, fun, dynamic. But at the same time very successful. They achieve success by engaging in very complex activities. They solve very complex problems and do it as if playfully.

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- And creating conditions is then the responsibility of the leader?

Yes. And he is somewhere a playwright, somewhere a director, somewhere a facilitator. He gently knows how to ensure this. The leader is not a strongman, not such a serious person who cannot be approached – not at all.


- Are there any studies confirming that, for example, female leaders or male leaders are more successful?

Other than student papers, I have not seen such studies, although the topic of gender has long been of interest to psychologists. I can tell you about the statistics. If we take the middle management, there are significantly more women there than men. I do not know where this will lead. Will this lead to the fact that the top management will soon be female? Perhaps. Today, we have the highest need for intuitive decision-making. I do not deny that this developing trend is because intuitive decisions are easier for female leaders. Female leaders are more sensitive in this sense.

After all, what is emotional intelligence, if you try to answer it in simple language? This is an attribute of all living beings. If two amoebas met billions of years ago, they looked at each other and asked the question, “Will it eat me, or will I eat it?” The answer to the first question is the winning one. That is, you need to understand exactly: whether it can eat you or not, and whether you can eat it. Evolutionarily, those who are able to raise this question and answer it win.

If we talk from the generally accepted position about male and female strategies, then the first question is female, and the second is male. And in this sense, it is the female one that wins. I need to be prepared for it not to eat me. It doesn’t matter if I eat it. It’s important that it doesn’t eat me. I think that every morning, a lion wakes up with this question on one side of the savannah, and an antelope on the other. This is a vital question. When we say why emotional intelligence is important, we mean this: all the information around us, not only external but also internal, becomes a key factor for success.

I don’t want to offend men and say that they don’t have it. They do, but men need to develop it specifically, and women are given it, as we said, by nature. Remember Scriabin with his idea of synesthesia in music. Light music began with his experiments, in a sense, and with his creativity. Therefore, men have it, but men can draw this part of human qualities through interaction with women. Therefore, I think we will see a cocktail of these abilities. It's not that women have more and more masculine traits: they become purposeful, rigidly setting tasks, but men also develop feminine traits associated with intuition, slowness, the ability to pause, observe, orient themselves to recognize weak signals that men usually do not pay attention to, they need to go forward. Today we see that men are capable and do it, proving that they know how to do it.


- Is it possible to develop leadership? If so, what should I do: read more or interact in a team?

I do not know a single person who would learn to drive a car from a book: read what kind of car it is, got behind the wheel, and drove off.

Leadership is a way of life.

Leadership is what you obtain through interaction with other people. The most important point here is that leadership is a function of followers. You can’t be a leader who doesn’t have followers. At the same time, it is not the person who should say that he or she is a leader. Followers should recognize them as a leader.

What does it take to make good wine? I often ask this question and ask it myself when I create training programs. Of course, there should be good grapes on the way in. This is the first condition. Bad grapes will not make good wine. The team needs to recruit good players initially, even with potential.

The second condition for good wine is, of course, the winemakers. There must be professionals who know how to get wine from grapes.

But there is a third aspect that few people pay attention to. This is exactly what I mean when I talk about leadership. Even if you had good grapes and good winemakers, you can’t say that the wine turned out good, even if you are a good expert in this field. Others should say this. If there are no people who want to taste your wine, you can’t tell if it’s good or not.

And so, leadership is a very practical thing: something that happens all the time. The chameleon is always ready for changes due to the changing external environment. The mongoose is ready to meet the cobra because it prepares every day from morning to evening, this is its main task. And leaders have the same task – not that they are workaholics, no. This is a person who is always in the context of what is happening. I don’t know if it’s difficult: I ask the leaders, they ask me back if it’s hard for me to breathe. I answer that no. And so, we don’t notice it either.

The leaders say, “I am surprised, why people get tired. Apparently, they are not doing their thing.” Leadership is your own business, which goes beyond the formal prescriptions. This is your own project. Here I would draw the line between a leader and non-leader. For a non-leader, life is fate, and for a leader, life is their own project, which they initiate, implement, bump their heads, learn lessons, and enhance their success. But the most interesting thing is that they create an aura around themselves that you want to get a touch of, people want to be close to them because the energy is different there. First of all, the energy of creation and something new. And the desire for new things, as you know, is such a human passion that is fundamentally insatiable. A person is always striving for something new. And a leader knows this.

Photos provided by the speaker