What Is Leadership?

By Brad Bell

Leadership is an important concept in psychology.  What is leadership?   One important question concerns how to define leadership.  There are many possible leadership definitions.  In this article, I wish to provide a leadership definition that is different from many other possible definitions of leadership.   This may help in thinking in creative ways about leadership.

A Definition of Leadership:

Leadership is the collaborative process of developing and implementing ideas to achieve positive change in an organization.

There are some important elements of the above definition.  First, leadership is perceived to involve a thoughtful process of developing good ideas.  Leadership development is about learning to develop good ideas.  Leadership is not simply the process of communicating and implementing a vision or plan.  It would not matter whether there is someone in an organization who can effectively implement a vision or plan if the ideas that are part of the vision or plan are not likely to produce positive change in the organization.  Ideas may sound convincing, but they may be too simplistic, based on faulty assumptions, or fail to take into account all relevant variables.  The foundation of good leadership is good ideas.  The process of selecting ideas must involve extensive critical evaluation.  The ideas should reflect a full-scale model of organizational change.  This model should be comprehensive, based on research findings, and involve a complete analysis of the causal relationships among the variables.

Second, leadership is perceived to be a collaborative process.  Leadership may often be viewed as reflecting the influence of one particular person.  In contrast, the above definition suggests that positive outcomes may be a product of the collaborative efforts of a number of individuals (team leadership).   No one person may be able to develop all of the possible ideas about organizational change.  Sometimes the best ideas are an integration of ideas from a number of individuals.  Organizations should strive to consider ideas from everyone in the organization.  All ideas should be evaluated using the same objective standards (e.g., consistency with scientific evidence).  Evaluating all ideas using the same objective standards can be viewed as an element of authentic leadership.

Third, leadership is perceived to involve achieving positive change.  Leadership is not merely providing direction to maintain current standards or procedures.  Leadership is about striving for positive change that may involve creating new standards and procedures.  It may involve evaluating the culture of the organization to find ways to improve the culture.  It may also involve revising the vision and mission statements.   This element of the leadership definition provides insight concerning the leadership vs. Management distinction.  Leadership, but not management, may involve organizational change.

False Consensus Effect

By Brad Bell

The false consensus effect is one concept in psychology.   What is the false consensus effect?   Below is one definition of the false consensus effect:

False Consensus Effect Definition:

The false consensus effect occurs when one overestimates the commonness of one’s attitudes.

False Consensus Effect Examples:

There may be a number of good examples of the false consensus effect.  Below are two false consensus examples:

1.  After seeing a film a person believes that the film is excellent.  The person overestimates the percentage of people who thought that the film was excellent.

2.   A person believes that a cat is a better pet than a dog.  The person overestimates the percentage of people who agree with this view.

Semantic Memory and Episodic Memory

By Brad Bell

Memory is an important concept in psychology.  Two types of memory are semantic memory and episodic memory.   It is important to make a distinction between these two types of memories.   What is semantic memory?   What is episodic memory?

Semantic Memory Definition:

Semantic memory reflects the general knowledge we have about the world (e.g., concepts).

Episodic Memory Definition:

Episodic memory is our memory for events that we have personally experienced.

Semantic Memory Examples:

There are many examples of semantic memory.  Our knowledge of historical events is one example of semantic memory.  Memories of laws and organizational rules are semantic memories.  Moreover, memories for many basic concepts such as intelligence, compassion, and humor are semantic memories.

Episodic Memory Examples:

There are many examples of episodic memory.  Episodic memories are personal memories.  They include all the memories for the events in our lives.  These may be minor events, or they may be major events.  The episodic memories may include memory what happened on our birthdays and holidays, memories from high school and college, and memories for funny and sad events in our lives.

The Interference Theory of Forgetting

By Brad Bell

Why do we forget something?  This is an important question in psychology.   It may reflect memory interference.  The interference theory of forgetting suggest that we would forget something because other information learned is interfering with our ability to recall it.  There are two types of interference.

Proactive Interference

Proactive interference occurs when something that we previously learned interferes with remembering newer information.

For example, imagine that you took one psychology course last term, and you are currently taking a psychology course that is very similar to the psychology course you took last term.  You are finding it difficult to learn and remember the information in the psychology course you are currently taking.  This may be due to the interference with similar information that you learned in the psychology course you took last term.

Retroactive Interference

Retroactive interference occurs when newer information learned interferes with remembering previously learned information.

For example, you may have difficulty remembering what happened at a business meeting over a month ago because of information learned at a more recent business meeting.

Confirmation Bias

By Brad Bell

There are a number of possible biases in judgment.  One of these biases is the confirmation bias.   The confirmation bias is an important concept in psychology.   What is the confirmation bias?   Below is a definition of the confirmation bias.

Confirmation Bias Definition:

The confirmation bias refers to the tendency to selectively search for and consider information that confirms one’s beliefs.

Confirmation Bias Examples:

There are a number of possible examples of the confirmation bias.  Below are a few examples.

1.   A student who is going to write a research paper may
primarily search for information that would confirm his or her beliefs.  The student may fail to search for or fully consider information that is inconsistent with his or her beliefs.

2.    A reporter who is writing an article on an important issue may only interview experts that support her or his views on the issue.

3.    An employer who believes that a job applicant is highly intelligent may pay attention to only information that is consistent with the belief that the job applicant is highly intelligent.

Classical Conditioning

By Brad Bell

There are many important concepts in psychology.   Classical conditioning is one of a number of important concepts.  The concept may explain a variety of phenomenon.  Thus, it is important to define classical conditioning.  What is classical conditioning?  Below is one definition of classical conditioning.

Classical Conditioning Definition:

Classical conditioning is a type of conditioning and learning process in which something (conditioned stimulus) that had not previously produced a particular response becomes associated with something (unconditioned stimulus) that produces the response.  As a result, the conditioned stimulus will elicit the response that the stimulus produces.

Classical Conditioning Examples:

There are a number of possible examples of classical conditioning.  Below are two classical conditioning examples.

Imagine that you took a trip with some friends.  You traveled down a winding road in the mountains.  You got car sick while traveling on this road.  While riding in the car, you ate an apple.  Now, you have nausea when you see an apple.  You do not eat apples anymore.  

 Now imagine you went on a date at a restaurant where the food was very good.  You really like the person and wish to go on another date with the person.  It is possible that your liking for the person is partly a reflection of classical conditioning.   The food at the restaurant can be considered an unconditioned stimulus that naturally produces a pleasant feeling.  The person may become associated with the food, consequently you have a pleasant feeling about the person.

Illusory Correlation

By Brad Bell

Illusory correlation is an important concept in psychology.  It is
important to define illusory correlation.  What is an illusory
correlation?  Below is a definition of illusory correlation.

Illusory Correlation Definition

An illusory correlation is a belief that two things are associated
when there is no actual association.

Illusory Correlation Examples

There are a number of possible examples of an illusory correlation.  
Below are two illusory correlation examples:

1.    A person catches many fish in one place at a lake.  After that day,
the person believes that the place where he or she caught many fish is a place where there are more fish than at other places at the lake.  However, it is possible that it is actually just a chance event.

2.    On a vacation, a person travels to a city that she or he had not
visited before and a few people there are rude to the person.  The
person concludes that the people in this city are generally ruder than people in many other cities.  However, this may just reflect random events.

The Availability Heuristic

By Brad Bell

The availability heuristic is an important concept in psychology.  What is the availability heuristic?   Tversky and Kahneman (1973) proposed that people may use an availability heuristic to judge frequency and the probability of events.  Using the availability heuristic, people would judge the probability of events by the ease in which instances could be brought to mind.  Thus, using the availability heuristic, people would judge an event to be more likely to occur if they could think of more examples of that event.  

Below are some examples of availability heuristic:

First Availability Heuristic Example:

After seeing many news stories of home foreclosures people may judge that the likelihood of this event is greater.  This may be true because it is easier to think of examples of this event.

Second Availability Heuristic Example:

People who read more case studies of successful businesses may judge the probability of running a successful business to be greater.


Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D.  (1973).   Availability:  A heuristic for judging frequency and probability. Cognitive Psychology5, 207-232.