It is difficult to find candidates that can take over leadership, whether for a team, a company or a local government. Some of us do not feel that we are up to the challenge or are not dependable enough and some do not want to take on the responsibility. In short, we are not motivated. However, the soul of a leader sleeps within certain people. How do we find them, wake them up and develop them? Birgit Schyns, professor in the People and Organisations Department at NEOMA conducted in-depth research presented in the article Does thinking of myself as a leader make me want to lead, along with her colleagues, Dr Tina Kiefer, Warwick, United Kingdom, and Dr Roseanne Foti, Virginia Tech, United States. She offers several ideas on this subject.


1/ Believing you are better than the current leaders

Self-image plays a major role in the motivation to take a place of leadership. When we imagine that a leader has such and such a characteristic and we believe that we possess the same characteristic, we can then easily see ourselves in their place. It’s even better if we are convinced that we are better suited: more sensitive, intelligent, dynamic, devoted, honest, etc. But be wary says the NEOMA professor. This motivation works with positive attributes and not with negative ones (manipulation or tyranny).


2/ Establishing the profile of a real leader versus an ideal leader

To trust in one’s abilities to take over a leadership position, we need above all to compare ourselves to real leaders and not an idealised image of a leader. It is difficult to put ourselves in the position of a leader if the leader is outside the framework of the usual role—in a good way. To motivate candidates, professor Birgit Schyns suggests that we image the average strengths and weaknesses generally found in leaders and then outline a more attainable profile. Feeling able to fulfil a role will feed into the candidate’s motivation.


3/ Communicating the characteristics of a leader specifically suited to the organisation

The qualities needed for a “real” leader are different from one organisation to another. There is not one, single model. Whether a head of a government, ministry, luxury or industrial group, a SME or association, the desired leader characteristics are different. It is important to define these differences so that they can be communicated to potential candidates. It’s only under these conditions that we can identify ourselves and imagine becoming a leader for a specific organisation.


4/ Developing the candidate’s potential

Of course when potential leaders are awakened, their motivations begin to bloom. But no one is ready to take over leadership from one day to the next. So it is important to support leaders and potential leaders and develop their skills. From the moment when a person feels able to become a leader, they will become more willing to educate themselves, seek out information, develop their expertise and become more committed and persevering. The drive to improve is put into motion.


To go further : “Does thinking of myself as leader make me want to lead? The role of congruence in self-theories and implicit leadership theories in motivation to lead”; by Birgit Schyns, Tina Kiefer, Roseanne J. Foti. Journal of Vocational Behavior, Volume 122, October 2020, 103477. Abstract.

13 April 2021
Schyns Birgit


Schyns Birgit

Professeur NEOMA BS

Birgit joined Neoma Business School as Professor in Organisational Behaviour in 2017, after 11 years in the UK, first as Reader at University of Portsmouth and then at Durham University, later as full Professor at Durham University. After receiving her PhD from the University of Leipzig, Germany in 2001, she worked at University of Leipzig before moving to the Netherlands, where she lived and worked from 2002 to 2006 at Tilburg University and later at University of Twente. Her research focus is leadership, particularly the follower side of leadership as well as the dark side of leadership. She has published on topics including Leader-Member Exchange, transformational leadership, implicit leadership theories, followers’ perception of leadership and, more recently, destructive leadership. Birgit has edited several special issues and four books. She was associate editor for European Journal of Work and Organizational psychology (till 2011) and British Journal of Management (till 2013) and is currently associate editor for Applied Psychology: An International Review. Birgit serves on several editorial boards. Birgit has supervised several PhD students, mainly on leadership.