Leaders and leadership have been studied by social psychologists for decades. The most widely accepted definition of leader is a person who influences group activities. A leader is someone who uses social power to move others in a desired direction by getting other people to follow his/her suggestions or orders. Most people, at one time or another, have assumed leadership roles, in that they have been successful in influencing others. In order for someone to be an effective leader, he/she must be similar to the other group members, as well as be perceived by them as one of the best in the group. A leader’s function includes both task orientation and people orientation. That is, to get the job done, a leader must keep the group on task while considering the views of other members of the group. A leader can be elected by the group or appointed by someone outside it; appointed leaders are not necessarily people whom the group would have chosen. In my career as a jury/trial consultant, I have observed thousands of mock jurors deliberate. The first agenda item with which every mock jury is tasked is, of course, the selection of a foreperson to lead the deliberations process. The foreperson can be selected via nomination by another member of the mock jury or by volunteering for the role. Attorneys are intensely interested in the process by which the jury foreperson is selected. Many attorneys believe the foreperson is a “natural born leader” who exerts more influence on the group decision, that is, the verdict, than other jurors. Although some jury forepersons possess leadership ability, because the jury members are relative strangers at the time they select their foreperson, they have no way to know, with certainty, whether the person they select possesses the traits necessary to be a leader. I studied foreperson election for a few years in an attempt to ascertain whether the attorneys’ assumptions about their leadership qualities were accurate. I found that, contrary to what many attorneys believe, jury foreperson selection is not based on group members’ assessments of leadership qualities. In fact, many of the jury forepersons were selected because they sat at the head of the table, took a lot of notes, or appeared attentive during the attorneys’ presentations. Sometimes, the mock jurors polled their group members to find out whether any of them had ever served on a real jury; had any leadership training, for example, in the military; or had any experience controlling a group of people, for example, working as a teacher. In these instances, the foreperson’s leadership skills were generally greater than in the previous examples I mentioned. The point of this post is that leaders are present in every social setting. Furthermore, someone who is a leader in one group is not necessarily a leader in every group. The qualities of “natural born leaders,” while generally predictive of success, are not actually innate, but learned responses to one’s environment.
Organizational leadership is also a well studied field, but given our day to day work, I want to comment on the foreperson as leader fallacy that Melissa mentioned. As Melissa pointed out, forepersons are often nominated based on some form of experience. I was nominated as foreperson when I served on a jury because, after all, the others pointed out, I own a jury consulting business. An attorney friend was selected as a foreperson, well, because she is a lawyer. The foreperson fallacy is the assumption is that the one person selected as foreperson will “lead” the group. Yet, it is obvious from observing thousands of mock jurors/juries that the foreperson is often not the leader of the discussion. The foreperson may serve as a moderator. They may serve as group secretary – recording the votes. (In general, good leaders in any situation lead by example and by subtly directing the group, not dominating it.) Some forepersons in the mock jury environment end up, after being elected or designated by the other jurors, as a “figure head” leader. In this scenario, another juror steps in to lead the discussion, in an administrative fashion. This situation typically occurs when the previously selected foreperson has a difficult time giving/following instructions and/or reading the materials presented. That is, they are having leadership difficulties, including literacy. But, of more importance to attorneys is the realization that the foreperson does not necessarily dominate or control the jury. There are likely one or two others on the jury, who are outspoken and opinionated such that they become the OPINION LEADERS who (attempt to) maneuver the group discussion toward their opinion to a conclusion/verdict. There are times where the foreperson is also the opinion leader, but in my observation, this happens less often than attorneys think it does. In fact, when watching our client attorneys watch the mock jurors as they deliberate,, it is interesting to see how often they are surprised by such events. Opinion leaders often acquiesce when asked to be the foreperson – they don’t want to appear to exercise control. These people seem to know they can lead without being the official leader. For attorneys, this means a broader perspective on trying their case is appropriate; there are those who seem to think they can guess who will be the foreperson and will attempt to focus arguments on this person. That strategy is unsound. The reality is that superficial factors, like having “foreperson qualities,” are similar to other stereotypes which are often misleading. More important is communicating the case issues in ways appealing to all jurors.