President's Column

"Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again." — Nelson Mandela

As I write this column, the world celebrates the life of one of the most inspiring and courageous leaders. As his wise quote conveys, Nelson Mandela taught us that leadership must be learned from failure and success,

training, active practice, self-reflection and interpersonal feedback. It is a state of mind that influences how we understand the group, institution or organization that we are leading. So much of what matters in our leaders is not their accomplishments, but who they are as human beings.

I am drawn toward a transformational approach to leadership, which values broad-based coalitions, collaboration and consensus building. I welcome input from others and appreciate it when colleagues propose and lead new initiatives. I seek solutions that build morale, bolster motivation, enhance performance, and prioritize collegiality and mentoring. I do my best to openly acknowledge my mistakes as a leader and learn from them to move forward. As an extension of this transformational model, I espouse the concept of distributed leadership; in a team there are many leadership functions to be shared, and no single person is "the leader."

Evolving trends in leadership, such as chaos theory/complexity theory, also inform my leadership style. To maintain an adaptive organization, I must serve as a catalyst for marshaling the group's wisdom and provide a platform for the group to solve the challenging problems of psychology and APA. This is consistent with models influenced by cultural and ethnic traditions that advocate for leadership from behind. While there is value in leading from the front by example, moving out of the way empowers team members and the organization to support meaningful and sustainable growth and change. This is in stark contrast to a top-down leadership approach in which those at the helm lead from a position of power and control.

My views and prior successes and failures inform my approach to serving as APA president in myriad ways.

  • I have consistently sought input from my presidential cabinet, a diverse group of psychologists. Their diverse perspectives foster my strength, bold vision and willingness to "lean in."
  • I appreciate the importance of a shared vision and hope my overarching presidential theme, uniting psychology for the future, can serve as such a vision. This theme emerged from listening to people throughout our association and beyond. I will strive to inspire you to collaborate with me and others on this goal and related presidential initiatives, which are: facilitating transitions from doctoral education to first job, translating psychological science to the public and promoting psychologically informed patient-centered medical homes.
  • Throughout my career, I have made building a leadership pipeline a priority, and I am glad APA is highlighting leadership development in its efforts to strengthen the governance system (see "Good governance"). This pipeline must be diverse and reflect current and projected demographics. Finding and nurturing future leaders to carry the torch forward is vital to APA's long-term success. That's why I have selected an early career psychologist (ECP) to co-chair each one of my initiatives. I have also charged my Presidential Citations Committee with helping me select ECP citation winners.

Seeing ourselves as leaders is new for many of us. That is one reason I am thrilled that APA and affiliated groups are offering top-notch leadership training programs. I believe that many people who enter our field possess qualities associated with successful transformational leaders, and programs such as these provide frameworks for psychologists to transform larger systems, benefitting our multiple publics. 

I invite all of you to increase your engagement as leaders in APA and in other spheres of your professional lives. I would personally welcome feedback about how I can optimally lead our complex, dynamic organization.