#036 Leadership, Morale, and Time Perspective

A reading from Resolving Social Conflicts by Kurt Lewin, 1948 Harper & Brothers: New York, Pp. 118-119. Read by Stephanie Jo Kent.


An excerpt from Resolving Social Conflicts by Kurt Lewin.

“Leadership, morale, and time perspective”

In an experiment by Bavelas investigating problems of training leaders, the importance of time perspective is apparent both for the morale of the leaders themselves and for the effect of the leaders in turn on the group morale. The striking change in the morale of the leaders from ‘low morale’ before training to ‘high morale’ after three weeks of training is related to the fact that the goals of these individuals changed from a day-to-day attempt to keep their insecure WPA jobs to a broader–and actually more difficult–less personal goal of giving children the benefit of experiencing genuine democratic group life. Such a change in goal level and time perspective was brought about partly by the experience of membership in a democratic training group, which had itself set definite goals and laid out its plans. And partly by the experience of leaving a depressive, narrow, and meaningless past for a future, which, with all its uncertainty, contained a goal worth striving toward.

A positive time perspective, a time perspective guided by worth-while goals is one of the basic elements of high morale. At the same time, the process is reciprocal; high morale itself creates long-range time perspective, and sets up worth-while goals. At the end of the training process, the leaders mentioned above had set for themselves goals far above those of which previously they would have dared dream. We are dealing here with one of these circular types of dependencies which are frequently found in social psychology. The highly intelligent person, for example, is better able than the feeble-minded person to create situations which will be easy to handle. As a result, the feeble-minded, with his low ability, frequently finds himself in more difficult situations than the normal. Similarly, the socially maladjusted person creates more difficult social situations for himself than does the well-adjusted person, and, doing badly in a difficult situation, easily goes from bad to worse. Again, poor morale makes for a poor time perspective, which in turn results in still poorer morale; whereas high morale sets not only high goals, but is likely to create situations of progress conducive to still better morale.

This circular process can be observed also in regard to the morale of the group as a whole. The interdependence among the members of a group, in fact, makes the circularity of the processes even more unmistakable. In one experiment, for instance, a group of children, having been together for one hour in a democratic group, spontaneously demanded the continuation of that group. When informed of the lack of an adult leader, they organized themselves. Their morale, in other words, was high enough to broaden their time perspective; they set themselves a group goal extending over weeks–and later included a half-year project.

Recorded May 11, 2020

Location: Belchertown, MA

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