Developing Psychological Capital for Aspiring, Diverse Leaders - Ideas for Leaders
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Developing Psychological Capital for Aspiring, Diverse Leaders

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By developing their psychological capital and the psychological strength to believe in the possibility of achieving their leadership goals aspiring, diverse leaders have a better chance of overcoming the barriers and challenges on their path to senior leadership roles.


The retirement of boomers from the workforce offers opportunities for companies to fulfill their promise to diversify their leadership by encouraging and enabling more women, LGBTQ+, people of color, Native Americans, and any other members of non-dominant social groups to move into senior roles. However, many barriers remain for this new generation of diverse leaders, from both formal organizational policies and informal, biased practices.

One path to overcome these barriers, according to scholars Rebecca Reichard and Thiraput Pitichat, is through the development of aspiring leaders’ psychological capital the psychological strength that gives individuals the determination, motivation, and optimism that they can achieve their goals. Reichard and Pitichat identify four specific components of psychological capital key to achieving any aspiration to rise to senior leadership positions: hope, efficacy, resilience, and optimism.

Building on extensive academic research from the past two decades research that includes meta-analyses of other research (one such meta-analysis covered 244 studies with over 96,000 participants) Reichard and Pitichat present evidence-based strategies for the development of these four psychological capital components.

The strategies recommended by Reichard and Pitichat unfold as follows:

Hope. Rather than a pollyannish crossing of fingers, “hope” in this context represents the conviction of individuals that they can achieve their goals. One strategy to develop hope is flexibility, described more fully as step (setting goals that are progressively more difficult), stretch (setting challenging goals), and regional (letting go of goals that no longer fit current needs). A second hope-strengthening strategy is to anticipate potential obstacles and prepare contingency plans. Aspiring leaders should also mentally rehearse the path to their goals a bit like watching yourself in a movie. The result of this exercise is to sustained motivation and emotional commitment to the goal.

Efficacy. More nuanced than self-confidence, self-efficacy, or simply “efficacy” is the conviction of individuals that they can do what is needed to perform well. Graduated mastery (starting with manageable challenges, then taking on gradually more complex challenges), vicarious modeling (observing and learning from similar individuals who have succeeded), and social persuasion (receiving enthusiastic feedback on your behavior from respected sources) will help strengthen efficacy.

Resilience. “Resilience” is essential given the barriers faced by aspiring, diverse leaders. Three strategies can help develop resilience. The first is to build assets, both personal assets (i.e., developing personal attributes that help an individual’s resilience) and social support assets (support from people in and outside of work). The second is to reduce risk factors, from stress or conflict to job insecurity or dysfunctional team dynamics. The third resilience development strategy is to deliberate focus on processes that strengthen personal coping mechanisms, from mindfulness practice or physical exercise to career counseling or networking.

Optimism. “Optimism” gives individuals the certainty or at least the expectancy that positive outcomes will result from their efforts or other circumstances. Reframing narratives (such as reviewing past failures as learning experiences), positive self-talk, and setting realistic goals are effective development strategies for increasing an individual’s optimism.


How can organizations offer the critical support aspiring, diverse leaders need to achieve the development strategies listed above? The following are examples of resources that organizations can provide that address each of the four components of psychological capital:

Hope. Formal leadership development planning tools help aspiring leaders to set and achieve powerful leadership goals, refining those goals as necessary. Access to employee resource groups enables aspiring leaders to draw on the experience of others in developing contingency plans. Mental imagery and mindfulness training give the aspiring leader the skills to mentally rehearse their path to success.

Efficacy. Leadership training as well as carefully planned leadership career paths allow aspiring leaders to acquire and then practice the leadership skills and behaviors that will allow them to master gradually more challenging leadership responsibilities. Vicarious modeling can be supported by increasing the visibility of diverse leaders in the organizations and offering mentoring opportunities. Training direct supervisors to provide feedback effectively helps aspiring leaders develop their social persuasion skills.

Resilience. Organizational resources and culture significantly increase the personal resilience assets of aspiring leaders. Offering flexible hours to help these leaders deal with family responsibilities is one example. Supportive policies and procedures, such as formal anti-discrimination policies, also increase resilience. Organizations should also focus on processes. For example, offer communication training to supervisors to eliminate micro-aggressions (for example, chronic mispronunciation of non-English names) that can wear down the resilience of diverse potential leaders.

Optimism. Leadership coaching and related awareness-building activities help aspiring leaders uncover their pessimistic interpretations of past events, and persistent negative thought patterns, thus setting the stage for the leader to reframe narratives and engage in positive self-talk. Coaching and other awareness-building activities also guide aspiring leaders in setting realistic goals



Rebecca J. Reichard’s profile at Drucker School of Management

Thiraput Pitichat’s profile at LinkedIn


Elevating Aspiring Diverse Leaders Through PsyCap: Evidence-Based Strategies for Developing Heros. Rebecca J. Reichard, Thiraput Pitichat. SSRN (January 2024). Available at SSRN:


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Idea conceived

June 13, 2024

Idea posted

Jun 2024
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