What is Leadership?

Leadership is one of the most common words in the field of business. Many people talk about it and it is the objective of many organizations to develop real leaders. However, if you ask 100 people about this phenomenon, you may probably get, close to 100 answers. so, what is leadership?

It is essential to have a clear understanding of this complex phenomenon.

According to Burns (1978), “Leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth”. Many famous scholars trace this idea back to the work of Stogdill. They all agree that there are many definitions of leadership and that people have defined this complex phenomenon in very different ways. Let us have some examples:

Hersey and Blanchard (1979) define leadership as:

“…the process of influencing the activities of an individual or a group in efforts toward goal accomplishment.”

Yukl (2012) offers a similar, but more comprehensive definition:

Leadership is the process of influencing others to understand and agree about what needs to be done and how to do it, and the process of facilitating individual and collective efforts to accomplish shared objectives.”

In another definition, Katz and Kahn (1978) define the leadership phenomenon from three perspectives:

  1. Leaders occupy positions in organizations;
  2. Leaders possess characteristics or qualities; and
  3. There are categories of behavior that a particular leader displays.

A few more definitions are offered below:

John Kotter (1988):

“…a process of creating a vision for others and having the power to translate this vision into a reality and then to sustain it.”

Buchanan and Huczynsci (1985):

…a social process in which one individual influences the behavior of others without the use or threat of violence.”

Rollinson (2002):

“…a process in which a leader and followers interact in a way that enables the leader to influence the actions of followers in a non-coercive way towards the achievement of certain aims or objectives.”

Barron and Greenberg (1990):

“A process whereby one individual influences other group members towards the attainment of defined group or organizational goals”.

The existence of such a variety of definitions by scholars indicates that leadership is a complicated phenomenon. It also makes it difficult to agree on a single definition for leadership.

What makes the whole thing even more complicated is the fact that the term leadership is defined differently in different cultures. Masculine, autocratic, commanding and transactional leadership, are more traditional than feminine concepts of interpersonally-orientated, democratic or transformational leadership. Although ‘softer’, more feminine concepts of leadership have arguably received more attention than masculine concepts, the latter are still considered important in leadership literature.

Considering most of these definitions (and many more), there some common words that are being repeated in most  definitions. These words are as follows:

  • Vision: A good leader is the one with a good vision. The vision is something beyond what ordinary people (or followers) see. Such a vision should be challenging and attractive to people in order to motivate them to exert higher level of effort.
  • Influence/Motivation: Simply put, leadership is all about influence. A great leader is person who is able to motivate others and influence them (not but coercive means though) to do something.
  • Followers: Leadership is meaningless if there is no follower; no one has become a leader without a follower. The more the number of followers, the higher is the perceived power of the leader.
  • Organizational goals/Achievement: In the context of business, leaders influence others to do something to reach some common goals. These goals are either leader’s vision or the goals the leader or the organization has set. These goals should be valuable, motivating and moderately hard-to-achieve (therefore, challenging).
  • In sum, most scholars and writers on leadership nowadays largely agree that what makes leaders and leadership behavior effective depends largely on the context in which the leader is working; however, a good leader is the one who has a clear and challenging vision, communicates with followers, inspire and motivates them to accept that vision, sets milestones and mid-term goals, creates an environment of mutual trust and respect and meets the needs of his/her followers.

    In short, a good leader is able to take care of three main areas of Tasks, Relationships, and Change.

    In my book, “Leadership in Dynamic Organizations: Enhancing Performance, Creating Change”, I introduced 7 essential “Leading Styles” that take care of task, relationship and change. I have introduced each style and discussed when each style can be used.

In ALTA, I offer High-Impact Leadership Training and Coaching for executives, managers, and any individual who aspires to become an effective leader in order to empower them to learn essential leadership knowledge, mindset, skills and competencies.

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