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Leadership is the ability to lead or someone who is the head of a group of people. There are different strategies for obtaining and executing the most effective leadership along with different styles of management. Effective leadership does not necessarily mean the leader is good and the results benefit society, as evidenced by Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler. Good societies, however, are rarely extant without effective leadership.

Understanding leadership has been the source of much research and theorizing. Sociologists such as Max Weber have been in the forefront of such work. It has been suggested that there are several kinds of leadership, with different qualities such as charisma, entrepreneurial spirit, and the ability to communicate and work well together with others. Understanding how to lead also involves understanding the role and needs of the followers. Thus, a leader who can motivate their followers to a common goal, that benefits all, encourage them to work together cooperatively, and take care of their needs is one who is most likely to be successful in the long run.

Scope of leadership

Leadership can refer to simply governing oneself, or to government of the whole earth. In between, there are leaders who operate primarily within:

Intertwined with such categories, and overlapping them, one finds (for example) religious leaders (potentially with their own internal hierarchies), work-place leaders (executives, officers, senior/upper managers, middle managers, staff-managers, line-managers, team-leaders, supervisors), and leaders of voluntary associations.

Some anthropologists have envisaged a widespread (but by no means universal) pattern of progression in the organization of society in ever-larger groups, with the needs and practices of leadership changing accordingly. Thus, simple dispute resolution may become legalistic dispensation of justice before developing into proactive legislative activity. Some leadership careers parallel this sort of progression: Today's school-board chairperson may become tomorrow's city councilor, then take in (say) a mayordom before graduating to nation-wide politics. This can be compared to the cursus honorum in ancient Rome.


Leadership by an individual

Robert House and Philip Podsakoff have attempted to summarize the behaviors and approaches of "outstanding leaders."[1] The leadership "styles" they articulated include:

  1. Vision. Outstanding leaders articulate an ideological vision congruent with the deeply-held values of followers, a vision that describes a better future to which the followers have an alleged moral right.
  2. Passion and self-sacrifice. Leaders display a passion for, and have a strong conviction of, what they regard as the moral correctness of their vision. They engage in outstanding or extraordinary behavior and make extraordinary self-sacrifices in the interest of their vision and mission.
  3. Confidence, determination, and persistence. Outstanding leaders display a high degree of faith in themselves and in the attainment of the vision they articulate. Theoretically, such leaders need to have a very high degree of self-confidence and moral conviction because their mission usually challenges the status quo and, therefore, may offend those who have a stake in preserving the established order.
  4. Image-building. House and Podsakoff regard outstanding leaders as self-conscious about their own image. They recognize the desirability of followers perceiving them as competent, credible, and trustworthy.
  5. Role-modeling. Leader image-building sets the stage for effective role-modeling because followers identify with the values of role models whom they perceived in positive terms.
  6. External representation. Outstanding leaders act as spokespersons for their respective organizations and symbolically represent those organizations to external constituencies.
  7. Expectations of and confidence in followers. Outstanding leaders communicate expectations of high performance from their followers and strong confidence in their followers’ ability to meet such expectations.
  8. Selective motive-arousal. Outstanding leaders selectively arouse those motives of followers that the outstanding leaders see as of special relevance to the successful accomplishment of the vision and mission.
  9. Frame alignment. To persuade followers to accept and implement change, outstanding leaders engage in "frame alignment." This refers to the linkage of individual and leader interpretive orientations such that some set of followers’ interests, values, and beliefs, as well as the leader’s activities, goals, and ideology, becomes congruent and complementary.
  10. Inspirational communication. Outstanding leaders often, but not always, communicate their message in an inspirational manner using vivid stories, slogans, symbols, and ceremonies.

Leadership by a group

In contrast to individual leadership, some organizations have adopted group leadership. In this situation, more than one person provides direction to the group as a whole. Some organizations have taken this approach in hopes of increasing creativity, reducing costs, or downsizing. Others may see the traditional leadership of a boss as costing too much in team performance. In some situations, the maintenance of the boss becomes too expensive—either by draining the resources of the group as a whole, or by impeding the creativity within the team, even unintentionally.

A common example of group leadership involves cross-functional teams. A team of people with diverse skills and from all parts of an organization assembles to lead a project. A team structure can involve sharing power equally on all issues, but more commonly uses "rotating leadership." The team member(s) best able to handle any given phase of the project become(s) the temporary leader(s).

For example, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra has performed for over thirty years without a conductor—that is, without a sole leader. As a team of over 25 members, it has drawn discriminating audiences, and has produced over 60 recordings for Deutsche Grammophon in successful competition with other world-class orchestras.

Rather than an autocratic or charismatic conductor deciding the overall conception of a work and then dictating how each individual is to perform the individual tasks, the Orpheus team generally selects a different "core group" for each piece of music. The core group provides leadership in working out the details of the piece, and presents their ideas to the whole team. Members of the whole team then participate in refining the final conception, rehearsal, and product, including checking from various places in the auditorium how the sound balances and verifying the quality of the final recording. At times, the entire Orpheus team may follow a single leader, but whom the team follows rotates from task to task, depending on the capabilities of its members. The orchestra has developed seminars and training sessions for adapting the Orpheus Process to business.[2]


As a compromise between individual leadership and an open group, leadership structures of two or three people or entities occur commonly. Ancient Rome preferred two consuls to a single king, and the Roman Empire grew to accommodate two Emperors—those of the East and of the West—simultaneously. The Middle Ages saw leadership divided between the secular and spiritual realms - between Emperor and Pope. Some groups—often left-wing or Green in orientation—employ a co-leader structure today.

Triumvirates have long served to balance leadership ambitions—notably in Rome in the first century B.C.E., but also as recently as in the Soviet Union troikas of the twentieth century. Compare the separation of powers (legislative, judicial, and executive) formalized (for example) in the constitution of the United States.

Divided leadership

Whereas sometimes one can readily and definitively identify the locus of leadership, in other circumstances the situation remains obscured. Pre-modern Japan offers a classical example: The emperors provided symbolic and religious leadership, but the shoguns embodied virtually all political and administrative leadership.

Similar dichotomies appear in many places and in many periods. Any constitutional monarch has a potentially confusing relationship with the day-to-day leader (typically a prime minister) who remains (at least theoretically) subordinate—socially as well as politically. Regents may stand against monarchs (and their supporters) during the minority or absence of those monarchs. Heads of state may operate at cross-purposes with heads of government (governmental co-habitation). Political leaders may or may not align closely with religious leaders. And in federal-type systems, regional leadership, and its potentially different systems may cross swords with national leaders. Not to mention the potentially conflicting leadership manifestations of boards of directors and of Chief Executives.

Hierarchical leadership

Certain organizations have a rigid order to their leadership structure. These organizations have established chains of command that are adhered to vigorously by its members. Such organizations include militaries or government bureaucracies. Within these organizations decisions may be made by members of similar levels within the hierarchy, but once made they are normally enforced with question by those of lower ranks or positions.

Qualities of effective leaders

Studies of leadership have suggested qualities that people often associate with leadership. They include:

  • Guiding others through modeling (in the sense of providing a role model) and through willingness to serve others first)
  • Technical/specific skill at some task at hand
  • Initiative and entrepreneurial drive
  • Charismatic inspiration—attractiveness to others and the ability to leverage this esteem to motivate others
  • Preoccupation with a role—a dedication that consumes much of leaders' life—service to a cause
  • A clear sense of purpose (or mission)—clear goals—focus—commitment
  • Results-orientation—directing every action towards a mission—prioritizing activities to spend time where results most accrue
  • Cooperation—work well with others
  • Optimism—very few pessimists become leaders
  • Rejection of determinism—belief in one's ability to "make a difference"
  • Ability to encourage and nurture those that report to them—delegate in such a way as people will grow
  • Role models—leaders may adopt a persona that encapsulates their mission and lead by example
  • Self-knowledge (in non-bureaucratic structures)
  • Self-awareness—the ability to "lead" (as it were) one's own self prior to leading other selves similarly
  • With regards to people and to projects, the ability to choose winners—recognizing that, unlike with skills, one cannot (in general) teach attitude. Note that "picking winners" ("choosing winners") carries implications of gamblers' luck as well as of the capacity to take risks, but "true" leaders, like gamblers but unlike "false" leaders, base their decisions on realistic insight (and usually on many other factors partially derived from "real" wisdom).
  • Understanding what others say, rather than listening to how they say things—this could partly sum this quality up as "walking in someone else's shoes" (to use a common cliché).

Though advocates of the "big man" school of visionary leadership would have us believe that charisma and personality alone can work miracles, most leaders operate within a structure of supporters and executive agents who carry out and monitor the expressed or filtered-down will of the leader. This undercutting of the importance of leadership may serve as a reminder of the existence of the follower.

A more or less formal bureaucracy (in the Weberian sense) can throw up a colorless nonentity as an entirely effective leader: This phenomenon may occur (for example) in a politburo environment. Bureaucratic organizations can also raise incompetent people to levels of leadership, (per the Peter Principle). In modern dynamic environments formal bureaucratic organizations have started to become less common because of their inability to deal with fast-changing circumstances. Most modern business organizations (and some government departments) encourage what they see as "leadership skills" and reward identified potential leaders with promotions.

In a potential down-side to this sort of development, a big-picture grand-vision leader may foster another sort of hierarchy: A fetish of leadership amongst subordinate sub-leaders, encouraged to seize resources for their own sub-empires and to apply to the supreme leader only for ultimate arbitration. Some leaders build coalitions and alliances: Political parties abound with this type of leader. Still others depend on rapport with the masses: they labor on the shop-floor or stand in the front-line of battle, leading by example.

Author Stephen Covey described traits of successful leaders in his books, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and the Eighth Habit. Some of the habits characteristic of effective leaders that he identified include remaining proactive, prioritizing, visualizing the end towards which one is aiming, maintaining a positive attitude, communicating effectively, and self development.


James MacGregor Burns

James MacGregor Burns wrote that a study of the definition of the word, "leadership" revealed 130 definitions. However, several generally-accepted variations on the definition appear in the management and leadership literature.

Burns concluded by presenting five characteristics of leadership, namely:

  1. Leadership is collective. James Burns regards the notion of one-person leadership as “a contradiction in terms,” because both leaders and followers must exist. Also, an organization may have multiple leaders all acting in consort with one another.
  2. Leadership is dissension. Burns claims that leadership coexists with dissent. Indeed, much of the growth of any organization centers on the management/leadership of dissent—except in times of war.
  3. Leadership is causative. True Burnsian leadership affects the motives of individuals and groups of peoples and alters the course of the organizational history. It causes positive change.
  4. Leadership is morally purposeful. Burns sees leadership as goal-oriented, with leaders and followers pointing the way to some future state of the organization with plans about how those goals might be met.
  5. Transforming leadership is elevating. Engagement between leaders and followers takes place on a moral—but not a moralistic—plane, as both leaders and followers rise to live more principled lives.

Ronald Heifetz

Ronald Heifetz described the difference between a descriptive view and a prescriptive view of leadership. A descriptive view describes leadership and how it occurs, and a prescriptive view suggests how it should occur. The notion of "adaptive work" forms a central concept of Heifetz’s prescriptive view. Heifetz pointed out that people fail to adapt to new and unsettling situations through six avoidance mechanisms:

  1. Blaming others
  2. Finding scapegoats (to the extent that this differs from blaming)
  3. Externalizing the enemy
  4. Denying that a problem exists
  5. Jumping to conclusions
  6. Finding a distracting issue

In a prescriptive view, the leader would squarely face the problem and avoid the six surface-level solutions of the non-leader. A true leader would help a community face reality and deal with the issues: Finding solutions where none previously existed. Using the 1950s television character, the Lone Ranger, as an example, one sees the Ranger in a weekly episode, moving from frontier town to frontier town, discovering problems wherever he goes, fixing the problems and riding off into the sunset. In this metaphor, the Ranger fixes the symptom, but not the problem. A Lone Ranger non-leader would catch fish to feed the poor while a true leader would teach the poor how to catch fish and would motivate them to do so. The true leader finds a way to help the community engage the problem and collectively find a solution.

George Terry

George Terry has defined leadership as: "The activity of influencing people to strive willingly for group objectives." If one defines leadership simply as "influencing others to some purpose" and followership as "becoming influenced by others to accept (willingly or unwillingly) some purpose," then leadership and followership emerge as two sides of the same coin. In this scenario, leadership—whether successful or not—has not occurred until at least one follower joins in. Likewise, no followership exists without someone or something (not necessarily a leader) to follow. However, in this latter case, a "leader" need not exercise deliberate or even conscious leadership—that is, followers can follow someone who is not trying to lead. Some see "unconscious leadership" as a dubious concept, however. Many, using a different definition of leadership, would claim that it does not classify as leadership at all—simply because no deliberate intention to lead exists. Unconscious "leading by example" (as the phrase has it) may nevertheless exemplify such "leadership."

James Farr

James Farr argued not for any one "correct leadership style" but for the style that each situation requires. He argued that great leaders require the use of nearly every leadership style: One must apply the correct style to meet the situation. Farr terms this "conscious leadership."[3]

"Conscious Leadership" consists of the art and science of leading change from a self-aware perspective, with clarity of purpose and an acute insight into others' perspectives and state of mind. This fully-aware state uniquely allows leaders to properly inspire motivation in others and to choose the most appropriate course of action both to solve pressing problems and to effectively achieve long-term organizational goals.

Futurist John Renesch has written extensively on conscious leadership, which he advocates for everyone—not only those in positions of authority or holding designated titles:

Conscious leaders don't tolerate conditions or processes where people feel the need to compromise their values—to "sell their souls" for the task at hand. Conscious leadership includes conscious discernment, a principle that demands performance, integrity, competence and a noncalloused form of spiritual toughness. The conscious leader does not sit with his or her head in the clouds, dreaming of utopian schemes and professing New Age idealism. The conscious leader walks in the spiritual and physical domains concurrently, remaining simultaneously grounded and comfortable in both.[4]

Arthur Carmazzi

According to Arthur Carmazzi, leadership does not involve changing the mindset of the group, but the cultivation of an environment that brings out the best (inspires) the individuals in that group… Each individual has various environments that bring out different facets from their own identity, and emotionally charged perceptions drive each facet within each environment. To lead, Carmazzi says, one must build a platform through education and awareness where individuals fill each others needs. Leaders accomplish this by knowing why people may react favorably to a situation in environment A, but get frustrated or disillusioned in environment B.

When leaders change their actions in accordance with their awareness of what those actions really mean, they affect the emotional and perceptive affects on a group. By taking control of the “standard” reactions to the actions of the group, a leader can in effect change the psychology of the group and change the culture of an organization.[5]

Max Weber

Sociologist Max Weber wrote of three forms of leadership: Charismatic, traditional, and legal/rational. Charismatic rule in the literal sense as if they are blessed by a divine power and expect their followers to treat them as such. Traditional rulers were in the mold of patriarchs or feudal authorities in which they held absolute, brutal power. The final form, legal/rational, features rulers who create or abide by a system of rules. This final form of leadership is that under which bureaucracy thrives.

Leadership training

Many would argue that leadership is an innate quality that cannot be learned. Despite this argument, there exist a number of avenues by which people receive leadership training. Some are formal, such as military officer schools, or professional programs, such as law schools. Shorter, but still formal, programs include leadership trainings offered by motivational speakers. Some high schools and colleges have leadership programs in which students are exposed to different programs on their campus with the idea that they will eventually assume a position of leadership in them. Leadership training can also occur more informally. This type of training can take the form of a parent's instruction to their child or a teacher with their student.

Alternatives to leadership

Leadership can have many variations other than the types listed above. While leaders will necessarily emerge within any group no matter how non-hierarchical, the structure in which they emerge can differ. Leadership does not have to be permanent, but can change hands through rotation, elections, or other mechanisms. Also, leadership does not have to take the role of just a single person, as seen in the above example of the Orpheus orchestra, or co-leadership. Despite the fact that leadership positions are generally seen as glamorous and desirable, the job can in fact be mundane, tedious, or downright exhausting, which is an alternative view to the standardly accepted one.


  1. Robert House and Philip M. Podsakoff, "Leadership Effectiveness: Past Perspectives and Future Directions for Research," in Jerald Greenberg (ed.), Organizational Behavior: The State of the Science (Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum, 1994).
  2. The Orpheus Orchestra, The Orpheus Process. Retrieved December 6, 2007.
  3. Farr.net, Conscious Leadership. Retrieved December 6, 2007.
  4. Datajoe, conscious leadership. Retrieved December 6, 2007.
  5. Carmazzi.net, Arthur F Carmazzi. Retrieved December 6, 2007.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Burns, James MacGregor. Transforming Leadership: The Pursuit of Happiness. Atlantic Monthly Press, 2003. ISBN 0871138662
  • Covey, Stephen R. The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness. Free Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0743287937
  • Greenberg, Jerald, ed. Organizational Behavior: the State of the Science. Lawrence Erlbaum, 1994. ISBN 978-0805812152
  • Heifetz, R. Leadership without Easy Answers. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994. ISBN 0674518586
  • Pitcher, P. Artists, Craftsmen, and Technocrats: The Dreams Realities and Illusions of Leadership. Toronto: Stoddart Publishing, 1994. ISBN 0773758542
  • Northouse, Peter. Leadership: Theory and Practice. Sage Publications, 2006. ISBN 141294161X
  • Terry, George. Principles of Management. Learning Systems Company, 1978. ISBN 0256021341
  • Weber, Max. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. Oxford University Press, 1958. ISBN 0195004620

External links

All links retrieved October 25, 2022.


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