What Is Leadership?

Leadership is using communication processes to influence the activities of an individual or of a group toward the attainment of a goal or goals in a unique and given situation.— (Fleishman, 1973; Hersey and Blanchard, 1977)

There are almost as many different definitions of leadership as there are persons who have attempted to define the concept. However, for this literature, here is a definition of leadership that includes only the essential attributes about which most scholars working in the field would have little disagreement:

Leadership is the process through which an individual attempts to intentionally influence another individual or group so that they will be prepared to participate in the achievement of a goal or goals in a unique and given situation.

The following is the permutation of the essential attributes of the definition.

Leadership is exercised in a lot of different places and in a wide variety of situations, not just by managers in the workplace. Persuading a friend to have dinner at one’s favorite restaurant, for example, requires leadership. All the key elements are there: a locus of leadership, a follower, and an act of intentional influence undertaken to accomplish a goal.

Leadership versus Management

But as you may guess, isn’t this more or less a definition of management? Well it isn’t. Leadership and management are not synonymous. The key phrase in the above definition is individuals are influenced.

Management is about planning, organizing, directing, co-ordinating, controlling and reviewing the work process, including what individuals do within that. It is a broad spectrum of organizational processes and practices.

Leadership, on the other hand, is about how one person can influence others to do what is required for the achievement of goals — a narrower quality concerned with the hearts and minds of people in the group.

Management certainly encompasses leadership — good management is probably impossible without appropriate leadership skills. However, not all managers are leaders — either by design or default.

Leadership itself may have nothing to do with management — it exists in groups rather than organizational structures and, therefore, will certainly also exist in the informal organization where, in management terms, it may create problems in controlling workers whose influence comes from elsewhere. Not all leaders are managers.

A manager is an individual who holds an office to which roles are attached, whereas leadership is one of the roles attached to the office of manager. This is a point that causes considerable confusion.

Performance of the leadership role is how managers get things done; without leadership or with poor leadership, the organization is impaired. Although leadership is not the only role of the manager, it is certainly the central one.

All of the other roles of the manager, such as formulating goals, developing strategies, communicating, making decisions, and resolving conflicts, are converted into results through leadership.

Organizational Leadership

Virtually all organizations exist to accomplish tasks that are too large and/or complex to be undertaken by individuals or small groups working alone.

In doing this, organizations take on a strategic approach by sub-dividing work, over and over again until tasks are small enough and simple enough to be performed by an individual.

In the process, the organizations are partitioned into a series of departments, divisions, sections, or programs, all of which must be managed.

Comparing Leadership and Management
  • Creating vision and strategy
  • Keeping eye on horizon
  • Planning and budgeting
  • Keeping eye on bottom line
  • Creating shared culture & values
  • Helping others grow
  • Reducing boundaries
  • Organizing and staffing
  • Directing and controlling
  • Creating boundaries
  • Focusing on people—inspiring & motivating followers
  • Based on personal power
  • Acting as coach, facilitator, servant
  • Focusing on objects—producing/selling goods & services
  • Based on position power
  • Acting as boss
    Personal Qualities
  • Emotional connection (Heart)
  • Open mind (Mindfulness)
  • Listening (Communication)
  • Nonconformity (Courage)
  • Insight into self (Character)
  • Emotional distance
  • Expert mind
  • Talking
  • Conformity
  • Insight into organization
  • Creates change and a culture of integrity
  • Maintains stability; creates culture of efficiency

Both leadership and management are essential in organizations and must be integrated effectively to lead to optimum performance. That is, leadership cannot replace management; it should be in addition to management.

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Leadership Effectiveness: What Influences It

All managers are not equally effective or successful as leaders. It is important to understand why this is so, so as to select good leaders and improve leadership skills.

Over the last 50 decades, there has been a raging debate as to what makes a successful leader, and the outcome is three very different points of view: nature, nurture, and situational. Each is briefly discussed below.

  1. Nature
    Based on this view, leadership effectiveness is primarily a result of traits and dispositions that individuals are endowed with at birth or develop very early in life. By the time a person assumes a management position, these characteristics are set and nearly impossible to change in any significant way. Some people have traits that predispose them to be successful leaders, whereas others do not.
  2. Nurture
    In this view, leadership effectiveness is primarily due to skills and behaviors that can be learned. Personal traits and dispositions provide the foundation upon which abilities are acquired and behaviors are developed, but they are only the foundation. Individuals who are exceptional leaders make themselves through lifelong learningOpens in new window, they are not born.
  3. Situational Factor
    Consistent with situational factor is the argument leadership effectiveness is primarily due to the characteristics of the situation in which managers find themselves. In born traits, abilities, and behaviors are important, but they are very situation specific. In one situation, certain traits, abilities, and behaviors may predispose a manager to be an effective leader; in a different situation, the result could be ineffectiveness and failure.
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