A definition of leadership

Lets start with a modern definition of leadership from Northouse (2007) a professor from West Michigan University

"Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal."

Northouse calls leadership a process because both the leaders and "followers" can be the changed and influenced by this process.

There has been a bit of a battle between 2 schools of thought on the definition of leadership the so called Trait and Process Theory of leadership.

Trait theories talk about how individual characteristics and traits impact on people's abilities to lead. The trait theory is more of the leaders are born and not made camp. Process theory is leaders undertake this process by applying their knowledge and skills. By definition leaders can learn new knowledge and skills and therefore leaders can be made.

So how to become a leader

Well Bass (2008) belives there are 3 main ways that leaders are made

  1. A crisis occurs which brings the best leadership characteristics out of a person (Great Event Theory)
  2. Some people are born leaders and become them (trait theory)
  3. People can choose to become leaders by learning the skills and knowledge necessary (The process theory)


Why do People Choose to Follow a Leader?

If we want to understand the definition of leadership we should consider the perspectives of the followers.

I believe that people want to be led by someone they trust and respect who can articulate a clear compelling direction. How do people make this call well it is by observing the "leader" and seeing what they do as compared with what they say. I think people check for integrity, team orientation or self-serving characterisitics.

I think people also judge leaders by the quality of their interactions with others namely rapport and trust building and an empathy.

An Australian consultancy called Insight have developed a 4 pillars model as a definition of leadership based on research of engagement in organizations. The 4 pillars were: Clarity, empathy, engagement and learning.

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Probably the definitive modern model of leadership was developed by (Kouzes & Posner, 1987). They develop 5 leadership attributes common to successful leaders.

  • Challenge the process - Have the courage not to accept the status quo and look for opporunties to improve
  • Inspire a shared vision - Articulate a better future and paint a vision that can be refined and shared with others.
  • Enable others to act - Provide a service to your team give them what they need to act and work and then get out of the way.
  • Model the way - Leaders are role models in a positive or negative sense so do the right thi gs in the right manner particulalry when times are tough
  • Encourage the heart - Celebrate sucess, be authentic and know your people individually.

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