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What is Leadership?

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 4 Dec 2012 | comments*Discuss
Leadership Change Group Vision Influence

Like with many concepts, there are several different definitions and views of leadership. In its simplest sense, leadership is the process of getting things done through people – in other words, the ability to influence others and motivate them to perform certain actions or think in a certain way, usually for the overall good of the group (although obviously, there are many corrupt leaders who abuse their power and influence over others to simply serve their own best interests…)

In the context of relationships and group dynamics, leadership often refers to the power of a personality to dominate a group. In the workplace and in the community, leadership is a process by which one person is able to influence others in order to accomplish an objective and reach a common goal.

In a business organisation (or non-business one), leadership enables one individual with a certain vision to direct the organisation so that it becomes more cohesive and coherent, and hence, hopefully, also more efficient and productive. Leadership can also be shown between organisation, such as in the case of market leadership.

Leadership And Authority

Being the leader is often confused with “being the boss” and although the two states do often coincide, they are not necessarily one and the same. In fact, one distinct difference between a leader and a “boss” is that the latter simply gives you the authority to make followers do things whereas being a leader actually motivates your followers to WANT to achiever certain goals, rather than simply doing things because you have told them to.

In fact, it is possible to lead without being in a formal position of authority, such as a frontline employee who does not formally manage anyone and it can also be ‘bottom-up’ as well as ‘top-down’. Anyone with critical knowledge can alter the group direction, through the process of “thought leadership”. Those at the top may sometimes lead but they may also simply be managing – and investing in the best ideas (“leadership”) that is emerging from below.

A good example of “bottom-up leadership” is the actions of Martin Luther King Jr., who although wasn’t a leader in the official capacity of government, did manage to have an impact on the policy makers in the U.S. government through his demonstrations. Thus, in this case, he had leadership even though the U.S. government did not report to him – he did manage to influence change and convince people to think and act differently.

Leadership Models

There are various models of leadership behaviour. Here are 4 common ones:

  • Structural Framework – individuals following this leadership model focus on structure, strategy, environment, implementation, experimentation, and adaptation.
  • Human Resource Framework – these types of leaders believe in people and therefore lead by empowering, increasing participation, supporting, sharing information and moving decision-making down the organisation.
  • Political Framework – in theory, a good political leader assesses the distribution of power and interests and then use persuasion, negotiation and finally coercion - only if necessary - to achieve there goals. Unfortunately, in reality, this may not always be the case and political leaders are often criticised for their lack of morals and ethics.
  • Symbolic Framework – this model of leadership favours leaders which view organisations as a stage with certain roles to be played and certain impressions to be given and they use symbols to capture attention – they then try to communicate a vision to their followers.

Naturally, in real life, leaderships do not fall exclusively into one model of leadership or another – they each have their individual limitations and strengths depending on the situation and the individuals and relationships involved, there are times when one approach may be more appropriate than others A good leader should be aware of and be able to use all 4 approaches, and not just rely on one or two.

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