Here are 3 popular ways of defining leadership, each from a slightly different perspective:
Leadership means being the dominant individual in a group. Leadership means getting things done through people. Leadership means challenging the status quo, promoting a more suitable way. For many, leadership means doing all three of these things but you will find subtle and important differences. Let's look-at them one by one.
Leadership means being the dominant individual in a group. In primitive tribes and higher animal species the dominant individual was the leader. Being the leader simply meant having the power to attain and hold the very best position for a reasonable length of time. Contrary to definition 2, you may be the leader without getting anything done through others. A leader was the person in charge even when the group was in a stable state where people went about their business as normal. As long as group members obeyed the leader's rules, the leader did not even need to be actively involved in the lives of group members, not to mention get anything done through them. You might also be the leader in such a group without promoting a greater way as suggested by nature 3. If you didn't need to be voted into power, why have a platform for change? You simply seized power; no sales pitch was needed on how you could make life better for the group. Yes, such leaders may have led groups successfully in battle and built great monuments with them, but, strictly speaking, you might be the leader without achieving anything through a group effort. The meaning of leadership, according to this definition, is only to be at the top of the pile.
Leadership means getting things done through people. Great leaders throughout history have led their groups to momentous achievements, though the idea that leadership should be defined as getting things done through people has been developed most fully by modern business, which is about achieving results. As business is now more complex, the leadership challenge has grown form one of the simple issuing of orders to a number of “hands” to the subtle coordination of very skilled, diverse knowledge workers to build sophisticated machines and put men on the moon. There is a problem with this definition of leadership, however. It used to belong to management. Why the switch from management to leadership? And is this an excellent move? Up to the late 1970's writers used the terms leadership and management interchangeably but with more emphasis on management. As an example, the management theorists, Blake and Mouton, developed their famous managerial grid in the 1960's. At the time, it was portrayed as a way of identifying your management style. Today, in line with the shift to leadership, the name will be the same (managerial grid) but it is now positioned as a leadership style instrument.
Similarly, we used to speak about management style more than leadership style. Managers may very well be either “theory X” and task oriented or “theory Y” and concerned for individuals. But a profound shift in thinking took place in a revolutionary period lasting from the late 1970's through the mid 1980's. The cause of this upheaval was the commercial success of Japanese industry in North America. This led pundits to claim that the united states had lost its competitive edge because United States of America management was too bureaucratic, controlling, uninspiring and inept at fostering innovation. Rather than upgrade management, there was an emotional over reaction such that management was rejected and replaced by leadership. Since then, leaders were portrayed as theory Y, inspiring and concerned about people while management got saddled with all of the bad guy features of being controlling, theory X, uninspiring and narrowly task focused. Similarly, the distinction between being transformational and transactional was originally launched to differentiate two leadership styles, but it wasn't long before it became used to separate leadership from management, the former being transformational and the latter transactional.
In our haste to trash management, we grabbed what ever tools were handy but with heavy costs. To start with, we painted leadership in to a corner by suggesting that you needed to be an inspiring cheerleader to be a leader, website leaving no room for quiet or simply factual leadership. Second, we created a bloated concept of leadership by banishing management. Third, by attaching leadership to getting things done through a team, we associated leadership irrevocably with being in control of people, thereby ruling out positionless leadership. Yes, there is informal leadership but this concept is essentially the exact same as formal leadership except for their power bases. Like its formal counterpart, informal leadership still means taking control and managing a group to achieve a target. In either case, you may need to have the personal presence, organizational skills and motivation to take charge to be a leader.
Leadership means challenging the status quo, promoting a far better way. We have always felt, intuitively, that leaders possess the courage to stand up and be counted. They go against the grain, often at great risk, to call for change. We only need to look-at Martin Luther King, Jr. His leadership rested not so much on his oratorical skills - they were just icing on the cake. He was a leader primarily because he marched and spoke against injustice. He challenged the present circumstances and promoted a more suitable world.
In contrast, and this is the whole point here, if you think through what it means to challenge the present circumstances or advocate change, there's no necessary implication that you should be in charge of the people you are trying to influence. The bottom line is that this third definition, when worked through fully, gives us a way to break the stranglehold of the previous two definitions. The benefit of this move is that we gain a clearer knowledge of how all employees can show leadership even if they totally lack the abilities or inclination to take charge of groups in a managerial sense, even informally. Think again of Martin Luther King, Jr. He sought to move the united states Government and the population at large to think differently about such issues as segregation on buses. His leadership efforts were successful when the United States of America Supreme Court ruled such discrimination unconstitutional. Essentially, it really is obvious that he was not in a managerial role within the Supreme Court. He showed leadership to this group as an outsider. You might say the exact same of Jack Welch who had a leadership effect on countless businesses around the earth through his novel practices, such as being first or second in a market. Again, people who followed the lead of Jack Welch did not report to him. They were not even members of a common group.
Leadership Reinvented for the 21st Century
If we cast aside the very first two definitions of leadership, what is left? If leadership means nothing but promoting a more suitable way, then we need to upgrade management to take care of everything to do with getting things done through people. We need to say that management won't entail being controlling, bureaucratic or theory X, that also they can be as inspiring as they need to be, good at coaching, developing and empowering people.
A critical supporting fact is the fact that the power on which leadership is based is shifting from having a dominant personality to the ability to devise new ways of working, brand new products and better services. Businesses that compete on the basis of rapid innovation are engaged in a war of ideas and nobody has a monopoly on good ideas. This really is revolutionary because it shows that leadership can no longer be about group domination. Quite simply, leadership is a brief influence impact, an episode or act, not an ongoing state or role. You-still may need a bigger than life personality to ascend to the role of Chief Executive, but leadership conceived as a good idea for a better way may be really small scale and local. Any employee with a better idea can promote it, even when only by example, without needing the personal presence to be promoted to a managerial role. Strictly, speaking you will discover no longer any leaders, only leadership. This view captures the very fact that leadership is a fleeting state that will shift quickly from an individual to another. It can be impact rather than a sort of person or position. It has to be so if it can be shown by outsiders.