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Is there one Leadership Definition for all situations?

Many people over the years have tried to create a Leadership Definition that encapsulates what leadership is about.

The reality is that leadership is personal to individuals – and the situation that they are in. Businesses, charities, voluntary organisations, not for profit organisations, armed forces, sports organisations, religious organisations, etc. all need leaders. But the leadership qualities and experience required from one organisational type to another can vary enormously.

It’s true that there are common good leadership skills that all leaders should have:

  • the ability to communicate well
  • to understand what motivates (and demotivates) people
  • inspiring the team to do better
  • management skills to guide and direct the team

But it is the ‘mix’ of skills in relation to the situation that is key and how the individual leader views himself or herself.

As there is no one single type of leader then there cannot be one single Leadership Definition. It is very personal to each individual and you yourself must define what leadership style you employ. The many responsibilities that a leader has only adds to the difficulty in creating a universal Leadership Definition.

So how can we capitalise on other peoples’ ideas, concepts and experience to help us define our own leadership approach?

Leadership Definition – or rather definitions

Leadership Definition

In the past authors and researchers have tended to look at leadership in terms of perspectives and have developed a Leadership Definition around these perspectives.

This is the exact opposite of trying to create one Leadership Definition that will suit every situation. I personally believe that this is the right way to go as there are so many aspects, issues, traits, beliefs, etc. that can influence the style of leadership.

Have a look at the Leadership Definitions below to see if they can help you define your own leadership style. I have put them under suggested ‘perspective’ headings to try to create an overall structure:

1.    Influencing Behaviour

Leadership may be considered as the process of influencing the activities of an organized group in its efforts toward goal setting and goal achievement. (Stogdill)

Leadership is the art of influencing others to their maximum performance to accomplish any task, objective or project. (William Cohen)

Leadership is a process of influence between a leader and those who are followers. (Hollander)

Leadership is an influence process that enables managers to get their people to do willingly what must be done, do well what ought to be done. (Cribbin)

Leadership is the process of influencing the activities of an individual or a group in efforts toward goal achievement in a given situation. (Hersey & Blanchard)  

Leadership is influence – nothing more nothing less. (John Maxwell)

2.    The Importance of Character

Leadership is not a person or a position. It is a complex moral relationship together with the character that inspires confidence and trust. (Field Marshall Montgomery)

Successful leadership is not about being tough or soft, sensitive or assertive, but about a set of attributes. First and foremost is character. (Warren Bennis)

While you, the leader, can teach many things, character is not taught easily to adults who arrive at your desk lacking it. Be cautious about taking on reclamation projects regardless of the talent they may possess. Have the courage to make character count among the qualities you seek in others. (John Wooden)

Leadership is the capacity and will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires confidence. (Field Marshall Montgomery)

Leadership is a combination of strategy and character. If you must be without one, be without the strategy. (General Norman Schwarzkopf)

3.    Process of Change

One key to successful leadership is continuous personal change. Personal change is a reflection of our own inner growth and empowerment. (Robert e. Quinn)

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. (John Quincy Adams)

The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts and sails. (John Maxwell)

Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality. (Warren Bennis)

Leadership cannot just go along to get along. Leadership must meet the moral challenge of the day. (Jesse Jackson)

4.    Developing Others

Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others. (Jack Welch)

The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not followers. (Ralph Nadar)   

The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership. (Harvey Firestone)

Always recognize that human individuals are ends, and do not use them as a means to your end. (Immanuel Kant)

I am convinced that nothing we do is more important than hiring and developing people. At the end of the day you bet on people, not on strategies. (Larry Bossidy)

Leadership and learning are indispensible to each other. (John F. Kennedy)

5.    Serving Others

The true leader serves. Serves people. Serves their best interests, and in doing so will not always be popular, may not always impress. But because true leaders are motivated by loving concern than a desire for personal joy, they are willing to pay the price. (Eugene B. Habecker)

Good leaders must first become good servants. (Robert Greenleaf)

Let me pass, I have to follow them, I am their leader. (Alexandre Ledru-Rollin)

The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant. (Max Depree)  

Leadership Definition Resources

Leadership Definition

Leadership Theory & Approaches:

Leadership Theories

There is an abundance of leadership theories out there - but which one suits your own style?

Different Leadership Styles

How many are there and which one is best?

Types of Leadership:

Transformational Leadership Theory

Inspire and motivate your people to ever increasing higher level of performance by adopting this true leadership style.

Charismatic Leadership

Is this tyle of leadership good or bad for the organisation?

Democratic Leadership Style

To be successful, you have to truly want your team members to contribute their ideas and you have to take them seriously.

Transactional Leadership

Based on setting clear objectives, and reward and punishment, to get followers to adhere to the goals.

Autocratic Leadership

This style does have its uses in certain circumstances - but it is only a short term solution.

Contingency Theory

This assumes that the success of the leader is dependent upon the leader's ability, ability of followers and organisational/environmental factors.

Situational Leadership Theory

This theory states that the leader must alter his/her style to match the team members' ability and experience.

Trait Theory of Leadership

This theory assumes that leaders are born and not made.

Application of Leadership:

Good Leadership Skills

Read here to see the essential skills that can make you a great leader...and the good news is that they can be learned through training and experience.

Leadership vs Management

To be successful you need both of these activities - it should not be seen as a competition.

Leadership Development Plan

You need to identify and prepare future leaders to ensure long term stability for the organisation.

Leadership Quotes:

Famous Leadership Quotes

Be inspired and motivated by these quotes from many different areas of life.

Return from Leadership Definition to Performance Improvement

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