June 02

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Can leadership be defined? Part 1 by Max Eskell

Is it useful, or even possible to define leadership?  If you do define leadership, what assumptions do you make and what are the potential consequences?

Keith Grint is sceptical that leadership can be defined.  In his fantastic book (Leadership: A Very Short Introduction), Keith argues that most leadership definitions fit into four general categories: position, person, result, and process.  Does this categorisation help, and does it surface any new or important information about leadership?

 

Leadership as position – where leaders operate

The top floor, the corner office, the corporate HQ. These are all indicators or status and seniority.  Roles and titles, like military badges of rank, are open indicators of who is the most senior.  There are many definitions of leadership that focus on the position a leader holds.  But what do the miss?  Can someone with no role or rank be a leader?

 

Leadership as a person – who leaders are

Charisma, presence, gravitas are all common terms to describe ‘natural’ leaders.  Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr were great examples of leaders who grew from obscurity with no formal position or role.  But how did these leaders amass followers and power?

 

Leadership as a result – what leaders achieve

One of Amazon 14 leadership principles is that leaders “are right, a lot”.  Many think that it is what leaders achieves, that separates them from others.  But can you truly gauge the impact of leaders given the complexity of the modern world?

 

Leadership as a process – how leaders behave

Many modern leadership definitions focus on the interaction of leaders with their followers.  Behavioural leadership theory and situation leadership theory argue that leaders must adapt to their environment and followers.   But what behaviours are key, and how should they be adapted?

 

With of these differing definitions of leadership, we can make some broad conclusions.  Leadership means different things to different people. Therefore, to be useful, the use of the term leadership is hazardous unless you define it more explicitly.

In my next few posts, I want to explore these categories in more detail, in the hope of providing a little more clarity.