June 24

CAN LEADERSHIP BE DEFINED? PART 4 – WHAT DO RESULT BASED DEFINITIONS OF LEADERSHIP TELL US? BY MAX ESKELL

“Leaders are right a lot”

Amazon principle of leadership

Results based definitions of leadership are very compelling.  Increasing profits, successful product launches or double-digit growth in revenues growth, are all easily verifiable examples of success, which many people ascribe to leadership.  However, others are more cautious, and ask “can you attribute to success to one person?“.

Can leaders be responsible for success or failure?  In today’s complex world cause and effect are often de-linked, some argue that the impact of leaders and managers could be as low at 30% (see Thinking Fast and Slow).  Tolstoy also paints a picture that leaders are shaped by their environment, and not the other way around (see HBR article ‘What are Leaders really for‘).  Thier arguments are compelling, given the enormous number of factors and interdependencies of the modern world.

However, it has been possible to show that good, long-term leadership has resulted in sustained success.  For example, Alex Furgeson has been shown to have substantially increased Manchester United’s ability to perform (see HBR article here).  GE’s CEO Jack Welch and Steve Jobs are both examples of leaders who delivered sustain growth in the companies.

It is possible to conclude that results based definitions of leadership are incomplete.  While success and failure over a sustained time, may provide an indication of leadership ability, they do not provide any useful advice on how to be a better leader, or what separates good leaders from bad ones.  There is also a considerable risk that you judge a leader on short-term success or failure.

In my next and final post on this subject, I hope to cover ‘behavioural’ definitions of leadership.  By exploring this last category, I hope to reveal what modern and post-modern theories of leadership add to the debate.  I also wish to synthesise what I have learnt from explore leadership in more detail, and provide insight into what this means for leaders and follower.