In common usage, leadership generally refers to:
- the position or office of an authority figure, such as a President  (http://www.cer.org.uk/articles/times_grant0702.html)
- a group of influential people, such as a union leadership  (http://www.cbc.ca/stories/2003/04/01/milton_030401)
- guidance or direction, as in the phrase "the emperor is not providing much leadership"
- capacity or ability to lead, as in the phrase "she exercised effective leadership"
If we define leadership simply as "influencing others to some purpose" and we define followership as "being influenced by others to accept some purpose", then leadership and followership can be seen as two sides of the same coin. That is, successful leadership has not occurred until at least one follower joins in. Likewise, there can be no followership without someone or something to follow. However, in this latter case, the leadership need not be deliberate or even conscious, that is, followers can follow someone who is not trying to be a leader. This "unconscious leadership" is a dubious concept however. Many would claim that it is not leadership at all because there is no deliberate intention to lead. Unconscious leading by example may be an example of this.
Leadership as a position of authority
In On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History, Thomas Carlyle demonstrated the concept of leadership as a position of authority. In praising Oliver Cromwell's use of power to bring King Charles I to trial and eventual beheading, he wrote the following: "Let us remark, meanwhile, how indispensable everywhere a King is, in all movements of men. It is strikingly shown, in this very War, what becomes of men when they cannot find a Chief Man, and their enemies can."  (http://ibiblio.org/gutenberg/etext97/heros10.txt)
From this viewpoint, leadership emerges when an entity as "leader" manages to receive deference from other entities who become "followers". And as the passage from Carlyle demonstrates, the process of getting deference is competitive in that the emerging "leader" draws "followers" from the factions of the prior "leaders."
In the Constitutional Convention of 1787, the American Founders rejected the idea of a monarch. But they still proposed leadership as a position of authority, with the authority split into three powers, the legislative, the executive, and the judiciary. That is, under the American theory, the authority of leadership derived from the power of the voters conveyed through the electoral college. And many individuals shared in leadership as a position of authority, including the many legislators in the Senate and the House of Representatives.  (http://www.constitution.org/dfc/dfc_0917.htm)
Leadership as a position of authority, comparison with other apes
Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson, in Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence present the empirical evidence that only humans and chimpanzees, among all the animals living on earth, share a similar tendency for violence, territoriality, and competition for uniting behind the one chief male of the land.  (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/style/longterm/books/chap1/demonicmales.htm) And the chimpanzees are man's closest species-relative; humans inherited 98% of their genes from the ancestors of the chimpanzees.
In comparison, the bonobos, the second-closest species-relative of man, do not unite behind the chief male of the land. The bonobos show deference to an alpha or top-ranking female that, with the support of her coalition of other females, is as strong as the strongest male in the land. That is, if leadership amounts to getting the greatest number of followers, then among the bonobos, a female almost always exerts the strongest and most effective leadership.
Some have argued that, since the bonobo pattern inverts the dominant pattern among chimpanzees and men with regard to whether a female can get more followers than a male, humans and chimpanzees both likely inherited gender bias against women from the ancestors of the chimpanzees; gender bias is a genetic condition of men. And the bias against women having leadership as a position of authority crosses all world cultures. As of 2002, Sweden had the highest percentage of women in the legislature at 43%. And the United States, Andorra, Israel, Sierra Leone, and Ireland tied for 57th place with less than 15% of the legislature women.  (http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm) Admittedly, those percentages are significantly higher than the occurrence of female chimpanzees becoming alpha of the community by getting the most followers, but the trends are similar in manifesting a general gender bias across cultures against females getting leadership as a position of authority over followers.
Determining what makes effective "leadership"
In comparing various leadership styles in many cultures, academic studies have examined the patterns in which leadership emerges and then fades, sometimes by natural succession according to established rules and sometimes by the imposition of brute force. Some scholars choose to judge the effectiveness of leadership by the size of the following that the "leader" can muster. By this standard, Hitler became a very effective leader even if his promises were delusional and even if his troops coerced the followers.  (http://www.spicyquotes.com/html/Adolf_Hitler_Leadership.html)
Other scholars maintain that an effective leader must unite followers to a shared vision that offers true value, integrity, and trust to transform and improve an organization and society at large. James MacGregor Burns calls this leadership that delivers true value, integrity, and trust transformational leadership that he distinguishes from mere transactional leadership that gets power by doing whatever will get more followers.  (http://fecolumnists.expressindia.com/full_column.php?content_id=35970) But the transformational quality of leadership is more difficult to quantify than would be a mere count of the followers that transactional leadership sets as a primary standard for effectiveness. That is, transformational leadership requires an evaluation of quality independent of the market demand that exhibits in the number of followers.
Do certain qualities make a "leader"?
Studies of leaders have suggested qualities that are often associated with leadership. They include:
- Talent and technical/specific skill at the task at hand.
- Initiative and entrepreneurial drive
- Charismatic inspiration - being liked by others and the ability to leverage this esteem to motivate others
- Preoccupation with their role - a dedication that consumes much of their life - service to a cause.
- A clear sense of mission - clear goals - focus - commitment
- Results oriented - every action is directed towards a mission - prioritize activities so that time is spent where results will be best achieved
- Optimism - very few pessimists are leaders
- Rejection of determinism - belief in their ability to make a difference
- Ability to encourage and nurture those that report to them - delegate in such a way as people will grow
- Role models - take on a persona that encapsulizes the mission - lead by example
Leadership and vision
No matter how you define leadership, there is always an element of vision involved. A leader (or group of leaders) must have a vision of the future and be able to communicate it to others. This vision, to be effective, should:
- be a simple, yet vibrant, image in the mind of the leader
- describe a future state that is credible and preferable to the present state
- act as a bridge between the current state and a future optimum state
- be seen as desirable enough to be capable of energizing followers
- be capable of speaking to followers at an emotional or spiritual level (logical appeals by themselves seldom create a following)
For leadership to occur, the vision must be communicated to others in such a way that they adopt the vision as their own. Leaders must not just see the vision themselves, they must be capable of getting others to see it also. Numerous techniques are used to do this including: narratives, metaphors, symbolic actions, leading by example, incentives, and penalties.
It has been claimed, by Stacey (1992), that the emphasis on vision puts an unrealistic burden on the leader. It is said to perpetuate the myth that on organization must depend on a single uncommonly talented individual to decide what to do. He claims that this fosters a culture of dependency and conformity in which followers take no proactive incentives nor think independently.
Leadership and management
Leadership is closely related to management, some would say synonymous with it. If you accept this premise, you can view leadership as being either: centralized or decentralized; broad or focused; decision-oriented or morale-centred; intrinsic or derived from some authority. But a more accurate claim is that there is a reciprocal relationship between leadership and management, that is, an effective manager must have leadership skills, and an effective leader must have management skills. Although even this claim is too strong according to many. The difference between leadership and management was clearly delineated by Abraham Zaleznik (1977). Leaders he said, are inspiring visionaries who are concerned about substance, while managers are planners who are concerned with process. The dichotomy between managers and leaders was further explicated by Warren Bennis (1989). He draws twelve distinctions between the two groups:
- Managers administer ; leaders innovate,
- Managers ask how and when, leaders ask what and why,
- Managers focus on systems ; leaders focus on people,
- Managers do things right ; leaders do the right things,
- Managers maintain ; leaders develop,
- Managers rely on control ; leaders inspire trust,
- Managers have a short-term perspective ; leaders have a longer-term perspective,
- Managers accept the status-quo ; leaders challenge the status-quo,
- Managers have an eye on the bottom line ; leaders have an eye on the horizon,
- Managers imitate ; leaders originate,
- Managers are the classic good soldier ; leaders are their own person,
- Managers are a copy ; leaders are original.
Paul Birch (1999) also sees a distinction between leadership and management. He says, that as a broad generalisation managers are concerned with tasks and leaders are concerned with people. This is not to say that leaders do not focus on the task. Indeed, one thing that characterises a great leader is that they achieve. The difference is that the leader realises that the achievement of the task is through the goodwill and support of others, while the manager may not.
This goodwill and support is generated by seeing people as people, not as another resource to be deployed in support of the task. The role of a manager is often to organise resources to get something done. People are one of these resources and many of the worst managers treat people as just another interchangeable item. The role of a leader is to cause others to follow a path you have laid or a vision you have created in order to achieve a task. Often the task is seen as subordinate to the vision. For instance, the overall task of an organisation might be to generate profit but a good leader will see profit as a by-product that flows from whatever aspect of their vision differentiates their company from the competition.
This is not to say that leadership is purely a business phenomenon. Most of us can think of an inspiring leader we have met in our lives who has nothing whatever to do with business. It might be a politician, it might be an officer in the armed forces, it might be a Scout or Guide leader, it might even have been a teacher or head teacher. Similarly, management is not a purely business phenomenon. Again, we can think of examples of people that we have met who fill the management niche in non-business organisations. In non-business organisations it should be easier to find an inspiring vision that is not money driven that will support true leadership. Unfortunately this is often not the case.
Differences in the mix of leadership and management can define various management styles. Some management styles tend to be relatively weak on leadership. Included in this group one could include participatory management, democratic management, and collaborative management styles. Other management styles, such as authoritarian management and top-down management depend more on a leader to provide direction. It should be mentioned, however, that just because an organization has no single leader giving it direction, does not mean it necessarily has weak leadership. In some cases group leadership (multiple leaders) can be effective. The advantage of a single leader is that decisions can be made quickly and decisively when needed. Group decision making is sometimes given the derisive label "committee-itis" because of the time required to make a decision. The advantage of group leadership is it can bring more expertise, experience, and perspectives to a process.
Patricia Pitcher (1994) has challenged this bifurcation into leaders and managers. She used a factor analysis technique on data collected over 8 years, and concluded that there are three types of leaders, each with very different psychological profiles. One group is imaginative, inspiring, visionary, entrepreneurial, intuitive, daring, and emotional. She calls these "artists". There are also "craftsmen". They are well balanced, steady, reasonable, sensible, predictable, and trustworthy. Finally there are "technocrats" who are cerebral, detail oriented, fastidious, uncompromising, and hard-headed. She speculates that no one profile is a preferred leadership style. She claims that if we want to build, we should find an "artist leader"; if we want to solidify our position we should find a "craftsman leader"; and if we have an ugly job that needs to get done (like downsizing) we should find a "technocratic leader". She claims that a balanced leader exhibiting all three sets of traits is extremely rare. She found none in her study.
- An effective leader resembles an orchestra conductor in some ways. He/she has to somehow get a group of potentially diverse and talented people -- many of whom have strong personalities -- to work together toward a common output. Will the conductor harness and blend all the gifts his or her players possess? Will the players be happy with the degree of creative expression they have? Will the audience be pleased by the sound they make? The conductor may have a determining influence on all of that.
Leadership by a group
In contrast to tolerating leadership as a position of authority, some highly successful organizations have adopted a pragmatic approach when they found that the role of boss costs too much in team performance. That is, in some situations, the maintenance of the boss is too expensive by either draining the resources of the group as a whole or impeding the creativity within the team, even unintentionally.
For example, the Orpheus orchestra, which has performed for over thirty years without a conductor--that is, without a boss--for a team of over 25 members, has drawn discriminating audiences, and has produced over 60 recordings for Deutsche Grammophon in successful competition with the other world-class orchestras with the autocratic or charismatic conductors.  (http://www.orpheusnyc.com)
Rather than an autocratic or charismatic conductor deciding the overall conception of a work and then dictating how each individual is to perform the individual tasks, the Orpheus team generally selects a different "core group" for each piece of music; the core group as a team work out the details of the piece; the core group present their idea to the whole team; each member of the whole team then participates in refining the final conception, rehearsal, and product, including checking from various places in the auditorium how the sound balances and verifying the quality of the final recording -- all without a boss.
At times the whole team may follow someone, but whom the team follows rotates from task to task among the members that the team finds capable. The Orpheus team even has developed seminars and training sessions for adapting the Orpheus Process to business.  (http://www.orpheusnyc.com/about/process.htm)
Other varieties of leadership
The word "leadership" can mean a collective group of leaders, or it can mean the special if not mystical characteristics of a celebrity (compare hero). Yet other usages have a leadership which does not lead, but to which one simply shows respect (compare the courtesy title reverend). Aside from the prestige-role sometimes granted to inspirational leaders, a more mundane usage of the word "leadership" can designate "current front-runners": someone can for a time take over the lead in a race, for example; or a corporation or a product can hold a position of market leadership.
In would-be controlling groups such as political parties, ruling elites, and other belief-based enterprises like religions or business, the idea of leadership can become a Holy Grail and people can come to expect transformational change stemming from the leader; such entities encourage their followers and believers to worship leadership, to respect it, and to strive to become proficient in it. Followers in such a situation may become uncritically obedient. Note the different connotations of a synonym of the word "leader" adopted from the German: Führer. Alternatives to the cult of leadership include co-operative ventures, collegiality, consensus, anarchism and democracy.
Aristocratic thinkers have postulated that leadership depends on one's blue blood or genes. Contrariwise, more democratically-inclined theorists have pointed to examples of meritocratic leaders, such as the Napoleonic marshals profiting from careers open to talent. In similar fashion, traditionalists recall the role of leadership of the Roman pater familias; against which feminist thinking posits emotionally attuned responsive and consensual empathetic guidance.
Many organizations aim to identify, foster and promote leadership potential or ability. See for example the Scouting movement.
For a more general take on leadership in politics, compare the concept of the statesman.
Scientific theories of leadership
- Argyris, C. (1976) Increasing Leadership Effectiveness, Wiley, New York, 1976. (Even though this is 30 years old, it is still a "standard" reference text.)
- Bennis, W. (1989) On Becoming a Leader, Addison Wesley, New York, 1989.
- Machiavelli, The Prince, 1530 (http://digital.library.upenn.edu/webbin/gutbook/lookup?num=1232)
- Pitcher, P. (1994 French) Artists, Craftsmen, and Technocrats: The dreams realities and illusions of leadership, Stoddart Publishing, Toronto, 2nd English edition, 1997.
- Roberts, W. (1987) Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun.
- Stacey, R. (1992) Managing Chaos, Kogan-Page, London, 1992.
- Zaleznik, A. (1977) "Managers and Leaders: Is there a difference?", Harvard Business Review, May-June, 1977.