WHAT IS LEADERSHIP?
Leadership is an issue of paramount importance to management. It is the subject of a number
of studies that are aimed at defining clearly and emphatically the characteristics of leaders in
order to be able to recognize them and their influence to be put into use to increase the
effectiveness of management. Here are a few different viewpoints regarding leadership:
“A process of social influence during which one may draw the aid and support of others for
executing a common task ” (Chemers, 1997, p. 23).
“A phenomena of interaction or influence over a given individual upon the opinion,
assessment, attitude and behavior of the group as a whole or of its individual members. ”
(Zhuravlev, 2002, p. 216).
“The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers” (Lesselbein, Goldsmith, 2010,
“Leadership is influence – nothing less, nothing more ” (Maxwell, 2007, p. 22)
“Leadership is a function of knowing oneself, the ability to clearly communicate a certain view,
building trust amid followers and undertaking effective measures for fulfilling your own
leadership potential” (Bennis, 2009, p. 83)
“… to be a leader means to direct, to manage and influence your followers, for which they
grant you with status, self-confidence and obey you on their own volition ” (Todorova, 1995,
The difficulty of defining leadership in simple categories is obvious. The only thing that is clear
is that in order to have a leader, there needs to be a given group within which to develop one’s
leadership potential. This is the basic characteristic and at the same time a prerequisite for
the presence of leadership.
BASIC THEORIES ON LEADERSHIP
Studies of leadership may be divided into two chronological periods – till the 1950s and
afterwards. Before the 1950s, studies were focused on the characteristics of a good leader –
what personal traits someone has to possess in order to be a successful leader. A multitude of
characteristics has been collected and their list is constantly growing. We arrive at the general
image of the leader who is generally defined by his charisma. This method of studying
leadership is called the Great Person Theory.
The image of the charismatic leader includes his skills in involving others thanks to his personal
charisma, appeal, ability to build trust, and personal competence. Some of the described
personal traits of a leader are also knowledge, imposing appearance, frankness, sound mind,
initiative, and high degree of self-confidence (Angelov, 1998). The legend of personal charisma
is built upon this. Charisma is apparently hard to describe and study because of its own
complex being and its many components which are a prerequisite for its evolution. Such
description of leadership is suitable for theoretical studies, but the question arises: Is it
possible that one was born a follower and acquire at a later point leadership traits? In other
words – is leadership innate or can it be learnt; the eternal dilemma: nature versus nurture?
This question becomes more and more important with the development of the pragmatic
mindset. If social psychology aims to delve into the theoretical analysis of leadership,
management needs practical pointers on how to create leaders.
After the 1950s, it did not matter so much anymore what traits a leader has but what his
particular functions are. It was no longer the question of how a leader looks, but what a leader
has to do. Leadership was defined as a specific role within a group that influences the
effectiveness of achieving the group goals and the formation of group values and norms of
behavior. (Chemers, 1997). The basic functions of leadership were related mainly with
organizing combined efforts in various spheres of everyday life, creating and maintaining
group norms, representing the group in its interaction with other groups, suffering the
consequences of the group’s actions, and establishing and maintaining favorable relationships
within the group (Zhuravlev, 2002).
The subject of leadership became a lot clearer from a practical point of view. It was no longer
considered that a leader needs to be found, but rather to be created by teaching him certain
skills and competences. Thus, the concept of leadership transcended from the charisma phase
into the phase of situational leadership. Charisma, which is considered an innate set of traits,
gives place to functionality, which is a collection of knowledge and skills applied to a given
situation. This viewpoint is very important to management because it allows the good
professional to be ‘introduced’ to leadership.
This is the basic contribution of the situational method to leadership. According to it, the
leader needs a specific situation or environment. A numbers of factors exist that are not
related to the personal qualities of a leader, yet they have a significant influence over his
success. Such can be the requirements and impact of the environment, the information which
the leader has at his disposal, the individual potential and needs of the followers, the nature
of the group task.
The situational method does not denounce the charismatic leader, it merely
compliments it by adding a different approach to develop leadership in its entirety. This idea
becomes more and more applicable in management. It allows management of the
environment with the goal of developing leadership skills in given levels of the management
structure of every organization.
In other words – the presence of controlled conditions can form certain leadership skills or create the necessary prerequisites for their development.
The behavioral approach to studying leadership is quite popular as well. It is based on the theory of behaviorism which states that any event may only be analyzed within the lines of its proper manifestation – behavior. Thus, the idea of having different styles of leadership comes to light.
To guarantee predictability of a leader’s behavior, these researchers concede that a leader reactsthe same way in identical or similarsituations. This is the most controversial part of the idea since it represents leadership as a very narrow concept: the behavior of the leader is regarded as a constant. Another quite controversial point in this approach is the statement that there is a ‘good’ type of leadership.
Good leaders are considered to be those who are democratic and take into account their followers’ opinions. At a certain point, after the industrial revolution, it became apparent that namely leaders with similar styles were the most unsuccessful. This was a heavy setback for the behavioral approach.
When examining the theory of leadership, one cannot omit the not so popular in literature but widely used in practice concept of transactional leadership. It is based on the relationship, or the peculiar exchange, between a leader and his followers.
Examples of such exchange can be, for example, monetary remuneration for labor, the leader’s friendly attitude in exchange for the followers’ loyalty, and others. More often than not, this approach is applied by intuition, without the leader being conscious of it.
The highest evolutional stage in the study of leadership is considered to be the transformational approach. It presents the leader as an agent changing the values, beliefs and
attitudes of his followers.
The transformational leader consistently inspires his followers by adequately presenting his vision for the primary goal of the group. He stimulates the organizational culture by introducing incentives for increasing the quality of his followers’ performance. He is identified as a constant generator of orthodox ideas for improving the
personal skills and experience of every single one of his followers in order to achieve the goals
of the group successfully.
Traditionally, this type of leadership is considered to be very important during consolidation or defragmentation of the organizational structure. Leaders who have transformational skills are particularly valuable in implementing new ideas, values and all sorts of change within the organization. They succeed not only in reducing pressure but in motivating their followers as well by engaging them fully with the reforms and changes.
To be able to achieve such a leadership model, leaders need to have competences which are a combination of personal traits and situational factors:
Identification and verbal presentation of one’s vision – the effective transformational
leader cultivates and inspires his followers with a clear and precise vision of what their
performance has to be;
Provision of applicable models– the leader acts according to the established values of
the group. In other words, he exhibits the behaviour he expects from his followers;
Stimulating team spirit – the leader encourages cooperation between individuals from
the group in order to achieve a common sense of purpose.
Maintaining a high level of performance – the leader encourages hisfollowers’ success
and assists them in order to help them achieve great results;
Providing personal support– the leader shows respect towards the group members by
taking interest in what their feelings and necessities are;
Assigning intellectual stimuli – the leader stimulates his followers to discuss his
proposals and share their own ideas (Riggio, 2003).
“The term ‘transformational leadership’ was first used by James Burns , who describes
leadership as directed to the achievement of the organizational goals. The basic functions of
the transformational leader are not to control and manage, but to form a system of values
within the organization and to set an example” (Ilieva, 2006).
In conclusion, the development of the leadership theory started with the idea that man is
either born a leader or a follower, and today leadership is viewed as a competence to be
formed and developed throughout one’s life. Researchers are now willing to separate
leadership from management and to examine them as two independent phenomena. The
ideal situation would be to have a crossing point between the social role of the leader and the
formal position of the manager. However, although this could lead to high effectiveness, it
rarely happens in practice.
LEADERSHIP, CULTURE, SOCIETY
Leadership is a multifaceted phenomenon. It is a combination of the personal traits of the
leader, his behavior, the environment in which he develops, and the type of relationship
between the leader and his followers.
Consequently, the question arises of whether a given
leader, who is successful in a certain cultural environment, will be successful in another
environment as well?
In other words – does the cultural environment have any influence over
the type of leadership? Apart from the language of theory, given societies consider adequate
leaders to be the “heavy-handed” ones who do not take into consideration the personal
necessities of his followers; moreover, this would be perceived as a sign of weakness. At the
same time, such a leadership style could be unacceptable in other cultures.
Further examination of the phenomenon discussed was the basis of a cross-cultural project in
studying leadership (GLOBE). It encompassed 60 countries from all cultural regions of the
world and studied the relationship between social culture, organizational culture and
organizational leadership (Ilieva, 2006). As a result of this project, two big leadership groups
were defined within the borders of Europe, which are related to the cultural similarities and
differences of the nations.
The first group encompassesthe countries from North and Western
Europe. Leadership there is determined by an organizational culture, strictly oriented towards
results. The style of leadership is future-oriented and encourages collective work. Conformity
for the purpose of retaining personal relationships at the expense of organizational values is
The second group includes Southern and Eastern Europe where culture has predetermined
values, and is oriented towards administrative competence, diplomacy, autocratism, and the
domination of formal procedures. Leadership is mostly oriented towards maintaining one’s
image by assertiveness and, at the same time, keeping safe distance from power. This example
illustrates the wider dimensions of leadership. It happens to be in direct correlation with a
number of factors, many of which have yet to be defined clearly.
Leadership is a function of the personal traits of the leader, his experience and
behavior, which he develops within the frame of a given social context.
In order for leadership to exist, three prerequisites are necessary – a leader, a group
of followers, and active interaction between them.
Leadership is crucial to the management of any organization. For optimal efficiency
the manager has to be a leader as well. This would lead to the identification of the
employees with the goals and values of the organization and to the improvement of
their work performance.
The concept of transformational leadership combines all existing theoretical models
and develops them further. Also, it defines additional requirements for the successful
Leadership is closely related to the national and organizational culture within which it
develops. The fact that a given leader is successful in a specific country or organization
does not guarantee his success in a different environment.
Bennis, W. (2009) On Becoming a Leader.
Chemers, M. (1997) An integrative theory of leadership. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates,
Lesselbein, F. & Goldsmith, M. (2010) The Leader of the Future. The Peter Drakar’s
Maxwell, J. (2007) The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, New York.
Riggio, R. (2203) Industrial / Organizational Psychology, New Jersey.