What is Leadership?

What is Leadership?

While there are hundreds of thousands of definitions for leadership, the easiest way to understand what leadership is, is to think of it as a process of social influence where an individual or a group can accomplish a common task by enlisting the help and influence of another individual.

This help and influence of another individual – the leader typically comes in any of two forms. As a result, leadership is often divided into two broad categories

  • The process theory of leadership
  • The traits theory of leadership

The process theory explains the leadership of an individual in terms of application of the leader’s knowledge and leadership skills in a crisis situation.

The traits theory follows the older, more orthodox approach that leaders were born and not made. It follows that a leader has certain traits he is born with that influence his actions, facilitating his function as an enabler.

Most scholars however take a middle stand and agree that leadership can be learned and that a person’s traits like his ethics, character, values and beliefs can influence his skills, knowledge and interpretations, helping him become a better leader.

The four elements of leadership

The scope of leadership entails four pillar elements – a leader, a follower, a situation and communication.

  • Leader – The leader is the person in charge who leads and guides a team aka followers, and acts as an enabler, helping followers uncover their true potential and achieve goals.
  • Follower – Followers form an important dynamics in leadership. They decide if a particular leader is successful or not. To become a superior leader you need to be able to understand your followers well. Each individual requires to be led in a customized manner for maximum productivity and efficiency.

A fickle minded follower needs different style of leadership than a strong minded one. The leadership required by a new hire is different from that required by an experienced employee.

Two things that are especially commodious in influencing followers effectively are observation and understanding of the human nature – why your team member does what he does, what are his underlying motivations, what needs is he trying to satisfy and so on. Once you understand the thought process and mechanism of your followers, you will be able to improvise your leadership, centred on them. You become the enabler who knows how to motivate and inspire the team to reach desired results.

  • Communication – verbal and non-verbal communication from the last element of leadership. As a leader you need to pay attention to communicating without ambiguity and entertaining a dialogue where your team has a say of their own, rather than following a monologue where you do all the instructing and expect your team to blindly follow.

The message you communicate non-verbally is as important as what you speak directly. The example you set by practising what you preach communicates reliance and trust to your team. They build more faith in you and understand that under your leadership, they will never have to do something their leader won’t be comfortable doing himself.

  • Situation – like followers, situations are highly variable and need customized responses. And your response to a particular situation marks the gap between a great leader and you. Skilled leaders use their judgement in every situation and refrain from using the same, pre-set course of action for all situations.

It is noteworthy here that situation typically has a greater effect on a leader’s action than his own leadership traits. This makes sense too, since great leaders understand that the strategic planning they do for enlisting a course of action needs to be tailor made around the situation. While your traits define who you are in normal situations, a critical situation calls for a specialized action.

Consequently, a lot of leadership scholars today give preference to the “process theory of leadership” when compared to the “trait theory”. Whatever theory you choose to believe, it is important to bear in mind that great leaderships come only when the leader priorities goals of his followers before his own and works with them to achieve the same.

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