There are a myriad of leadership definitions and they vary in complexity. For instance, Dwight Eisenhower made a simple, pragmatic definition when he stated, “Leadership is the ability to decide what is to be done, and then getting others to do it” (Larson, 1968). A more complex definition, however, was presented by Cleeton and Mason (1934) when they stated, “Leadership indicates the ability to influence men and secure results through emotional appeals rather than through the exercise of authority.”
The key concept in these as well as most other leadership definitions appears to be a person’s ability to organize their followers and directing them toward a common goal. The way to do it depends on factors such as the conditions of their situation and the nature of the people being lead. For instance, an authoritarian monarch may command his subjects and expect unquestioned obedience. A corporate executive, on the other hand, may take a democratic approach of seeking the opinion of his or her subordinates in developing a strategy to achieve a mutually desired outcome. Consequently, the meaning of leadership may depend on the kind of institution in which it is found (Bass & Stogdill, 1990).
In addition to being institution dependent, leadership is more precisely defined in the context of other dimensions. Bass (Wren, 1995) summarizes these when he stated,
Leadership has been conceived as the focus of group processes, as a matter of personality, as a matter of inducing compliance, as the exercise of influence, as particular behaviors, as a form of persuasion, as a power relation, as an instrument to achieve goals, as an effect of interaction, as a differentiated role, as initiation of structure, and as many combinations of these definitions (p. 38).
It appears, therefore, that leadership definitions are, at a minimum, a function of people, place, position, personality, power, and purpose.
Our next blog post will discuss the characteristics of effective leadership.
Bass, B. M., & Stogdill, R. M. (1990). Bass & Stogdill’s handbook of leadership theory, research, and managerial applications (3rd ed.). New York: Free Press.
Cleeton, G. U., & Mason, C. W. (1934). Executive ability – its discovery and development. In B. M. Bass (Ed.), Bass & Stogdill’s handbook of leadership theory, research, and managerial applications (3 ed., pp. 14). New York: The Free Press.
Wren, J. T. (1995). The leader’s companion : insights on leadership through the ages. New York: Free Press.