The Concept of Leadership

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The Concept of Leadership


Undoubtedly, the topic of defining the concept of leadership has been always of a keen interest among people since ancient times. In the works of Greek philosophers, leadership was described as a unique ability to motivate others. Nowadays, millions of books are published on this topic; however, no one can give a clear definition what this concept means. Scientists claim that in the globalized world leadership is a key to success in any business. In spite of the fact that leadership is very important nowadays, there is still a mystery as to how to explain this concept. It is worth mentioning that there are as many definitions of leadership as people who have written about this term. The aim of this paper is to define and to analyze the concept of leadership, taking into account credible opinions and researches on this subject.

Scientists point out that there are two main difficulties in identifying the concept of leadership. Firstly, like other concepts such as “happiness”, “love”, “peace”, leadership is a complex interpersonal notion. It means that everyone can explain what leadership is. The person frames this concept according to personal experience and knowledge. There will be no mistakes in interpreting leadership. Many man, many minds. Secondly, the concept of leadership is difficult to define due to different scientific theories. Doubtless, it will be not easy for the person to understand what leadership is, because his/her opinion is influenced by other theoretical stances. For instance, there are scientists who view leadership as a unique trait that motivates people; other think that leadership highly depends on social context due to the fact that only leaders can emerge as a special group out of ordinary people. Thus, it is clear that difference of theories will lead to difference of views about the concept of leadership.

Grint’s Approach

According to Grint (2004), there are four obstacles for defining the notion of leadership. Firstly, it is the “process” issue that is seen as inability of scientists to reach an agreement. Some people hold an opinion that leadership is a set of personal traits that makes a person a leader. While others think that leadership is an ability to motivate and to be followed (a social process). Secondly, it is the “position” issue. It can be explained by the role that the leader presents: whether he/she is an authority/formal leader or he/she is an informal leader. The third issue is connected with the “philosophy” – that means the leader follows behavioral philosophy or situational one. The last problem is “purity” – the scientists cast doubts if leadership concept is purely individual notion or it is also social. In addition, Grint (2004) accentuates attention on the ability to differentiate leadership from coercion. Coercion is not leadership because people do not follow their leader, they simply are afraid of being punished if they contradict him/her. Grint (2004) says that Hitler, Saddam Hussein, and Stalin are not leaders because they used their tyranny to control their society and other nations. Consequently, it is clear that the concept of leadership should not be mixed up with coercion and tyranny. However, nowadays most of the leaders are perceived as tyrants by certain groups of people.

Psychological Approach to Leadership

If to take into account the psychological approach, it is vital to understand why some people are leaders and others are followers. The essence of relationship between leaders and followers has been always deeply discussed. According to the psychological approach, leadership may be also defined as an ability of one (a true leader) to motivate others (followers), taking into account psychological hints how to control the group.

According to Northouse (2004), there are four primary features of true leadership:

  1. Leadership is a unique process of motivating others.
  2. Leadership is an influence.
  3. Leadership can exist only in a group.
  4. Leadership is an ability to reach a target no matter what.

Thus, if to sum up all of the above qualities, it is clear that leadership is a process of influencing others (whether it is a small group or the whole society) in order to reach specific goals. Undoubtedly, the above mentioned features characterize leadership; however, in this case, people are still seen as sources of leadership. On the contrary to Northouse’s definition, Yukl (2002) identifies leadership as an absolutely social notion that means c a leader has the ability to influence and structure activities in different social groups. In such a way, it is evident that Yukl has a more collective approach to defining leadership.

Leadership Theories

It is needless to say that the concept of leadership must be also analyzed regarding different leadership theories. Scientists define three main leadership theories, such as the situational (or contingency), trait, and behavioral models of leadership. According to the situational model, leadership is possible when a leader chooses right behavior that corresponds to a concrete situation. In the situational model of leadership, there are two types of leader: task-oriented (who tries to reach his/her goal in a timely and sound manner) and relationship-oriented (who tries to establish friendly atmosphere in his/her team and builds effective rapport between him/her and the employees). Also, a leader must pay attention to internal and external situations. It means that a leader must evaluate his/her colleagues’ mood, beliefs as well as ideas and intentions while establishing the process of work. According to the trait theory, a leader has many special traits (characteristics) that define him/her from non-leaders. However, there is no one unique set of traits that suit each leader. It means that leaders are always unique individuals. The behavioral approach defines leadership as special behavior that only a leader may have.

Principles of Leadership

Undoubtedly, each concept has its main principles.

Talking about leadership, it is necessary to mention next characteristics:

  1. Know yourself, taking into account three attributes: be, know, and do.
  2. Seek self-improvements that can be accomplished trough different trainings, self-study, motivational courses, and interaction with others.
  3. Be responsible for what you do. The person must take responsibility for a leading process.
  4. Be professional of your own business.
  5. Set an example that will give many priorities why people want to follow you.
  6. Inform your followers.
  7. Establish trustworthy relationships at work.
  8. Plan ahead.
  9. Make timely and clever decisions.
  10. Train your team as well as yourself.

Look at the above mentioned principles of leadership, it is vital to mention a great leader of the 21th century who fully corresponds to these characteristics. To my mind, Steve Jobs is the great leader who managed to invent his own leadership style based on trustworthy relationships between him and his employees. Moreover, he always stressed the importance of teamwork. Also, he saw leadership as a unique ability of one to be the best and to do the best for his team as well as for the society. Thus, one can see that Jobs’s leadership style is a desire to reach excellence in work management as well in teamwork. Moreover, Etaine (2013) has claimed that Jobs was a unique leader who really appreciated innovation and high quality of products.

Leadership Factors

Scientists claim that leadership includes four main factors, such as a follower, a leader, communication, and a situation. The follower factor requires a good understanding of the team. For example, newly hired employees will demand supervision and guidelines. On the contrary, experienced workers will require trustworthy relationships. It is clear that the fundamental point of the follower factor is to know the peculiarities of one's own team. The next factor is a leader that requires deep understanding of personal possibilities and knowledge. If a leader faces some challenges in his/her group, it is not a problem of followers. It can happen because a leader inappropriately assumes personal strengths and limitations. If a leader lacks in confidence, he/she cannot inspire the team. As a result, a leader cannot convince people of their leadership skills. If to talk about the communicational factor, it is worth mentioning that a leader must pay attention to verbal and non-verbal means of communication. A true leader must use appropriate style of speaking with his/her followers. It will be irrational to use too formal style while explaining utilization of new equipment. In this case, a leader must set an example of a person who can explain and direct the process of work in a clear, sound, and timely manner. Finally, the situational factor requires understanding of different environments in which a leading process may be conducted. By environments are meant different conferences, trainings, human moods, behaviors etc. A true leader must know that in one situation his/her behavior can be highly supported, while in other it can be judged.


Leadership is a complex phenomenon that highly depends on individual, organizational, and social contexts. It tightly correlates with influence, but not with coercion. Leadership is a process of choosing the right tools to inspire and motivate others. Undoubtedly, the choice of definition of leadership depends on personal predispositions and beliefs, but one must be aware of his/ her own assumptions about this concept.