“Leadership is one of those things which is almost impossible to pin down in words but which everyone recognises when they see it.” D.A.S Plastow Group Managing Director Rolls-Royce Motors Limited.
When we hear the word leadership or leader, the first thing some people imagine is a great military commander or king standing in front of his people and issuing orders. If we think about it more closely, we will realize that leadership is not only a creation of ancient history but we deal with it on a regular basis. To find a leader we don’t need to look far, presidents, politicians, business managers, sport stars and even every day people possess leadership qualities. Although the meaning of leadership may seem at first easy to define, but when we try to illustrate it with words it gets a little more complicated.
The concept of leadership has been an object of study and fascination for centuries. Although many theories and ideas have been developed, there are many differences in between them. Some theories may seem in conflict with each other, but most of them do possess similarities allowing us to understand the general meaning of leadership and its role. Upon emerging ourselves into the various perspectives of leadership, we will surely encounter an eternal problem, are leaders born or can they be trained. Or as Dr Cyril Levicki stated in his book, the question can also be formed as a “debate between nature and nurture”. In order to even begin answering that question, we must first define what leadership really is and what the characteristics of a great leader are.
Leadership is a universal human phenomenon. Through anthropological research on primitive groups all around the world H. L. Smith and Krueger stated in 1933 that leadership occurs universally among all people regardless of culture. However, as in the words of James MacGregor Burns, “leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth”. (Bass, B.M. 1981) Defining a leader is a very hard task, since there is no school of leadership. Although no comprehensive concept of leadership has yet emerged, we do have a large variety of research, analysis and data, collected mostly in the past decade. Burns also stated in his work (1978), that through the experience and data accumulated by mankind, we have all the factors needed to achieve an intellectual breakthrough. Unfortunately, such a breakthrough did not occur, Burns wasn’t the only one to fail in that matter. None of the authors, who published their work in the 1980s or early 1990s, could present a holistic framework of leadership. (Joseph C. Rost 1993) Many books were published before the 1980s; nevertheless the amount of books written in that decade was enormous, compared to what was going on before that period. Some definitions of leadership, that were created at that time where examples of very sloppy thinking. For example; Wayson (1979) stated that “Leadership is the process by which a member helps a group to meet its goals”. Plachy (1978) defined leadership as “getting things done through people” Other definitions where more organizationally focused and management oriented. Osborn and Hunt (1975) provided this definition “Leadership is defined in terms of discretionary influence. Discretionary influence refers to those leader behaviours under the control of the leader which he may vary from individual to individual”. Definitions like those were the standard definitions at that point of time, easily causing the concepts of leadership and management to overlap. (Joseph C. Rost 1993)
In later years theories began to crystallize and distinguished management and leadership from one another. Most definitions regarding leadership, present the fact that leadership is a process in which an individual applies influence upon others in an organizational context. So does Gary Yukl’s definition (2002):
“Leadership is the process wherein an individual member of a...
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