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Chapter 1: An Overview

Leadership is, perhaps, the distinguishing social idea of our time. It is seen in individual actions taken by a many people in every organization and group within which people daily interact. It is only when we try to pin the idea of leadership down in a specific, concrete definition that it becomes confusing and illusive. This is not to say that leadership is a figment of organizational imaginings, that there is no such thing as leadership. On the contrary, we see leadership practiced every day as literally millions of group members act in leaderlike ways. Of course, they may also act in other ways during that same day—as technicians, managers, experts, clerks, or laborers. Understanding of leadership need only be placed in the context of careful observation and experience to be understood.

The widespread interest in leadership today is merely the latest iteration of a sustained interest in leadership theory and practice throughout recorded history. Unfortunately, this interest had failed in capturing its essential essence. There remain about as many definitions of this dynamic as there are people who write and talk about and teach leadership. The full nature of leadership continues to elude us. For example, some people see leadership as any head person, as the nominal chief executive, whatever the title given. Others see it as a function of charisma or personality, an attribute of the personality of a few extraordinary people. Still others define it in terms of skills, knowledge, or abilities by some people and not others, and so on. In sum, after a hundred years of discussion, leadership remains an idea in flux.


While intellectually it may be hard to define, operationally leadership is part of all organizations, at least occasionally, often continuously. The careful observer of leadership must conclude that the leader's role is different from that of other group members. Leaders are set apart from their fellows by their personal appeal or the allure of their programs, ideas, and ideals. A few character traits frequently cited in the literature include integrity, concern for results, and desire for responsibility. Less frequently cited are desire for conformity, formal business training, likability, and appearance. As we begin a new century, coalescence around a few, more comprehensive dimensions of leadership is also forming. The following discussion delimits much of the essence of leadership as it has evolved over the past hundred years. Thus, leadership includes a few contextual factors, some common values, some specific tasks, and a few personal characteristics.

Leaders are sensitive to their own intimate personal needs, as well as those of their followers. Their task is to honor the innate uniqueness of each stakeholder and at the same time develop skill in integrating all followers into work communitys to make a difference. Theirs is a task of helping individual stakeholders develop their full selves, of energizing their innermost—spiritual— cores along with their current job skills. They understand that to ignore the whole person—the spiritual dimension—of each follower is to waste valuable talent and to deny workers of some valuable job benefits and the corporation of valuable contributions. Leadership, of necessity, deals with the core, spiritual values that define the whole person (Pinchot and Pinchot, 1994).

Competent leaders have learned to deal comfortably with ambiguity in both people and program. They are integrated themselves and in their approach to leading others. Their task is to attain stated goals while finding ways to let followers develop their full talents, drives, and desires. Today's world is one of interdependence, not dependence; of uncertainty, not order; of negotiation, not edicts; of persuasion, not command (Gareau, 1999). The need is for leaders who will use their power to empower others and help them become leaders and practice spiritual leadership themselves (Fairholm, 2000a).

Leaders are self-confident risk takers willing to make hard, risky decisions of the kind not routinely required of most managers. These leaders operate on the margin as they move the organization forward, into the unknown. The payoff is commitment to the common cause, increased energy applied to the task at hand, and satisfaction in knowing that followers accept the leader's goals and expend effort in their attainment.

Finally, leaders understand and respond to their followers. Today's workers are demanding more personal attention and concern for their special needs and capacities. Today's workers are blurring the connection between work and nonwork activities. Increasingly their private activities are impinging on their professional work lives and vice versa. Today's worker is generally better educated, and educated workers want to use their knowledge in ways that benefit them and their community(s) of interest. Leaders accept their role as encompassing all stakeholders and the need to share their leadership with them.

The Social Context of Leadership

Three factors define the social context (Klenke, 1996) of leadership: the work community led, the followers, and the situation. Each factor is critical because leadership happens in a matrix of interaction and interdependency between a leader and a follower reiterated for each work community member. Leaders assemble around them people who see the potential for satisfying their personal needs in following the leader and adhering to his or her values, programs, methods, and goals. Indeed, leadership is inseparable from followers' needs and goals. Given this situation, the leader's success—even leadership per se—is best gauged by the willingness of followers to follow.

The leader's task is to create cooperative, action-oriented work communities that provide the environment—culture—within which both leader and led can operate out of a sense of spiritual wholeness and personal authenticity. The task is one of correlation of a variety of experts, each knowing more about his or her specialty than does the leader, and wanting about what the leader wants. In this cultural context, leaders construct work community visions that will tie leader, coworkers, customers, and their larger communities of interest together into an integrated whole while retaining the integrity of each individual, including themselves.

The Attitudes That Define Leadership

Leadership can be circumscribed by a few attitudes, and behaviors that support them, permeate all that the leader does (Crosby, 1996). Leaders use their personal professional values to focus the group and get their support. They love—care for—their followers, respect their individuality, and are interested in and concerned for them (Bilchik, 2001). They also trust their followers (Bedell, 2001) by behaving predictably (Bennis and Nanus, 1985). Greenleaf (1977) adds an attitude of service to this definition. He says followers will follow only leaders who are proven servants. McClelland (1976) relates leadership to confidence. He says people must have confidence in their leader before they will follow.

The Tasks That Define Leadership

Leadership is also defined by certain behaviors or tasks that focus leader behavior and describe its distinctiveness. Obviously, leaders execute some tasks common also to managers. They also perform some fundamentally different tasks. Leaders hold some values managers—or other organizational actors—do not; they behave in unique ways and seek some similar, but other quite dissimilar, goals that differentiate the leaders from other work-community members. For example, leaders are influential in the work community and with its members in ways that use positional authority power but go beyond this typically managerial tool. They use personal types of power that lets them influence others and secure their willing compliance when they do not have command (managerial) authority over their followers.

Leaders are horizon thinkers ("Forecasting techniques for managers," 2001). They create a future for the work community in the form of a vision that articulates a compelling description about what life, the work community, and the individuals involved can or should be like. Leaders communicate that vision and focus member attention and energies on attaining this "good" future state of being. They spend less time on day-to-day problem solving and more on simulation of a future no one has experienced yet. They are symbol users who communicate their meaning to all stakeholders and engage their minds in ways that imply equality, caring, and respect for the ideas and logic of the other persons (Bennis and Nanus, 1986).

The essence of leadership—and all of this discussion—casts the leader in the role of change agent, but a different kind of change agent (Gareau, 1999), the object of which is to transform both the client and the client system.

Leaders inspire and preside over a broad-scoped change process that impacts each leader personally and each individual stakeholder. Many of the results sought take many years to attain.

Nonroutine approaches to routine problems are becoming the norm. The impact of the move to creative, encompassing leadership will place new pressures on the leaders to both be creative and teach stakeholders to follow suit. Successful leaders influence change in the values, attitudes, abilities, and behaviors of followers (Bass, 1987). In this sense, it is transformational of the people and their organization (Caill, 2000).

Given these observations, it follows that our past models of leadership are faulty. They focus on skills, structure, and system. These concepts are firmly within the scope of management, not leadership. Leadership is more than technical skill in analysis, control, and structure formation (Covey, 1991). It doesn't deal primarily with programs or structure. Rather, it deals with people, their development, growth, and a commitment to work community values and results. To the degree the past theories focus on management ideas, they divert our thinking from real leadership issues.

Leadership in the twentieth century was essentially an iteration of Scientific Management, a "hard sciences" technique of management masquerading as leadership. The effect has been to try to make leadership, like management, a science, controlled, precise, predictable. The fact is leadership is not management. Management systems cannot be substituted for leadership.

Leadership is fundamentally simple, not scientific. It is a series of dynamic relationships between people at their core—spirit—level.

The times call for results-oriented, spirit-focused leaders with an uncompromising commitment to their stakeholders, for leaders who urge others to share their vision for the work community and get involved. This kind of leader is out front with a vision of what the organization is and can become. It asks the leader to move the organization's people from believing to doing to being to becoming. This task is vastly different from directing, planning, and controlling. It is enlarging work community member's perceptions of themselves and their role. It is getting them to explore the possibilities in themselves and in the situation. It is drawing out the individual, raising his or her capacity and ability to perform.

Differentiating Leadership from Management

The idea of leadership is often confused with that of management. Yet understanding of neither the theory of this discipline nor its practice can be successful until the special elements of the leader's task are clearly articulated and integrated into the mind-set of stakeholders—whether leaders or followers. Both traditional and contemporaneous definitions of leadership deal at least in part with common traits. Leaders are those persons who demonstrate traits of character in common with all other leaders (Deal and Kennedy, 1988). That is, unless a person is defined in terms of the following definitional characteristics, one can assume that that person is not a leader or only partially meets the necessary definitional criteria. Experience with work groups suggests that at least the following definitional characteristics describe leadership:

  • Leaders are different from others—they may be described as charismatic, magnetic, powerful people, set apart from the average (Cashman and Burzynski, 2000).

  • They are self-confident (Bass, 1981).

  • They are enthusiastic (Braham, 1999).

  • They are risk takers (Cashman and Burzynski, 2000).

  • They have a future focus (Bjerke, 1999).

  • They are characterized by a participative style (Bennis, 1999).

  • They have an integrating perspective (Tesolin, 2000).

  • They are committed to help others become leaders and then practice leadership themselves (Plas, 1996).

  • They have a sensitivity about leader–follower relationships (Santovec, 2001).

  • They demonstrate a respect for the changing situation (Gareau, 1999).

Leadership defined as it is above is not management. Management deals with such issues as performance, productivity, system, control, and measurement (Antonioni, 2000). The burden of management is to make every system, activity, program, and policy countable, measurable, predictable, and therefore controllable. Leadership, on the other hand, partakes of a different value-set. Leaders think differently; value people, programs, and policy differently; relate to others differently. They have different expectations for followers and seek different results from the work community or individual members.

Loosely, one can consider leadership to be the art of influencing people to accomplish the leader's aims. On the other hand, management is the ancillary and subordinate science of specifying and implementing means to accomplish the ends others—leaders—set. Managers maintain the balance of operations, leaders create new approaches and imagine new areas to explore (Zaleznick, 1977). Managers are transactional; leaders are transforming (Burns, 1978). The leader integrates the goal of the individual with the goal of the organization (Plas, 1996; Hersey and Blanchard, 1978). Leaders define the goals of the organization and then design an enterprise distinctively adapted to these ends (Selznick, 1957).

Given these essential differences between leadership and management, past theories that combine the two systems of behavior and ideology must necessarily be faulty. They ignore essential features of each or else overemphasize features of one to the detriment of the other. What is needed is a new conception, a new theory, that focuses fully on leadership as a discrete set of values, attitudes, and techniques, a discrete systems of behaviors, skills, and methods. Such a theory is found in the new leadership model described in the following chapters.

The special characteristics of leadership versus management is summarized in the following kinds of statements taken from the conventional wisdom of the past few years. These statements are illustrative only. No claim is made to delimit the range and scope of this difference so fully documented in the literature. This list serves only to point to the essential differences in these two concepts.

  • Leadership is doing right things, not just doing things right (Bennis and Nanus, 1985).

  • Leadership involves horizon thinking, thinking in the longer term, and thinking in more global terms ("Forecasting techniques for managers," 2001).

  • Leadership emphasizes the intangibles as well as the specifics working with others (Kalafut, 2001).

  • Leaders are cheerleaders, not cops, enthusiasts, not referees, coaches, not detractors (Lombardi, 2000).

  • Leaders look beyond the unit to all stakeholders impacted by the organization (Plas, 1996).

  • Leaders reach and influence constituents beyond their immediate jurisdiction (Badaracco and Ellsworth, 1989).

  • Leaders put heavy emphasis on the intangibles of vision, values, and motivation (inspiration) (Spreitzer, De Janasz, and Quinn, 1999).

  • Leaders understand the nonrational element in leader–constituent interaction (Spreitzer, De Janasz, and Quinn, 1999).

  • Leaders have political skill to cope with conflicting requirements and multiple constituencies (Fairholm, 1993).

  • Leaders think in terms of renewal (Caill, 2000).

Leadership Mind-Sets

Leadership is a multidifferentiated idea. Understanding it is, like all important aspects of life, a thing of the mind. An individual's idea of leadership is not so much the objective reality of leadership as it is his or her perception of it. Defining any dynamic concept like leadership is therefore difficult. In spite of this difficulty, for current purposes we can describe leadership in terms of several paradigms, or mind-sets currently in vogue in the discipline. The specific mind-set individuals adopt to understand leadership is personal; it is selected as they experience, read, and think about leadership.

Everyone has a mind-set that tells him or her what his or her truth is. These mental (not necessarily objectively real) perceptions are often so strong that no other perspective seems reasonable or even true—even when that mind-set is contradicted by observable reality. Each person thinks leadership is what his or her current mind-set tells him or her it is. Viewpoints other than the individual's current reality are seen as wrong, incorrect (it may be that alternative conceptions are simply inconceivable).

Five mental models of leadership can be identified in the 100-year history of the intellectual movement to full understanding of leadership. Each is true in the sense that it helps describe some part of the leadership task. But it is only together that they define the full picture. They rank along a continuum from control to spiritual holism and include the following ideas:

  • Leadership is the same as management.

  • Leadership is synonymous with good management.

  • Leadership is a function of the values held by leader and led.

  • Leadership is a task of creating a culture high in mutual trust.

  • Leadership flows out of the core spiritual values held by both leader and led—it is ultimately these core values that determine individual and group action, success, and satisfaction.

The sense of leadership today revolves around these descriptive ideas. Which, if any, are the real leadership perspective—or if none are, or if only together can we sense the real idea of leadership—remains in the mind of the beholder.

Defining leadership this way fundamentally changes the nature of leadership practice and of leader development and training.

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