This is the first article in the Leadership Styles Blog Series and I aim to start here by outlining what leadership is. This is important to establish before we begin to discuss leadership styles. Put simply, leadership is the skill that needs to be performed and the leadership style is the way in which you perform it. You can’t discuss football tactics in any great depth if you do not know how to play the game in the first place. The same applies to leadership in this case.
An obvious place to start is with a small selection of definitions. I would like to explore some of the most commonly used definitions of leadership.
“The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers” – Peter Drucker
“Leadership is the ability to turn vision into reality” – Warren Bennis
“Leaders are those who empower others” – Bill Gates
“Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less” – John Maxwell
These definitions are okay, and they hit some key words which will give you a general idea of what leadership is all about, but when you at these definitions in more detail they are lacking in some areas. Simply having followers does not necessarily make you a leader, turning vision into reality can be achieved in the absence of leadership, empowering others is good but it lacks direction and influencing people implies leadership is about authority and power.
Below is what I believe to be a slightly more comprehensive definition of leadership which goes some way to nailing-down what it is all about.
“Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximises the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal” – Kevin Kruse
I like this definition as leadership evolves from social influence rather than the authority and power of the individual leader. Leaders need other people more than anything else and by maximising the efforts of others the leader will be more effective in achieving their overall goal. The focus on the goal is also of vital importance as leaders need to provide clear direction and clarity for their staff. I would ideally like additional words included such as, ‘to inspire others’ or ‘to enthuse others’, but this is a good definition none-the-less.
Leadership in Context
Definitions are very useful but they fail to put leadership into context. Let’s now consider what leadership looks like in everyday situations. Leadership is all about inspiring other people, motivating them to take action and providing them with direction and clarity. It is about energising people, building belief in them and supporting them to achieve their goals. Good leaders understand that they need other people in order to succeed, they know they need to support these people and guide them as they strive to achieve their objectives.
Leadership is very different to management in that management is concerned with the work being performed whereas leadership is much more focused around the people who are doing the work. An effective leader understands their staff, believes in them and supports them in every way they can. They will also have a high level of emotional intelligence which is used to build meaningful working relationships with others. To summarise: managers manage work and leaders lead people.
Leadership is Over-Emphasised
Leadership is often considered to be something to strive for – as though only a select few people are capable of achieving the title of ‘leader’. But this is simply not true. Everyone can be and is a leader in one way or another. Think about a time when someone has supported you, provided you with direction and inspired you to take action. You may be thinking of an old boss you had or a family member.
Your parents may have led you through your school years, guiding you, supporting you and motivating you to achieve good grades. You may not class them as leaders but they definitely are to you and your education. Similarly, you may have been inspired by a famous celebrity who has opened your eyes to the possibility of great achievements. This celebrity has been a leader to you even though you have never met them.
And what about those throw away comments you hear on the bus or at work which have a lasting effect on you? You may have heard someone say something many years ago which has always been stuck in the back of your mind which you constantly refer to. These people have been leaders to you even though you may have only exchanged conversation with them on a few occasions or even just over heard them speaking to someone else.
Leadership can take many forms and it is not just about changing the world with large sweeping ideological movements. Leadership is about meaningful interaction between two or more people where one or both parties are enthused and inspired as a result. How this interaction occurs is irrelevant, it is the outcome that is of most importance. Therefore, when we explore different leadership styles throughout this blog series it is important to remember that the style being used is simply a style – none are good or bad and none are ideal in every situation.
Leadership styles provide a method for the leader to lead. Outstanding leaders have the ability to adapt different leadership styles to meet the needs of different situations and people in order to maximise their effectiveness. Understanding the concept of leadership styles is crucial if you want to become an effective leader of individuals and teams. Maintain a focus on the day to day leadership as well as the bigger picture as this is often where the greatest impact can be achieved.
I hope this initial article has partially wet your lips and given you a taste of what is to come in this Leadership Styles Blog Series. Join me tomorrow when we will be exploring our first leadership style: Autocratic Leadership.