Leading Self

What is Leadership?

Learning Objectives

In this chapter, we will look at five different concepts to consider in regard to developing your leadership capacity.

This section will help you:

  • Determine a leadership perspective.
  • Define a leader’s role.
  • Describe power and effectiveness in leadership.
  • Establish a working definition of leadership.
  • Compile a list of leadership styles.


Leader’s Perspective

There has possibly been no greater topic which has received more attention over the last several decades as leadership. Leaders are all around us and the age-old question is; are leaders born or are they made?

Before you answer too quickly, consider the background to the question. The answer the majority of people are looking for in this kind of question is essentially; can anyone be a leader? Can I be a leader?

While it is true that some people seem to have a step up on others when it comes to leadership, there is no ‘leadership gene’. Leadership, like other behaviours is a learned behaviour. There are behavioural traits that one may learn from literature, from social media, from personal experience, or from personal mentors such as a parent or teacher. The key to understanding the answer to the question is to understand that all leaders are born in a biological sense, and leaders are also made. Meaning that leadership is a learned behaviour. Therefore the answer to the question; are leaders born or made, is yes.

Key Takeaways

There is a multitude of different leadership styles just as there is a multitude of personality styles. The good news is that all of them can be learned and most people tend to gravitate towards more than one style. Yet, before you begin learning about leading others you first need to consider how you might lead yourself.

Leader’s Role

The role of the leader is primarily just that; leading others. we will land on a working definition of leadership later on in this chapter. However, it is important to realize there is a role for the leader. Regardless of how one views leadership.

Specifically, the role of the leader can be broadly be spoken of in three larger competencies. Namely;

  1. Information Processing and Dissemination
  2. Decision Making
  3. Interpersonal

No matter the leadership style, each leader will either perform well or poorly in these three meta (large) areas. Success for the organization and for those within it will largely depend on how the leader manages these three meta-roles.

Leader’s Power

Leadership is inherently a powerful position. It is not surprising that some aspire to leadership because of the power found within the position. However, leadership – rather being a leader – has more to do with a person’s behaviour than with a position or title. Indeed, leaders are often judged to be effective or not through their behaviours and accomplishments rather than through the acquisition of a title or office.

The concept of a leader’s power rests squarely upon the act of influence. Power is the ability of one person or group to influence another. Many theories exist regarding the description and use of power, yet the fundamental aspect of power simply stated is; one agent having more influence over another agent.

There are many examples of leaders using their positional power to gain advantages for themselves. There are just as many examples of leaders using their positional power to gain advantages for their followers (constituents), their organizations, or other initiatives.

Power is essentially neutral, having a potential for influence. Yet how that power is used, and the outcomes of that power’s influence can either increase or decrease the leader’s ultimate effectiveness and legacy. Oftentimes it is the perception, not always the use of power, which influences constituents.

There are essentially two types of power; positional and personal. Positional power derives its potential from the leadership position a person may occupy within an organization and the flow of power up and down the chain of command. Personal power derives its potential from the leader’s constituents and is directly correlated to the behaviour of the leader.

Leader’s Effectiveness

There are essentially three variables that are relevant to the meaning and understanding of a leader’s effectiveness. As it is difficult to answer the question of how to evaluate leadership effectiveness, there are however certain traits or characteristics that help guide the process.

The first is the characteristics of the leader themselves. This is why learning to lead yourself is so important and fundamental to any leadership success. Your behaviours (actions) are informed by your attitudes and feelings which in turn are informed by how you think and process the world around you. The lens through which you interpret the world is based on your personal values often called your core values. These are values which best describe you as a person. Therefore, the leader’s traits, values, skills, and behaviour are the starting point for any serious discussion regarding leadership effectiveness.

The second is the characteristics of the followers (constituents). The skill and confidence levels the constituents possess as well as their commitment to assigned tasks will shed insight into the leader’s effectiveness. Ultimately, it will be the constituent’s identification with the leader that will best inform effectiveness. How the constituent relates to the leader will play a crucial role in that leader’s effectiveness to move a team or an organization forward.

The third is the characteristics of the situation. The type, size, and structure of a team or organization will have an influence on determining what was effective or not. Organizational culture plays a crucial role. Again, ultimately it will be the level or depth of trust the constituents show towards the leader that will greatly influence outcomes and determine whether the leader was effective or not.

Finally, one can see that determining effectiveness is not solely about describing outcomes of an individual who happens to be deemed the leader. Rather, any attempt to measure a leader’s effectiveness must examine a multitude of variables and that outcome(s) be measured against what the team or organization has defined as effective.

The Working Definition of What it Means to be a “Leader”

A brief scan across any media platform will reveal a vast number of definitions for leadership. The topic of leadership has always been at the forefront of business and personal development. One might say that there are just as many definitions of leadership as there are people who have tried to define the term.

However, most definitions reflect some commonalities despite the multitude of sources. Some of those commonalities are;

  • Leadership reflects the behaviour of an individual
  • Leadership is a process for building efficiency and efficacy
  • Leadership is about communicating a vision
  • Leadership is a process of building purpose
  • Leadership is the ability to facilitate a group of people

Given all these (and many more) commonalities, one significant factor emerges above the rest. Simply stated in a sentence, the working definition for leadership that will be used in this text will be;

Leadership is influence

At its core, leadership is about influencing yourself as well as others to achieve results that you (or others) might not achieve if left alone.

There is a multitude of different leadership styles and over time you would serve yourself and those you lead by becoming familiar with these terms as well as searching for ways to build up your leadership toolbox by using these styles. The following styles are not intended to be an exhaustive list, rather they are chosen to be your starting point in understanding your leadership role and how you can begin to influence yourself and others.

Authentic Leadership

This style emphasizes the importance of consistency between a leader’s words, actions, and values. The leader’s actions are strongly informed by their values and as such these leaders motivated by a desire for self-improvement and as such are generally less defensive and more open to learning. Especially from their mistakes.

Coaching Style of Leadership

This emphasizes the strengths of relationship building and as such has been regarded as one of the harder styles to use. Although not always the case, apprenticeship training tends to use this style more often with the exception of transactional leadership. Best described as a ‘try this’ approach to influence, the coaching style takes time to develop but has been proven to deliver the best outcomes over time.

Participative Leadership

This style of leadership is also known as empowering leadership or democratic leadership. This style involves the leader’s use of decision-making procedures which allow other people, typically senior apprentices, to have some influence over the decisions that will affect them (senior apprentices). Although this style seeks input from others, the act of making the final decision ultimately rests with the leader. Typical situations where this style is most often used is in regard to planning work, implementing change, or evaluating a crew.

Servant Leadership

Servant leadership is best described as the leader who serves. This style of leadership can be one of the most difficult styles to develop and use if one is not accustomed to acting in the service of others. The focus of this type of leadership is really upon making the constituents of the leader better. Serving the team from a state of compassion and care. Even if this ultimately leads to the constituent surpassing the leader in skill and knowledge. A servant leader is extremely confident in their own ability to lead and train others.

Strategic Leadership

In this leadership style, the leader is focused on long term growth of the people and the organization. Being efficient within this style means that the leader will utilize people and resources to carry out those core principles in a way that minimizes loss, wasted efforts, and/or mistakes in resource allocation. Strategic leaders examine and develop programs, systems, and structures to achieve success.

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership has seen a dramatic rise in popularity over the last number of years. Transformational leaders seek to connect with the moral and emotional fabric of their constituents with the purpose and outcome of any particular initiative. In this process, the leader transforms their constituents and provides inspiration and motivation through the internalization of the goal by the constituents. This type of leadership style when done correctly, meaning the focus is placed squarely upon the connection between constituent and ultimate purpose, is considered effective in any situation or culture. If done poorly, it is mistaken as charismatic and manipulative.

Transactional Leadership

Closely related to a transformational leadership style, transactional leadership motivates constituents by appealing to their self-interests and benefits. The values associated with this style of leadership are more in line with those values relevant to the exchange process and as such tend to achieve success through a ‘give and take’ type of situation. This results in a process which has lower levels of enthusiasm and commitment to the overall purpose or cause. Leaders identify the needs of their constituents and seek to meet those needs in exchange for compliance with the requests of the leader.

Values-Based Leadership

This style of leadership finds its source of purpose and direction from a pre-set, determined list or accumulation of values. There reside two distinct forms of values-based leadership. The first rests with the leader. Decisions, goals, strategic plans, and evaluations are based upon the values of the leader themselves. The second rests with the organization. Every organization has a set of values, whether they have been formally built and agreed upon by a group of individuals or not, every organization contains values. In some cases, the organization takes on the values of the leader. This is a rather informal process compared to one where a group of people conducts formal sessions to determine what the values of the organization will be. In this situation, these values may be external to the leader and as such cause the leader to either adopt them and internalize them or not. In situations where there a misalignment exists between the values of the organization and the values of the leader, friction and poor performance will be common.

Visionary Leadership

This style of leadership is also known as inspirational or charismatic leadership. These types of leaders are concerned more with the big picture ideas and plans of where an organization can go. As big-picture thinkers they are less concerned about the smaller details yet will not dismiss them as irrelevant or unnecessary. Visionary leaders tend to work best when there is a transition needed for an organization especially when an organization is looking to become innovative or cultivating new directions.

Concluding this chapter, it becomes abundantly clear there are many different variables when it comes to leadership, developing perspective, gaining skills, and cultivating influence. We have distilled the information in this chapter down into three areas or zones to further assist you in developing your own leadership capabilities as well as employing what you will learn through this course material. Figure 1 illustrates these zones.

It is where these three zones overlap that will best describe a balanced approach towards leadership development and successful outcomes. Understanding that if a leader is strong in one or two of the three zones the resulting outcome may be unbalanced and cause or amplify friction and frustration within the leader, within the leader’s constituents, or both.

We began this chapter by asking the question,

Are leaders born or are they made?

Key Takeaways

At the end of this chapter it is our hope that you have come to realize that both or true for any leader. Skills can be acquired, built, and mastered. Experiences, both positive and negative, will play a key role in your development. However, with its many moving parts and contingencies, leadership, both positive and effective leadership, can become a reality. It all starts with you.


References / Resources

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George, B. [billgeorgeorg]. (2009, August 17). Good leaders are authentic leaders. [https://youtu.be/r6FdIVZJfzg]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6FdIVZJfzg&feature=youtu.be

Enderson, K. [leadershipmentor]. (2016, October 8). Coaching style of leadership. [https://youtu.be/1AOTM7KGlLA]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1AOTM7KGlLA&feature=youtu.be

Arnoldy, M. (2014, February 12). Participative. [https://youtu.be/aM2adn-cRdA]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aM2adn-cRdA&feature=youtu.be

Redd, K. (2014, January 13). Robert Greenleaf: the father of a movement [https://youtu.be/x3xq0B1i-rs]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3xq0B1i-rs

Inc. (2012, April 9). Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz: how to be strategic thinkers. [https://youtu.be/Q5Djl9_Xc3w]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5Djl9_Xc3w&feature=youtu.be

Simple Academics. (2018, December 9). How to be a transformational leader (animated): What is transformational leadership? [https://youtu.be/9u8_ctKso0Y]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9u8_ctKso0Y

Makemyassignments.com. (2018, December 24). What is transactional leadership? [https://youtu.be/OPwoUO9D54U]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OPwoUO9D54U

Winninger, T. (2015, July 30). Attributes of visionary leaders. [https://youtu.be/MwSypb559FA]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwSypb559FA

Lussier, R.N., Achua, C.F. (2016). Leadership: theory, application, & skill development (6th ed.). Boston: Cengage.

Yukl, G. (2013). Leadership in organizations (8th ed.). Boston: Pearson.




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Entrepreneurial Leadership for the Trades Copyright © by Chad Flinn and Tim Carson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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