What is Leadership?

Leadership has been studied for ages with the hope of unlocking its secrets. These studies have brought about various approaches, concepts, discussions, studies, theories, and all other sorts of attempts to help achieve effective leadership.  This first post will summarize several years of leadership study.

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Leadership is often misunderstood and misplaced in our organizations.  Many times people automatically think of positions within a group when trying to define or point out leadership. An all-encompassing definition of leadership is need.

Leadership is an interactive process social in nature
with elements embedded in the situation,
the follower and the leader themselves.

Leadership is centered on the concept of it being a social process. Three pillars support the process: leader, follower, and situation.  The leader is the one who is influencing others. It is not necessarily a person in a position or one that holds authority. A supervisor of others may be a terrible leader; while a junior workmate who has no positional authority may be a fantastic leader.  Even a person who acts in negative ways (e.g. rebel against corporate policies, one who commits crime, etc.) can be a leader if their actions are influencing others.  Can you say Hitler?  Followers are the individuals being influenced.  It gets a little tricky here in that followers can quickly become leaders depending on the dynamics and flow of the interactions between the two. This is where the social nature of leadership comes into play. Being social means there is a give and take within the process. Finally, situation is the third pillar in the leadership process. Every situation brings its own challenges. Effective leaders make adjustments as situations change.

Pierce and Newstrom define leadership as, “The activity of influencing people to cooperate toward some goal which they come to find desirable”.1  There are several similarities between this definition and my own. However the Pierce/Newstrom definition does not specifically address the critical element of situation.

Another definition is “The classic role of the great leader…is to comprehend not only the existing needs of followers but to mobilize within them newer motivations and aspirations”.2  Without expressly stating it, this definition brings in the element of situation. Comprehending existing needs and providing motivation, requires an understanding of the current situation.

The idea that leadership is, “an interpersonal relation in which others comply because they want to not because they have to” conveys that leadership is social in nature.3

Because leadership is a social process, because it involves the followers as well as the leaders, and the fact that situations change things, remember this, there is not a “one-size-fits-all” answer to leadership. If you are called to leadership consider this; Paul tells us in Ephesians 4 to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”  Verse 11 makes it clear that some are teachers, some are preachers, and some are shepherds.  Those that have been called to lead (Romans 12:8) should do so with diligence. This will build up the church as well as aid in success of any other organization.

As we lead, remember to exhibit the level of patience that your followers need. Challenge them, but do not be over powering. Encourage them with gentleness and humility. Be patient with them in love.  Sounds like the golden rule, do unto others...   If you are going to lead, lead well.

How does this fit in with your perception of leadership?  Comment below.



1. Pierce, J., & Newstrom, J. (2006). Leaders and the leadership process. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education. (p. 9)

2. Couto, R., as published in - Wren, T. (1995). Leader's companion: insights on leadership through the ages. New York, NY: The Free Press. (p. 107)

3. Hughes, R., Ginnett, R., Curphy, G., as published in - Wren, T. (1995). Leader's companion: insights on leadership through the ages. New York, NY: The Free Press. (p. 42)