Nearly 40 years ago, Stogdill (1974) noted “there are almost as many different definitions of leadership as there are persons who have attempted to define the concept” (p. 7). This should probably be expected of a popular topic with a long history of interest. Much of the diversity is driven by the theoretical underpinning / approach / lens the definer uses when crafting a new definition. Unfortunately, at times, this lack of definitional clarity has led to significant confusion by those interested in the topic.
While not intending to further muddy the waters, I have provided a sampling of leadership definitions collected over the years to provide the interested observer a brief glimpse at the variety. They include:
- “Leadership is a function of knowing yourself, having a vision that is well communicated, building trust among colleagues, and taking effective action to realize your own leadership potential.” Warren Bennis
- “…leadership is a complex phenomenon that touches on many other important organizational, social and personal processes. It depends on a process of influence, whereby people are inspired to work towards group goals, not through coercion, but through personal motivation.” (Bolden, 2004, p. 5)
- “Leadership over human beings is exercised when persons with certain motives and purposes mobilize, in competition or conflict with others, institutional, political, psychological, and other resources so as to arouse, engage, and satisfy the motives of followers.” (Burns, 1978, p. 18)
- “Leadership is the lifting of a man’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a man’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a man’s personality beyond its normal limitations.” Peter Drucker
- “The process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation, while operating to accomplish the mission and improve the organization.” (FM 6-22, 2006, p. Glossary-3)
- “Leadership should be defined in terms of the ability to build and maintain a group that performs well relative to its competition.” (Hogan & Kaiser, 2005, p. 172)
- “Leadership is the art of mobilizing others to want to struggle for shared aspirations.” (Kouzes & Posner, 1995, p. 30).
- “Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal.” (Northouse, 2010, p. 3)
- “Leadership is an influence relationship among leaders and collaborators who intend real changes that reflect their mutual purposes.” (Rost, 1997, p. 11)
- “Leadership is defined as the initiation and maintenance of structure in expectation and interaction.” (Stogdill, 1974, p.411).
- “Leadership is a process of interaction between persons who are participating in goal oriented group activities.” (Stodill & Shartle, 1948, p. 287)
- “…(a) influencing individuals to contribute to group goals and (b) coordinating the pursuit of those goals.” (Van Vugt, Hogan, & Kaiser, 2008, pp. 182-183)
- “…a process of motivating people to work together collaboratively to accomplish great things.” (Vroom & Jago, 2007, p. 18)
- “Leadership is the process of influencing others to understand and agree about what needs to be done and how to do it, and the process of facilitating individual and collective efforts to accomplish shared objectives.” (Yukl, 2010, p. 8)
- “Leadership is viewed as a process that includes influencing the task objectives and strategies of a group or organization, influencing people in the organization to implement the strategies and achieve the objectives, influencing group maintenance and identification, and influencing the culture of the organization.” (Yukl & Van Fleet, 1990, p. 149)
- “Leadership inevitably requires using power to influence the thoughts and actions of other people.” (Zaleznik, 1977, p. 67)
Bolden, R. (July, 2004). What is leadership? (Research Report 1). Exeter, United Kingdom: Leadership South West.
Burns, J.M. (1978). Leadership. New York: Harper & Row.
FM 6-22 (2006, October). Army leadership: Competent, confident, and agile. Washington, DC: Department of the Army.
Hogan, R., & Kaiser, R.B. (2005). What we know about leadership. Review of General Psychology, 9, 169-180.
Kouzes, J.M. & Posner, B.Z. (1995). The Leadership Challenge. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Northouse, P.G. (2010). Leadership: Theory and practice (5th ed). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
Rost, J.C. (1997). Moving from individual to relationship: A postindustrial paradigm of leadership. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 4, 3-16.
Stogdill, R.M. (1974). Handbook of leadership: A survey of theory and research. New York: The Free Press.
Stogdill, R.M., & Shartle, C.L. (1948). Methods for determining patterns of leadership behavior in relation to organization structure and objectives. Journal of Applied Psychology, 32, 286-291.
Van Vugt, M., Hogan, R., & Kaiser, R.B. (2008). Leadership, followership, and evolution: Some lessons from the past. American Psychologist, 63, 182-196.
Vroom, V.H., & Jago, A.G. (2007). The role of situation in leadership. American Psychologist, 62, 17-24.
Yukl, G. (2010). Leadership in organizations (7th ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Yukl, G. & Van Fleet, D.D. (1990). Theory and research on leadership in organizations. In M.D. Dunnette & L.M. Hough (Eds.), Handbook of industrial & organizational psychology, Second Edition, Volume 3, Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.
Zaleznik, A. (1977, May-June). Managers and leaders: Are they different? Harvard Business Review, 55(3), 67-78.