What is Leadership?

Have you ever asked yourself the question “what is leadership and how does it differ from management?” If yes, read on to find out why people are seen as leaders and how they come to be seen that way.

From a business perspective, the first thing worth noting about leadership is that it is distinct from management. Management is essentially leadership by prescription whereas true leadership is something far more innate. Management is the result of a company or organisation giving an individual authority over a team of people and providing said manager with various prescribed tools that he or she can use to influence their behaviour.  Leadership goes much deeper than that and takes us back to the good old days of hunter gatherers and the way in which a pack leader was determined.

It would probably be a little simplistic to state that the toughest male always became the leader of pack as it is quite obvious in this day and age that being tough doesn’t always ensure that people follow you. The issue of leadership goes beyond this idea. Anyone who’s ever taken the time to observe a group of individuals, whether in a bar, at work or walking down the street will observe that the group is broken down into natural leaders and followers.

But how do these leaders come to be determined? There is no single answer to this question but some of the key factors involved are intensity, energy, decisiveness and single mindedness. Intensity is possibly the single most important factor here; if you are willing to go further, work harder, be smarter and be more stubborn (yes stubborn) than the rest then a leader you will be. But leadership can be tiring. And leadership can be a lonely place as well. It is why good leaders are so few are far between.

Leaders tend to be a little more charismatic than the rest, a little more single-minded, a little more visionary. People often state that good leadership is about listening to your team and interacting with them. In truth it can be anything but. Leadership often involves saying no and letting followers come to terms with that decision. But people do respond to leadership. We are all programmed instinctively to exist in a pack environment and all packs need leaders.

The real issue with leadership is that it can be hard to find a place for it in modern society. Management is the perfect example of this. Although it would seem that management and leadership go hand in hand, in truth they can often make ill bed fellows. To be a manager you must also be a follower of those in senior management. The idea of being a little maverick does not sit well with the notion of a steady manager. Leaders may find themselves constrained by all the rules and regulations of corporate life and desire something different for themselves.

Often you can see a dynamic in some work places where the most natural leader is not the manager but a member of staff. These people can be hard to deal with from a manager’s perspective and often come across as unruly and difficult to handle.

Another factor worth considering in a discussion on leadership is that not all leaders lead all the time or in all situations. The dog psychologist Cesar Milano has noted on several occasions the instance of leaders in the workplace (often of big corporations) who come home and let their dog boss them around! These people are so tired at the end of the day that they don’t have the energy to display more intensity than a Pekinese!

So, leadership is not as clear cut as it seems. We don’t lead all the time and it doesn’t always make us suitable for seemingly appropriate jobs such as management. But when asking “what is leadership?” we can say without hesitation that leadership comes naturally and cannot be faked.

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This entry was posted on November 7, 2012 and is filed under Leadership. Written by: . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.