Introduction to leadership

1. The Nature of Leadership

No topic is probably more important to organizational success  today than leadership. Leadership matters. In most situations, a team, military unit, or volunteer organization is only  as good as its leader. Consider the situation in Iraq,  as U.S.  military advisors strive to build Iraqi forces that can take over security duties without support from coalition troops. Many trainers  say they encounter excellent individual  soldiers and junior leaders but that many of the senior commanders  are stuck in old authoritarian patterns that undermine their units. Whether an Iraqi unit succeeds or fails often comes down to one person—its commander—so advisors are putting  emphasis on finding and strengthening good leaders.2

Top leaders make a difference  in business organizations  as well. Baron Partners Fund, which  picks stocks based largely on an evaluation of companies’ senior executives, was the best-performing diversified stock fund of 2004, with a return  of 42 percent. Manager Ron Baron  says top leaders who are smart, honorable, and treat their employees right typically lead their companies to greater financial success and greater shareholder returns.3

The concept of leadership continues to evolve  as the needs of organizations change. Among all the ideas and writings about leadership,  three aspects stand out—people, influence, and goals. Leadership  occurs among people, involves the use of influence, and is used to attain  goals.4  Influence means that the relationship  among people is not passive. Moreover, influence is designed to achieve some end or goal. Thus, leadership as defined  here is the ability to influence people toward the attainment of goals. This definition captures the idea that leaders are involved  with other people in the achieve- ment of goals.

Leadership  is reciprocal,  occurring  among people.5   Leadership  is a “people”  activity,  dis- tinct from administrative  paper shuffling or problem-solving  activities.  Leadership  is dynamic and involves the use of power to influence people and get things done. Role models for leadership can come from wide  and varied sources, as shown  in the Spotlight on Skills.

2. Leadership  for  Contemporary  Times

The environmental context in which leadership is practiced influences which approach might be most effective,  as well  as what kinds  of leaders are most admired  by society. The technology, economic conditions,  labor conditions,  and social and cultural mores of the times all play a role. A significant  influence on leadership styles in recent years is the turbu- lence and uncertainty of the environment in which  most organizations  are operating.  Ethi- cal and economic difficulties, corporate  governance concerns, globalization,  changes in technology,  new ways of working, shifting employee expectations, and significant  social transitions have contributed  to a shift in how we think about and practice leadership.

Of particular interest for leadership in contemporary times is a post-heroic approach that focuses on the subtle, unseen, and often unrewarded acts that good leaders perform  every day, rather than on the grand accomplishments of celebrated business heroes.6  During the 1980s and 1990s, leadership  became equated with larger-than-life  personalities, strong egos, and personal ambitions.  In contrast, the post-heroic  leader’s major characteristic is humility.7  Humility means being unpretentious  and modest rather than arrogant and prideful. Humble leaders don’t have to be in the center of things. They quietly build strong, enduring companies by developing and supporting others rather than touting their own abilities and accomplishments. Two approaches that are in tune with post-heroic leader- ship for today’s times are Level 5 leadership and interactive leadership, a style that is com- monly used by women leaders.


A recent five-year study conducted by Jim Collins and his research associates identified the critical importance of what Collins calls Level 5 leadership in transforming  companies from merely good to truly great organizations.8  As described in his book  Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don’t,  Level 5 leadership refers to the highest level in a hierarchy  of manager capabilities, as illustrated in Exhibit 11.1. A key characteristic of Level 5 leaders is an almost complete lack of ego, coupled with a fierce resolve to do what is best for the organization. In contrast to the view of great  leaders  as larger-than-life personalities with strong  egos and big ambitions, Level 5 leaders often seem shy and unpretentious. Although they accept full responsibility for mistakes, poor results, or failures, Level 5 leaders give credit for successes to other people. For example, Joseph F. Cullman III,  former CEO of Philip Morris, staunchly refused to accept credit for the company’s long-term success, citing his great colleagues, successors, and predecessors as the reason  for the accomplishments. Another example is Darwin E. Smith. When he was promoted  to CEO of Kimberly-Clark, Smith questioned whether the board really wanted to appoint him because he didn’t believe he had the qualifications  a CEO needed.

Despite their personal humility, Level 5 leaders have a strong  will to do whatever it takes to produce  great and lasting results for their organizations. They are extremely ambitious for their companies rather than for themselves. This  goal becomes highly evident in the area of succession planning. Level 5 leaders develop a solid corps of leaders through- out the organization,  so that when they leave the company, it can continue to thrive and grow even stronger. Egocentric  leaders, by contrast, often set their successors up for failure because it will be a testament  to their own greatness if the company doesn’t perform well without them. Rather than an organization built around “a genius with a thousand  help- ers,” Level 5 leaders build an organization with many strong leaders who can step forward and continue the company’s  success. These  leaders want  everyone in the organization to develop to their fullest potential.


The focus on minimizing personal ambition  and developing others is also a hallmark  of interactive  leadership, which  has been found  to be common  among female leaders. Research indicates that women’s style of leadership is typically different from most men’s and is particularly suited to today’s organizations.9   Using data from actual performance evalua- tions, one study found that when rated by peers, subordinates, and bosses, female managers score significantly higher than men on abilities  such as motivating others, fostering com- munication, and listening.10

Interactive leadership means that the leader favors a consensual and collaborative process, and influence  derives from relationships rather than position power and formal authority.11 For example, Nancy Hawthorne,  former chief financial officer at Continental Cablevision Inc., felt that her role as a leader was to delegate tasks and authority to others and to help them be more effective. “I was being traffic cop and coach and facilitator,” Hawthorne says. “I was always into building a department that hummed.”12  Similarly, Terri Kelly, who took over  as CEO of W. L. Gore in 2005,  says her goal is to provide overall direction and guidance, not to micromanage and tell people how to do their jobs.13  It is important to note that men can be interactive   leaders as well, as demonstrated   by the example  of Pat McGovern of International Data Group earlier in the chapter.  For McGovern,  having personal contact with employees and letting them know they’re appre- ciated is a primary responsibility  of leaders. The characteristics associated with interactive leadership are emerging  as valuable qualities  for both male and female leaders in today’s workplace.  Values associated  with  interactive leadership  include personal  humility, inclusion, relationship building, and caring.

3. Leadership  Versus  Management

Much has been written in recent years about the leadership role of managers. Management and leadership are both important to organizations. Effective managers have to be leaders, too, because distinctive qualities are associated with management and leadership that provide dif- ferent strengths for the organization, as illustrated in Exhibit 11.2. As shown in the exhibit, management and leadership reflect two different  sets of qualities and skills that frequently overlap within a single individual.  A person might have more of one set of qualities than the other, but ideally a manager develops a balance of both manager and leader qualities.

A primary distinction between management  and leadership is that management promotes stability, order, and problem solving within the existing organizational  structure and systems. Leadership  promotes vision, creativity, and change. In other words, “a manager takes care of where you are; a leader  takes you to a new place.”14   Leadership  means questioning the status quo so that outdated, unproductive, or socially irresponsible norms can be replaced to meet new challenges.

4. Leadership  Traits

Early efforts to understand leadership success focused  on the leader’s personal characteristics or traits. Traits are the distinguishing per- sonal characteristics  of a  leader,   such as intelligence,   values, self- confidence, and appearance. The early research focused on leaders who had achieved  a level of greatness, and hence was referred  to as  the Great Man approach. The idea was relatively  simple:  Find out what made these people great, and select future leaders who already exhibited the same traits or could be trained  to develop them. Generally, early research found only a weak relationship   between personal traits and leader success.15

In recent years, interest in examining leadership traits has reemerged. In addition to personality traits, physical, social, and work-related  char- acteristics of leaders have been studied.16   Exhibit 11.3 summarizes the physical, social, and personal leadership characteristics that have received the greatest research support. However, these characteristics do not stand alone. The appropriateness of a  trait or set of traits depends on the leadership situation. The same traits do not apply to every organization or situation. Further studies expand the understanding of leadership beyond the personal traits of the individual to focus on the dynamics of the relationship between leaders and followers.

Source: Daft Richard L., Marcic Dorothy (2009), Understanding Management, South-Western College Pub; 8th edition.

1 thoughts on “Introduction to leadership

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