Leadership – A Problem of Definition!

Leadership – A Problem of Definition!

Have you noticed the organizations that seem to have most problems with leadership seem to be the ones that spend the most time talking about what it is – the definition.  I don’t mean they spend a lot of time talking about how to be better at it.  No, they seem to spend an inordinate amount of time debating what leadership actually is.  And guess what?  The definition they settle for,  is often a blend of what suits them (the ruling elite) best at the time.

Now these debates about the definition of leadership seem to take on an almost religious dimension; they certainly seem to become philosophical and can be verging on the mystical.  And the discussions usually take place within the elite itself.  The members seem to have problems accepting that anyone outside of themselves will understand leadership in their context, let alone demonstrate, what the dominating elite of the moment, regards as the required characteristics.

Fair enough, there are many definitions of leadership.  In a review of leadership research, more than 30 years ago,  Stogdill (1974, p.259) concluded that  there are

“..almost as many definitions of leadership as there are persons who have attempted to define the concept”

At its simplest leadership is providing direction, gaining commitment to plans, and motivating people to follow them.

Now, realistically that needs to happen throughout an organization – not just at the top.  Although, of course, everything needs to fit in with the direction of travel established from the top.  Which is what makes these navel-gazing exercises so dangerous!  While these powerful elites are debating what leadership really is, the rest of the organization is desperate for a sense for direction.  So what is the result? Well if I talk about “headless chickens”, will you know what I mean?

Looking forwards, it is certain that in more and more complex organizations, the quality of leadership will remain of central and increasing importance.  There is much that can be done to improve  both the way in which leadership is conceived and applied throughout  organizations, but let’s get on with it please.  Let us not spend so long dithering (to mix metaphors) with one toe in the water.

Wendy Mason is a career coach.  She helps people reach their goals and aspirations, without sacrificing their home and personal life.  Before working as a coach, Wendy had a long career in both the public and private sectors in general management and consultancy as well as spells in HR.  She now divides her time between coaching and writing. You can contact Wendy at wendymason@wisewolfcoaching.com and find out more at http://wisewolfcoaching.com

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