Simply defined the word “leadership” is “the ability to lead”. A more detailed definition of leadership describes leadership as the capacity to establish direction and align others toward a common goal. It involves the ability to motivate others to action and make them accountable for their performance.
We have all heard the saying that leaders are born and not made. Although this is often the case, in some instances leaders who have never had a leadership role before emerge when a situation they care about requires it. Parenting is a excellent example of this. Parents often discover leadership abilities they never knew existed to help them guide and direct their children. This indicates that leadership potential exists within each of us which can be triggered by external events or can be learned by training. Learning leadership techniques helps to build the confidence it takes to take the lead. It can be extremely challenging in the beginning to take the lead, but the more experience you have acting as a genuine leader the easier it will become.
Leadership is not merely telling others what to do, but it is inspiring others to do what needs to be done. Being in a leadership position does not automatically make you a leader. Real leaders take a stand for what is right and inspire others to do so as well. Influence is the essence of leadership; it addresses attitudes and awareness. You may be able to order team members to do a task, but you cannot order them to do their best. You have to influence your team to do their best by providing a strong example. Everyone has leadership potential within them, and understanding leadership concepts will maximize your leadership ability.
Characteristics of a True Leader and Leadership Principles
A true leader is not identified by a position or a title, but by how many people are willing to follow them. The following is some characteristics of a true leader: Honest, Competent, Forward-looking, Inspiring, Intelligent, Fair-minded, Broad-minded, Courageous, Straightforward and Imaginative.
- Be tactically and technically proficient.
- Know yourself and seek self-improvement.
- Know your team and look out for their welfare.
- Keep your team informed.
- Set the example for your team.
- Make sure that all tasks are understood, supervised and accomplished.
- Make sound and timely decisions.
- Develop a sense of responsibility in your team members.
- Assign tasks in accordance to the capabilities of the team members.
- Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions.
Historic Overview of Leadership
Mankind’s need to be organized and accomplish tasks as a team has ensured that there have always been leaders. Historically leaders have belonged to one of three categories: Political, Military or Religious. With the rise of the industrial revolution, the Economic leader emerged. The Leaders of Industry now found they could build an empire based on modern technology. These empires were often built at the expense of the people they employed which gave rise to Union leaders. The Industrial Revolution also saw the increase of Scientific Leaders as scientists now had easy access to a wide range of new materials. Psychology also came to the forefront with studies to improve productivity in the workplace and how conditions affected workers.
The Great Man Theory
According to this theory, great leaders accomplished great things because they were extraordinary people determined by fate and merely fulfilling their destiny. We are easily inspired by the feats of men and women who accomplished great things in their life time. Leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa and Abraham Lincoln accomplished much and are an inspiration to many people. The Great Man Theory has largely been abandoned in favor of the theories of behavioral science.
The Trait Theory
This theory endorses the notion that great leaders are born and not made. According to the Trait Theory, if you have the ability to lead, you were born with it. It expands on the Great Man Theory by defining what makes great leaders “great”.
Transformational leadership is a process where leaders interact with their followers and inspire each other to advance together. A team is transformed by the leadership style and abilities of a leader who is able to convey a vision and guide the transformation. A leader’s ability to influence the feelings, attitude and commitment of their followers matters more than the leader’s individual traits. If team members feel they can trust their leader they are more likely to go beyond what was originally expected of them.