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Leadership is a vital element in the social relationships of groups at work. Groups need leaders and leaders need followers. The academic and management literature on leadership focuses almost exclusively on the individual traits, styles and behaviour that characterise the leaders. Some recent research in leadership has advanced beyond these more simplistic individual level models by calling attention to such things as “meaning -making” and “influence” and to the importance of understanding “followers”. We are left wondering about the contexts in which creative, inclusive, inspiring individuals make sense of their work together.

We think of leadership as a dynamic process in which people come together to pursue changes, and in doing so collectively develop a shared vision of what the world (or some part or corner of it) should be like, making sense of their experience and shaping their decisions and actions. The role of articulating the vision of the group may be taken on by one individual or by several. It may be rotated or shared. The emergence of leadership is therefore, always a collective process of meaning-making.


At the end of the unit, you should be able to:

  1.  define and describe leadership 
  2.  state the major leadership theories 
  3.  differentiate leaders from managers. 


3.1 Definition of Leadership

Leadership is a concept that many people have written about but few have defined. However, a working definition is suggested as follows by Cole (1997):
“Leadership is a dynamic process at work in a group whereby one individual over a particular period of time, and in a particular organisational context, influences the other group members to commit themselves freely to the achievement of group tasks or goals”

This working definition encompasses several important features of leadership:

  1.  Leadership is a dynamic process, influenced by the changing requirements of the tasks, the group itself and the individual members. The implication of this is that there is no “one best-way’ of leaders and leaders need to be able to exercise a range of behaviour to maintain their role effectively. 
  2. Leadership is not necessarily confined to one person, but may be shared between members. Usually, an appointed leader (e.g. manager) is nominally in charge of a group, but he or she may not always be the leader in practice. 
  3. The leader’s principal role is to influence the group towards the achievement of group goals. 
  4. Leadership is exercised in, and influenced by, the particular set of circumstances which form the organizational context. 


What is leadership?

3.2 Leadership Theories

Leadership itself, has been accompanied throughout time, by numerous theories, all claiming to answer the question: Are Leaders born or made? Those who accept the verdict, that leaders are born and not made, maintain:

“… that there are certain in-born qualities such as initiatives,courage, intelligence and humour, which altogether predestine a man to be a leader… the essential, pattern is given at birth”

 (Adler, 1991, p.4).
Two leadership theories which concentrate on this point, are the greatman/greatwoman and the trait theories. The “’greatman/woman” theory involves its followers believing that major events, both nationally and internationally, are influenced by those persons in power.
The trait theory expands further on this conjecture, by concentrating on the personal characteristics of the leader. The theory, which until the mid-1940s formed the basis for most leaders, the list of which grew in length over the years, to include all manner of physical, personality and cognitive factors. including height, intelligence and communication skills. However, few traits emerged to conclusively differentiate leaders from non-leaders. The traits an individual has may increase the probability that a person will become a leader though whether such leadership is guaranteed, is uncertain. Nevertheless, it can be seen to be true that some people are more likely than others to assume leadership positions.

However, this theory still did not answer, why one member of a group emerged as the leader, rather than another, or why one particular leader proved to be better in some situations than another. The emergence of a related theory, the interactionist approach, attempted to explain the existing anormalies.
The interactionist theory, proposed that both the characteristics of the individual, and the situation in which the group found itself, accounted for whom would become the leader. Resulting from this theory, was the view that leaders are both born and made, due to the leader requiring certain abilities and skill, but as the situation and the needs of the group changed, so too the person acceptable as leader changed.


Describe the two theories explaining the concept of leadership.

3.3 Leaders versus Managers

Most people view leadership as being associated with the role of a manager. However, there are some, who suggest that leaders and managers are not equal positions. It has been said, that leading and managing involve separate and distinct behaviours and activities. Leaders and managers, these sources continue, vary in their orientation towards goals, conceptions about work, inter-personal style and self-perceptions.
Leadership has been described as being one aspect of what a manager does; but certainly not all of it. Managers, they assert, fulfill four functions, namely: planning, organising, controlling and leading. Thus leading aspect of management, involves influencing subordinates towards the achievement of organisational goals.
It is necessary here to point out that a manager may not necessarily be a group’s leader. While a manager of a group performs activities of a planning, organising and controlling nature, the real leader may be one of his/her sub-ordinate.

In essence, managers, we can summarise, can in certain situations, be leaders, however, leadership is only one aspect of their function. Some people have the capacity to become excellent managers, but not strong leaders, others have great leadership potentials but for a number of reasons, have great difficulty becoming strong managers. Both leading and managing are desired aspects in a group situation, i.e. in a group situation, both shall be present, in order for the group to become an efficient and effective body.


What is the relationship between managing and leading?


Academic research on leadership- mostly done in applied psychology and management – has shifted its focus overtime from defining leadership as a trait or a behaviour, to defining it as a relationship, and in some cases as an activity. But most accounts of leadership still tend to emphasize traits, styles and contingency theories in an effort to formulate what makes X rather than Y a “good leader”. Even in the more recent accounts, where leadership is linked to influence -how to most effectively mobilise others -or to transformational actions that recognise the value of culture, the heroic view of leadership tends to remain unchallenged.


In this unit, we have been able to define leadership and we have also discussed the major theories of leadership in addition with comparing leaders and managers. While the term leadership is seen as a process of influence between a leader and his followers to attain group, organizational and societal goals, a leader is defined as “someone who occupies a position in a group, influences others in accordance with the role expectation of the position and co-ordinates and direct the groups in maintaining itself and reaching its goals.


  1.  What do you understand by the term “Leadership”? State ten (10) good characteristics of a leader. 
  2. Differentiate between trait theories and interactionist theory of leadership. 


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