What is Leadership? Gaps In The Research

Written by James O. Rodgers

what is leadership

What is leadership? There is no current communal definition of leadership, which has led to widespread confusion. We blur the lines between leadership and management, and our discussions of leadership often become fanciful and unfocused. We need to fix this by clarifying the definitions of the two.

We should view leadership, management, teamwork, and strategy as parts of the whole, and the whole should be the goal of making our organizations more adept at managing complexity and change. What Is Leadership?

Many have tried to define the word, but we still lack a decisive and generally accepted definition. Academic writers try to define “leadership,” but their attempts are never conclusive. Instead, we have a variety of definitions for the idea of “leadership”, which leads to even more confusion. The study of leadership faces a conundrum; researchers do not even know what exactly they are studying.

Every scholar has an opinion about what leadership is, but with so many definitions floating around, it is nearly impossible to have a coherent conversation on the topic. We must first capture an understanding of leadership according to classical studies of the subject.

The Modern View Of Leadership

When the study of leadership began, it focused on individual leaders. When Abraham Zaleznik wrote “Managers and Leaders: Are They Different?” he probably did not expect the conversation surrounding leadership to shift away from defining the roles of leaders, in favor of an expansive conversation about the enduring mysteries of leadership. This shift in focus has obscured practical efforts to illuminate how leadership, teamwork, strategy, and management contribute to organizational effectiveness.


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Current studies of leadership slice and dice the concept in so many ways and at such fine detail that they distract us from the essential need for leadership. We study leadership at the levels of individuals, outcomes, specific institutions, cultures, professions, and teams, but we do not address leadership as a universal concept.

Returning To The Classical View Of Leadership

Current studies of leadership are expansive and unfocused. These studies have produced useful findings, but they do not explore issues that would be of great value to practicing executives – namely, these studies do not define leadership, or explore the qualities of great leaders.

If we return to simpler, classical constructions of leadership, we will find fundamental questions that still need answering. Organizations must explore and understand when and why leaders emerge. They must learn how to foster leadership in normal people. Leadership can be generated when the situation demands it. Effective leadership is not dependent on the presence of legendary, established, or transformational personalities. It is dependent on need alone.