The Importance of Leadership

The term “leader” is often misunderstood and taken for granted, particularly in these difficult times where the world is looking for a solution to uncertainty in finances, geo-political issues such as looking for leadership to stabilize global security. The world looks to leadership in the form of tighter banking regulations via the near collapse of the U.S. economy in 2008/2009 and the world looked then to special funding via stimulus monies for the hardest hit sectors of the global economy. What is leadership and what does leadership stand for as there seems to be a false sense of security via the usual definition of leadership.

In business, the term leadership is interpreted in many different ways relative to organizational and situational circumstances, but what is the best definition of leadership in a business environment? How do business organizations clarify the term leader with managers and supervisors who strive to achieve a level and clarity of leadership for their business environments that seems so elusive? Organizations require leadership that is effective and efficient as these tough global times call for leadership that is unwavering, focused, and has a vision for the future.

Leadership Basics

According to Kouzes and Posner (1978), leaders do their best when they challenge, inspire, enable, model, and encourage. Kouzes and Posner believe that leadership is a relationship between leader and follower (Kouzes and Posner, 1978). In business organizations leadership comes from those ordinary executives who convinced others to join them on pioneering journeys following the path of a three-phase strategy referred to as the vision-involvement-persistence (VIP). Rather, when people described their personal best leadership experiences, they told of times when they imagined exciting, highly attractive futures for their organizations. They had visions and dreams of what could be. They had absolute and total personal belief, and they were confident in their abilities to make extraordinary things happen (Kouzes and Posner, 1978, p.7). These leaders recognized that grand dreams do not become significant realities through the actions of a single leader. They knew that scores of people were needed to create, produce, sell, and sponsor the vision. The involvement of others is the key to making it all the way to the top (Kouzes and Posner, 1978, p.7). In this context, Kouzes and Posner present a leadership strategy using their VIP model of leadership which to some degree is similar in thinking to McGregor’s (1960) idea that processes within an organization are relative to human behavior and that human behavior in those processes determines the success or failure of the organization. In other words, leadership must consider participant involvement to achieve success.

Leaders are a particular kind of power holder; like power, leadership is relational, collective, and purposeful. Leadership shares with power the central functions of achieving purpose. Leaders do not obliterate followers’ motives though they may arouse certain motives and ignore others. They lead other creatures, not things. To control things, tools, mineral resources, money, and energy, is an act of power, not leadership, for things have no motives. Power wielders may treat people as things. Leaders may not. All leaders are potential power holders, but not all power holders are leaders (Burns, 1978, p.18). By this theory, one could determine that leadership is up to individual perception. In other words, as Burns has identified power and recipient, one could surmise that leadership and its definition of leadership is relative to recipient’s interpretation of what leadership is. As current global economic conditions weigh on basic human conditions, leadership roles (law and order) have come into question related to the true definition of leadership.

Some define leadership as leaders making followers of what followers would not otherwise do, or as leaders making followers do what the leaders want them to do. In this aspect, Burns defines leadership as leaders inducing followers to act for certain goals that represent the values and the motivations, the wants and needs, the aspirations and expectations of both leaders and followers. The essence of the leader-follower relation is the interaction of persons with different levels of motivations and of power potential, including skill, in pursuit of a common or at least joint purpose, which takes two fundamentally different forms; transactional and transforming leadership. Transactional leadership occurs when one person takes the initiative in making contact with others for the purpose of an exchange of valued things. The exchange could be economic or political or psychological in nature; a swap of goods or for money; a trading of votes between candidate and citizen or between legislators; hospitality to another person in exchange for willingness to listen to one’s troubles. Each party to the bargain is conscious of the power resources and attitudes of the other. Each person recognizes the other as a person. Their purposes are related, at least to the extent that the purposes stand within the bargaining process and can be advanced by maintaining that process. But beyond this the relationship does not go. A leadership act took place, but it was no one thing that binds leader and follower together in a mutual and continuing pursuit of a higher purpose. Contrast this with transforming leadership where such leadership occurs when one or more persons engage with others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality. Their purposes, which might have started out as separate but related, as in the case of transactional leadership, become fused. Various names for such leadership, some of them derisory: elevating, mobilizing, inspiring, exalting, uplifting, preaching, exhorting, and evangelizing. Transforming leadership ultimately becomes moral in that it raises the level human conduct and ethical aspiration of both leader and led, and thus it has a transforming effect on both (Burns, 1978, p.20).

What type of leader are you?

Luis Luarca PhD

For more information on Dr. Luis Luarca visit Allectus LLC.

Burns, J.M., (1978). Leadership. New York, NY. Harper & Row.

McGregor, D.M., (1960). The human side of enterprise. New York, NY. McGraw-Hill.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (1995). The leadership challenge: How to keep getting extraordinary things done in organizations. Foreword by Tom Peters. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

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