While there is substantial agreement on the elements and definition of management, there is little agreement on the definition of leadership, its functions, or even whether or not it is a discipline (although increasingly scholars agree that it is). Our favorite definition of leadership is: "an influence relationship among leaders and their collaborators, who intend real change that reflects their shared purpose".
In his book On Leadership, John Gardner states that the functions of leadership are:
Affirming and regenerating important group values
Motivating others toward collective goals
Managing the process through which these collective goals can be achieved
Achieving unity of effort through pluralism and diversity
Creating an atmosphere of mutual trust
Explaining and teaching
Serving as a symbol of the group's identity
Representing the group's interest to outside parties
Renewing and adapting the organization to a changing world.
We have identified ten different approaches to the study of leadership, as shown in Figure 1-4. Each is part of most leadership theories and each needs to be practiced in new ways in this century.
Figure 1-4: 21st Century Approaches to the Study of Leadership
It has long been accepted that, by studying the traits of others, we can learn how they function. After World War II, when the field of leadership began to emerge as a separate discipline, people often believed that the way to be an effective leader was to study others they perceived as effective. Biographies of leaders are plentiful. Studies of their various traits abound. Again, we turn to Gardner, who teaches us that leaders most often have the following attributes:
Physical vitality and stamina
Intelligence and action-oriented judgment
Eagerness to accept responsibility
Understanding of followers and their needs
Skills in dealing with people
Need for achievement
Capacity to motivate people
Courage and resolution
While others may choose different traits, these types of traits have always been valued. Daniel Goldman, in his highly acclaimed work, The Handbook of Emotional Intelligence, teaches us that self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills are the keys to being a great leader.
Groups need information givers, gatekeepers, consensus builders, and many other roles to be filled. Courses in group dynamics are taught in an effort to develop these skills.
Today the emphasis is on how to turn a group into a team and on ensuring that the team empowers all its members to be effective and productive in implementing shared goals. Organizational workers (often called associates or partners) are increasingly being encouraged to build effective teams and to provide input into all aspects of the teams' goals. While at one time most people were evaluated solely on their individual productivity, the concept of mutual dependence is growing; each year more of us are evaluated at last in part based on the productivity of our "team".
The modern leader understands that effective teams have interdependent members. The productivity and efficiency of an entire unit is determined by the coordinated, interactive efforts of all its members.
Advantages of effective teams include:
Members are more efficient working together than alone.
Teams create their own magnetism.
Leadership rotation allows those with expertise to lead.
Team members care for and nurture one another.
Each member gives and receives mutual encouragement.
Members share a high level of trust.
If a team is to be successful, its leader needs to understand how teams develop and what is expected at each stage of team development.
The situational leadership theory tells us that the directing, coaching, supporting, and delegating styles of leadership are all needed at different times. The original view stated that the needs of the followers dictate the necessary leadership style, as shown in Figure 1-5.
Figure 1-5: Situational Leadership
Traditionally leaders have been expected to know how to organize things in an efficient manner. They make sure that people have one boss, clear directions, etc. They develop organizational charts that are clean and easy to understand, choosing either a functional or a divisional structure with clearly defined lines of authority. Strategic, functional, and operational plans and goals are carefully developed. Leaders know the "rules" of creating an organization that works and they do it well. They understand how to function within their role in the organization, and they slowly and appropriately move up in the organizational hierarchy.
All these guidelines may still apply, but in this century leaders live in "permanent white water". Organizations are matrixed, team-based, networked, or organized in some unique way. Traditional pyramids are being inverted. Change may be the only constant. While it is useful to understand traditional organizational skills, it is also necessary to realize that flexibility and speed are often the new rules. The ways to lead an organization effectively are as varied as the number of people with positional power in that organization.
Traditionally leadership was taught as a subset of the field of politics. The key concept was power and the challenge to leaders was to use power wisely. Understanding how to use legitimate power (the power that comes with a position or title), the power to reward, and the power to punish was the basis of leadership.
Today we talk about referent power—how people view or respect other people. This power cannot be delegated or assigned, but must be earned. We also value expert power, which is found throughout any organization and is the ability to understand or do something well. Instead of "power over", we discuss empowerment or "power with". Sam Walton built Wal-Mart by empowering his associates to run a "store within a store".
Power is also often examined in terms of minority groups who lack the power of the majority. Throughout the second part of the twentieth century we discussed "black power", "women power", "gay power", and other groups who are "disempowered" and seeking a change. Successful leaders understand that power needs to be shared and that empowered people are productive people.
In the mid-twentieth century we had many charismatic leaders, such as John F. Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Lee Iacocca, Billy Graham, and Jackie Robinson. Jay Conger defines a charismatic leader as "someone who possesses an ability to introduce quantum changes in an organization".  He indicates that these people take the organization through four steps:
Sensing opportunities and finding vision
Articulating the vision
Building trust in the vision
Achieving the vision.
So far in this century there appears to be a dearth of charismatic leaders. In the last five years we have asked more than one thousand students to name charismatic leaders; rarely is a current leader mentioned. However, in a recent national study, one third of the people who indicated that they "enjoy" their work stated that their boss or company leaders were charismatic. Clearly, leaders can be successful without charisma, but it is also true that charisma is a helpful trait if used properly. There is a dark side of charisma, however, as Hitler, bin Laden, and others have demonstrated. In the twentieth century perhaps a fifth element should be added to Conger's definition: choosing a vision that advances humankind in a positive direction.
In the 1980s a trend developed that considered the only true leaders to be those who were ethical and humane. The prevailing view was that a leader needs to be ethically grounded and a person of integrity.
The current crisis in confidence in our institutions also requires leaders to hold ethical standards that create win/win situations for everyone. The challenge is to solve problems in the long run. Respecting the individual becomes a key measure of a leader.
Today we respect work/life balance and we expect leaders to respect the individual needs of all associates. Leaders are expected to promote healthy behavior of all sorts in the organization. The ethical leader treats all people fairly but not the same. Leaders at all levels are expected to be ethical and humane and are often held to higher standards than they were in the past.
Humane leaders are also humane followers; they understand that to lead well, one must also follow well.
Bookstores have been filled with "how to lead" books for close to a century. While these books once were formulaic and rule-driven, they now reflect the complexity of leading in a modern world. Many famous athletes, corporate leaders, and government officials have written books about leadership, from Maxwell's 21 irrefutable laws of leadership to Larry Holman's 11 lessons in self-leadership.
In recent years, however, the books have taken a different twist. Perhaps Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Successful People began this change. Covey's bestseller and his many books since stress internal change: "the person becomes the leader of the future by an inside out transformation". Covey's seventh habit—sharpening the saw—is an example of current leadership advice that asks readers to find balance in all aspects of life.
One of the newer approaches to leadership formulas is a shift to using metaphors to "teach" leadership. Blanchard and several colleagues have written about "raving fans", "gung-ho", and "whale done", using these metaphoric experiences to inform readers about some aspects of leadership.
Most of the leadership literature in the last century discusses leadership primarily within the context of U.S. culture and Christian values. For the vast majority of leaders, however, this is no longer the reality. Less than 5 percent of the world lives in the United States. More people speak three languages than speak English. Christianity is practiced by less than 30 percent of the world. Most companies have customers, suppliers, or workers from other countries and other cultures. Leadership is a cultural phenomenon and is practiced in very different ways in different cultures. Wise leaders understand that they must listen to, respond to, and learn from stakeholders with very different concepts of leadership based upon their cultural heritage and experience.
The concept of the "melting pot" dominated much of the twentieth century: Leaders were taught to find commonalities and "blend" differences. If people were different because they spoke a different language or had a different outlook or experiences in life, these "handicaps" were to be overcome.
We now understand that we live in a "salad" or "fruit bowl", where the texture, depth, and beauty of our society come from the differences people bring to an organization. We leverage these differences to make better and more creative decisions.
There are many subcultures in our society and the buying power of many groups is skyrocketing. We need "soccer moms" to help us understand and meet the needs of other "soccer moms" just as we need Hispanic or Islamic people to help us understand how the fastest growing ethnic and religious groups in the United States think and experience life. This understanding requires flexibility, a constant willingness to grow and change, and openness to continually evolving definitions of leadership.
Arthur Shriberg, David Shriberg, and Carol Lloyd, Practicing Leadership: Principles and Applications, 2nd ed. (New York: Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002).
John William Gardner, On Leadership (New York: Free Press, 1990).
Daniel Goldman, The Handbook of Emotional Intelligence: Theory, Development, Assessment, and Application at Home, School and in Work Place (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2000).
Jay Alden Conger, Charismatic Leadership in Organizations (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998).
John Maxwell, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998).
Larry Holman, Eleven Lessons in Self-Leadership: Insights for Personal and Professional Success (Lexington, KY: A Lessons in Leadership Book, 1995).
Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990).
Ken Blanchard, Whale Done! (New York: Free Press, 2002); Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles, Gung Ho: Turn on the People in Any Organization (New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1988); Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles, Raving Fans: A Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service (New York: Free Press, 1993).