BLOG: Introduction to Leadership


“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Human beings live in a perpetual state of waiting. Waiting for lunchtime, waiting for a delivery, waiting for a phone call from your manager, waiting for the PM to make a statement, waiting for a reaction, waiting for a decision, and, especially, waiting for direction(s).

The fine line between waiting for directions and waiting for direction demarcates between our ability to acknowledge status and our ability to acknowledge leadership. One who waits for directions is one who acknowledges that directions are usually given top-down, from someone in a position of hierarchical seniority: a manager, a political representative, a mentor who can advise what to do. One who waits for direction is one who seeks to learn from someone who aligns with their worldview and personal values.

Managers provide directions, leaders provide direction. That is not to say that leaders and managers don’t overlap, or that managers are not leaders. Managers are leaders by position (where they are on the hierarchical map of an organisation that positions them as leaders). But not all those who are leaders by position are leaders by followership.

Followership can occur even for emergent leaders, leaders who discover their potential and take initiative outside an official position. That is not to say that followership alone ensures the existence of leadership. Many influencers have thousands of followers and they could not call themselves leaders. So, what is leadership about? And how do they differentiate from managers? What is the X factor when it comes to leadership?

This table is adapted from Peter Northouse, Leadership theory and practice, and is a great representation of the different functions between leadership and management:

So, leadership is about providing direction, strategic thinking, creating a vision based on authentic values and communicating that vision, inspiring and motivating followers to continue to pursue that vision. One might wonder, do all leaders fit this description? Is this the universal definition?

According to Keith Grint, in his book Leadership: A very short introduction, he distinguishes between four definitions of leadership:

  1. Leadership as position (where leaders operate is what makes them leaders),
  2. Leadership as person (who leaders are, their traits and personalities, is what makes them leaders),
  3. Leadership as result (what leaders achieve, in terms of goals and results, is what makes them leaders),
  4. Leadership as process (how leaders get things done is what makes them leaders).

There are arguments to support all types. However, if we look at the functions of leadership in the table above and if we start from the premise that leadership is a skill that can be honed, adapted, modelled by followers, then we best approach leadership as a process.

When leadership is defined as a process, it becomes available to everyone. A process implies continuous influence, feedback, alignment of common goals. A process focuses on the relationship between the leader and its followers, not just on the power the leader might exert. Leadership as a process is an interactive flow, that encompasses different approaches.

So, what is leadership?

Paraphrasing Northouse, leadership is a process in which an individual (or a group when it comes to co-leadership) influences another group of individuals (followers) to achieve common goals. Or in the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, a leader creates a vision and communicates it, the rest can be left to management:

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.Antoine de Saint-Exupery

This is the first in a series of blogs about Leadership. Please keep following our blog for more articles on Leadership and leadership skills.