Leadership is everywhere. We see it in our news, social media, work, and also political and social systems. Leadership is so installed in human nature the if we room left alone through other civilization for a while, we instantly create a structure with leaders and followers<1> <2>.

You are watching: The four key elements of the definition of leadership used in the text are

And yet, if friend ask ten civilization “what is leadership?”, friend will most likely get ten different answers. Civilization see leadership in so plenty of different methods that you can discover hundreds of definitions out there<3> <4>. These space not an excellent news if you desire a working guide on just how to it is in a leader, enhance your leadership, or make an educated decision on even if it is you should follow someone’s leadership.

With the in mind, let’s see exactly how leadership is gift defined, identify the an essential elements shared by many definitions, and also reflect top top why we room all (leaders and followers) much far better off knowing what leadership is and what it is not.


With hundreds of leadership definitions out there, there is really no allude in comes up through yet one more one. Possibly a more meaningful and also useful route would it is in to research existing definitions and also uncover the vital elements castle share. In doing so, we might be able to pinpoint specifically what management is, to construct a deep knowledge of its aspects (and of management itself), and also to communicate in actual acts of leadership.

In the table listed below you have actually ten representative interpretations of leadership, from few of the most prominent modern scholars, practitioners, and also writers. At first glance, these interpretations may appear to be quite different from every other. However, a simple scratch ~ above the surface reveals the most definitions obtainable today have an ext in usual than meets the eye.

In the “key elements” column of the table, us highlighted the core aspects encompassed, straight or indirectly, by every definition. Authors current their meanings using an ext specific or much more generic terms, and even emphasize part elements much more than others. However, when you overlap every definitions, you start seeing a clear and also shared sample of key elements.

Before we study this pattern, take it a second to go v Table 1. Notification that, despite the disparities in language, most interpretations share the same fundamental elements.


Table 1. Ten current and representative definitions of leadership.

DefinitionAuthor (Year)Key elements
“Leadership is the process of influencing others come understand and agree around what requirements to be done and how to perform it, and also the procedure of facilitating individual and collective efforts to accomplish shared objectives.”<5>Yukl (2013)Process, influence, others, mutual goals
“Leadership is a procedure whereby one individual influences a team of individuals to accomplish a common goal.”<6>Northouse (2019)Process, influence, others, shared goals
“Leadership is the influencing procedure between leaders and also followers to attain organizational goals through change.”<7>Lussier and Achua (2016)Process, influence, others, purposes (through change)
“We define it (leadership) broadly in regards to a) influencing individuals to add to team goals and b) coordinating the search of those goals.”<8>Van Vugt, Hogan, and also Kaiser (2008)Influence, others, shared goals, process
“Leadership is human (symbolic) interaction that modifies the attitudes and behaviors of others in stimulate to meet shared group goals and needs.”<9>Johnson and Hackman (2018)Process, influence, others, common goals
Leadership is “a procedure of social influence that is planned and also unplanned, formal and informal, and also defined as much by the leader as the follower.”<10>Ruben and Gigliotti (2017)Process, influence, others
“Leadership is a multi-level (person, dyad, group, collective) leader-follower interaction procedure that occurs in a particular situation (context) wherein a leader (e.g., superior, supervisor) and followers (e.g., subordinates, direct reports) re-superstructure a function (vision, mission) and also jointly achieve things (e.g., goals, objectives, tasks) willingly (e.g., without coercion).”<11>Yammarino (2013)Process, context, affect (indirectly), others, shared goals
“Leadership involves multiple individuals involved in a procedure of interpersonal and also mutual affect that is ultimately embedded within some collective.”<12>DeRue and also Ashford (2010)Process, influence, others, context
“Leadership is a social and goal-oriented influence process, unfolding in a temporal and also spatial milieu.”<13>Fischer, Dietz, and Antonakis (2017)Process, influence, others, goals, context
“Leadership is a officially or informal contextually rooted and also goal-influencing process that occurs in between a leader and a follower, teams of followers, or institutions.”<14>Antonakis and Day (2018)Process, influence, context, goals, others


Process is the an initial element arising in all the definitions of management we reviewed. A process involves a series of interactions that occur over time and also within a given context<15>. Leadership, thus, is an interaction relationship in between leaders and those castle lead, let’s contact them followers. This method that, currently, many Authors see management not in terms of what a leader is or does, yet rather in terms of the relationship in between leaders and also followers.

This connection is no static, nor something that is established once and that remains stable throughout time. Rather, it is fluid, dynamic and also tends to change over time<12> <16>. Like any other relationship, that is one ongoing procedure that emerges, evolves, spirals up and also down, and also does not constantly have a clear beginning and end. Because that instance, the takes time, and in many instances lot of interactions, for followers to attribute you a leadership role, for the follower or leader identification to sink in, and also for the outcomes of her leadership initiatives to surface.

You have actually two main varieties of management processes at your disposal: breakthrough and leveraging processes<13>. In advancement processes you produce or enhance resources by, for example, coaching, training, or sharing expertise with followers. As a consequence, girlfriend promote your knowledge, skills, abilities, and also other competencies in ~ work. In leveraging procedures you capitalize on present resources by, for example, encouraging your followers or setting specific and difficult, however attainable, objectives with them. As a consequence, girlfriend raise the probability that working v followers at their complete potential.

Since advance and leveraging procedures feed every other, you will many likely interact in both processes, as forced over time. For instance, it deserve to be awkward to motivate rather if they carry out not have actually the compelled competence to carry out better. Stop say that you see leadership mainly as a leveraging procedure and girlfriend focus nearly exclusively on inspiring followers. In such a case, now and also then, you might come up through an inspirational article that pumps up her followers momentarily. However, if nothing rather is done, girlfriend may also fuel frustration, an especially when castle come back to work and do not have the an abilities to satisfy the expected level the success.

Still, the outcome of any development or leveraging process often counts on the context wherein it occurred. This happens mainly since context largely defines the meaning and relevance followers attribute come the leadership process. Context deserve to be plenty of things<17>. It have the right to be where you command (for example, your cultural background or your company), that you lead (for example, her occupation or hierarchical position in the company), or even when you lead (for example, during an business or financial crisis, stagnation, or booming). Context can likewise be the kind of task you are coordinating, the time you have to finish the job with your team, the setting where you command (for example, the temperature or the physics distance between you and your followers), and how well your team is functioning.

Regardless of just how you look at context, it is a dominant part of any leadership process (even appearing as a separated facet in part definitions). Take the example of U.S. Presidents<18>. Interacting with enthusiasm, emphasizing economic growth, and also highlighting ideals (called promotion-focused communication) just raises presidential ratings and also the probability of reelection during periods of high inflation or low economic growth. In the paper definition of low inflation or high economic growth, the exact same promotion-focused interaction did not change, at the very least until now, U.S. Presidents ratings nor their probability that reelection. Context leads voter to translate the very same presidential article differently. In the exact same vein, her followers can attribute quite various meanings and also intentions to the same interaction/process you have actually with them, depending upon where, when, and in what conditions it occurred.


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The element of influence additionally appeared, directly or indirectly, in all interpretations of leadership. Keep in mind that this influence is not unidirectional, native the leader to the follower. Rather, both leaders and followers affect each other during leadership. The is, the leader affects, and is influenced by, the followers.

Often, her leadership affect ends increase shaping the ideas, priorities, and even values and also feelings of your followers<19>. However, your followers are not north receptors, passively waiting for your influence. They deserve to accept, modify, or even disapprove your influence; and also their reactions to your influence ends increase shaping you and your leadership. There room two key explanations because that this. First, your followers analyze your affect through their very own eyes. For example, their beliefs, needs, values, goals, and also life history ultimately define how reliable your affect is and also the reaction girlfriend get. Second, we developed to constantly and automatically advice how effective a leadership influence is in a given context or because that a provided task<20>. Because that example, her followers might decide to publicly slam you or even follow a different path when they think your influence is not in the best interest that everyone.

So what distinguish leadership influence from monitor influence? Leadership involves a differential influence ~ above the leader-follower relationship and on how collaborative work-related is started, directed and coordinated. In various other words, the impact of leader on followers is higher than the affect of pendant on leaders<13>.

According to evolution perspectives, you have the right to exercise her differential leadership influence in three key ways: prestige, charisma, and dominance<21> <22>. With prestige-based influence you count on her competence, abilities, expertise, skills, and knowledge to influence others. People voluntarily accord you management because, for example, they want to learn from girlfriend or see you together the many qualified person to accomplish what the team wants. You count on charisma-based influence when friend signal values, emotions, and also symbols that resonate v your followers. People follow you because, because that example, they determine with the values you signal, and feel inspired roughly you and also around the ideas and possibilities friend articulate.

Finally, you can likewise exert influence through dominance. Note that coercing and intimidating someone to accept your affect is no leadership, follow to the meanings we reviewed. However, dominance strategies space usually considered leadership when followers accept them willingly. For instance, her followers may willingly accept, and also even welcome, a dominance strategy once danger or one emergency instance arises and also the team needs to quickly adapt to make it through or come deal efficiently with the situation<23> <24>.

You watch dominance-based influence typically in surgical, military, and sports teams. José Mourinho (the soccer coach, soccer coach if you space from the U.S.), leads mostly through charisma- and prestige-based influence. However, as soon as players violate necessary group norms or moral standards, he quickly switches to dominance strategies, such together sanctions and also public reprimands. Although it is not always the case, in most instances his players expropriate these strategies rather well. Aligned v this instance are the outcomes of huge scale studies, describe that prominence can it is in an effective resource of influence. They found that leaders who are encouraged by dominance tend to be an ext effective<25> and are an ext frequently viewed by others as leaders<26>.

Given that leadership is a relational process that unfolds over time, influence have the right to take plenty of forms<9> <27>. Your affect can happen through formal (emanating from your position, role, or title) and also informal channels (coming from her informal conversations and tasks at work). It can be intentional (for example, you compose a well-crafted email v the intentionally of influencing someone) or accidental (for example, you have a casual conversation, v no intention of influence in mind, the ends up influencing someone). Influence deserve to take the kind of a life-changing interaction with rippling effects, or a series of efforts that produce incremental changes end time. Your leading leadership style likewise tends to create unique develops of influence and, depending upon the context, different reactions from followers. Even your silence deserve to be as significant as her speech in conveying a an effective leadership message.

This method that, in one way or another, affect is an aspect of leadership. Sometimes affect will be an ext blunt and overt, various other times it will certainly manifest in an ext subtle and indirect ways<10>. Either way, the is present and largely shapes the method followers check out their work and the an interpretation they extract from it.


The visibility of rather (that is, the followers) is additionally a necessary aspect of leadership, popping increase in all interpretations we reviewed. Come say that management only occurs as soon as there are world following the leader seems nothing however a truism. However, to totally understand what management is, that is important to think around why others, the followers, need to be had in the definition. There space two main reasons because that that.

First, action of leadership (or make the efforts to affect others) do not grant you management status automatically. For leadership to occur, others also need to decide to follow you. Thus, management happens once acts of leadership are linked with acts of followership<28>.

Let’s look in ~ an illustration ~ above the importance of followers for management to occur. Hamadryas baboons favor to sleep in big groups on cliffs. In the morning, after ~ a update night that sleep, some shot to command the team by relocating towards areas where food is available. Periodically the team remains still and also the aspiring leader return to the group unfulfilled – leadership did no occur. However, when the team decides to follow, the management aspirations of the baboon end up being a reality, at least temporarily<8>. Here’s one more example (now in genuine time) of the prestige of others because that leadership:


It appears reasonable to say the there is no management when you attempt to affect others and they execute not monitor you. However, there is also no management when others grant you a leadership function and you decline it. Because that example, imagine the you are the many qualified human being to fix an emergency problem at work. As result of your competence, rather decide to approve you leadership. However, you decline it. This could happen for plenty of reasons. It could be due to the fact that you are already dealing with other pressing issues, due to the fact that you failure to watch it as an chance to build your management competencies, or due to the fact that you think you would certainly not be an reliable leader in that situation. Nevertheless of the motive, in this situation leadership did no occur.

Evolutionary perspectives administer another explanation for why followers space a requisite for leadership. According to this perspectives, leadership and also followership space adaptive tactics that beforehand humans arisen to properly coordinate their collective efforts<8> <22>. For example, for a group of early humans to relocate to one more area or come keep tranquility with contending groups, it would certainly be beneficial to have leaders and followers. Without these two strategies (leadership and also followership), coordination would certainly be complicated – simple things choose deciding what come do, once to carry out it, and who to perform it would be rather challenging to accomplish. And also the after-effects of bad coordination would have been serious. Leadership can thus it is in an evolutionary solution to rise the probability of a group’s survival. It adheres to that natural an option should have favored teams where leadership emerged and followers to be able to effectively recognize it.

What this evolutionary view tells united state is that management only wake up in groups and because of groups<20>. Therefore if you decide to take a program on leading yourself towards your goals or on boosting your management skills, the is not exactly leadership based on current definitions<6>. Others room as essential for girlfriend to end up being a leader.


Goals likewise appear in most definitions. However, if in some situations shared goals room mentioned, in other situations only goals appear in the definition. This sport reflects one that the most controversial worries in leadership: the purpose and outcome that leaders’ differential influence.

Shared goals offer leadership an ethical undertone – the is, it argues that management only occurs when both the leader and the bigger group benefit from the cooperative work. According to this view, the purpose and the outcome of influence are ethically sound and benefit everyone (leaders, followers, organization, and society)<6>. Influencing others just for personal benefit is not leadership, even when rather follow girlfriend willingly.

This see is mainly supported by evolutionary perspectives and also by new forms that leadership, such as ethical and also servant leadership. Evolutionary perspectives indicate that leadership and followership are remedies to resolve coordination problems that groups face<8>. Thus, we can be normally inclined to instantly see leadership as something ethical and beneficial for the whole group. Large scale studies additionally indicate the ethical and also servant leaders tend to be more trusted and effective in driving goal success than other leaders<29> <30>. This indicates that once you have both your and also your followers best interests in mind, you improve the possibility that castle will acknowledge you as a leader.

However, there is likewise the debate that leadership influence contains all purposes and outcomes, honest or unethical, because that the an excellent of anyone or for selfish reasons<27>. According to this view, as long as followers room on board through the leader, leadership occurs. Funny enough, ours own history largely supports this view. Because that instance, the frequency and magnitude of wrongdoing in organizations suggests that, at least, part followers was standing by their unethical or selfish leaders.

Thinking around this dichotomy (any score vs common goals) can be useful, an especially when you have complicated decisions come make and you want to be sure that your influence is ethical and for the benefit of everyone. However, thinking specifically in these terms have the right to be limiting and also overwhelming. In actual life at work, that is rarely feasible to clearly articulate every the purposes and also outcomes of your management influence. For instance, your great intentions deserve to have lot of unintended results and can become detrimental to your followers. A goal that benefits her organization could undermine her team. In contrast, sometimes selfish management actions can have helpful outcomes for followers. For example, if you want a raise in ~ work and also push your followers to carry out more, the is possible that they likewise end up v a raise.

So, can you exploit others because that egoistic reasons and also still be a leader? most likely yes, but only temporarily. Indeed, approximates indicate that approximately half of the human being who reach a leadership position fail<31> <32>. Egoistic and also selfish leader are amongst those an ext likely come fail. There room two key reasons because that that. First, large scale studies suggest that, nevertheless of our nation or culture, we all worth leadership attributes like integrity and fairness<33>. Second, since leadership arised as a way to facilitate collaborative efforts, we arisen a collection of mechanisms to detect and also punish selfish or biased develops of leadership<20> <34>. For example, we and also many other mammals are naturally and specifically attentive come unfair treatment when we work-related together. As an illustration, see the reaction the these 2 Capuchin chimpanzees to what deserve to be viewed as a biased form of leadership – a Capuchin monkey it s okay a better reward than the other one because that the very same task.


In contrast, shared purposes tend come sustain leadership. You deserve to achieve this by influencing others in the direction of an currently shared goal, or by affecting others to construct a new, meaningful, and also shared goal to pursue. If the score is currently shared, you may use your influence to, for example, anticipate unseen problems, create priorities, and guide your followers towards short-term goals. If the score is not yet shared, you may use your influence to, because that example, encourage new thinking, and also share and also collect feedback on your vision for the future. Most effective leaders finish up doing both as there are nearly always points to continue doing and brand-new things to take into consideration doing.


We have actually seen that management occurs at the intersection of four elements: process, influence, others, and also shared goals. Nevertheless, would certainly it be feasible to exercise management if one or more elements were not present? The prize is no straightforward, however when you eliminate an element you tend to finish up with a failed attempt or even with a derailed kind of leadership.

Let’s say that you neglect the mutual goals element. In such a case, you can find yourself exploiting others for egoistic reasons or being the facility of attention without articulating any kind of direction or vision. What if you remove influence? In together a case, you would certainly be working v other human being to achieve common goals. However, without differential influence in the group, you would certainly be much more like a group member 보다 a leader guiding the initiation, direction and also coordination of the work.


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Do these interpretations imply that leaders’ behaviors, attributes, or qualities no longer matter for leadership? not quite. A given behavior, attribute, or characteristic have the right to facilitate or hinder your ability to enact and maintain leadership. for example, extraversion<35>, ambition<36>, view taking<37>, and general intelligence<38> have all been linked to management enactment and maintenance. These characteristics or traits provide you the benefit of, for example, gift able to recognize when and why a given instance requires management (general intelligence), take it the initiative to lead others (extraversion, ambition), and estimate what your followers actually want to attain (perspective taking).

Thus, although your behaviors, attributes, or attributes do no necessarily make you enact leadership, nor space they management per se, they issue for leadership quite substantially.

If us see leadership as a leader-follower relationship, her followers’ behaviors, attributes, or characteristics are likewise relevant. That your followers are and what castle do affect your own behaviors during leadership, and likewise the nature and also the outcomes of the partnership established. For example, her followers may empower friend and an increase your self-confidence by supporting your efforts, acknowledging your leadership, and deciding to monitor you. Similarly, it is well established that many of united state willingly expropriate the leadership influence of human being who are experts in the trouble at hand; however we additionally tend to ignore or even ostracize the leadership initiatives of exploitative or dilute people<8>.

Check the end this video clip from Steve Ballmer, previous CEO the Microsoft. His actions may not be precisely your cup that tea or also aligned with exactly how you see leadership. Nonetheless, it is a fine example of an plot of leadership. He managed to, in the paper definition of a that company meeting, interact (process) enthusiastically (influence) v Microsoft employees (who welcomed his affect – others) and articulate his love for the company, perhaps to avoid engineers fleeing come another company (shared goals). Back Steve Ballmer’s management was not in his behavior, no one in its basic traits or attributes, these contributed to just how the plot of management started and also unfolded.


At very first glance, the four elements of present definitions of management seem satisfying. However, specifying leadership utilizing these four facets can it is in problematic. Because that instance, if friend think around it, both management and leadership can be defined with the same four elements<6>. Both i think you work with other human being over time (process and others), and that friend influence others towards shared goals.

The most typical attempt to solve this problem is come accord different functions come leadership and also management<39>. The function of administration would be to develop order and consistency through, because that example, allocation resources, staffing, and also solving problems. In contrast, the duty of management would it is in to lug forth adjust and innovation through, for example, share a vision and inspiring followers.

These attributes are appealing, however insufficient. Because that example, you might need leadership to preserve visions, ideas, and values that space working (instead of changing them). Similarly, you may need monitoring to drive innovation (instead of control stability), for example by addressing a staffing difficulty or reallocating resources.

Thus, in current years, researchers started to attribute other functions to leadership and management<19> <40>. The main duty of a manager is to ensure that objectives are accomplished in the most efficient and effective way. The main function of a leader is come ensure that followers have a shared definition for what is gift done. Because that example, leaders can have a function in the ideas, feelings, behaviors, and also values pendant have about the work at hand or the possibilities ahead. In a way, leaders are managers of an interpretation at work.


None of the definitions, nor the key elements of every one, are an alleged to it is in permanent. They are mainly a have fun of current times and available knowledge. Together such, us are dealing with working interpretations that are likely to change.

You execute not need to go back really far to watch the enjoy of time and accessible knowledge in how leadership is defined. Although the present are rather blurry, perspectives have readjusted substantially transparent the years<14>. From the 1920s come the 1940s the dominant perspective was to equate leadership with leaders’ traits and also attributes. Management was characterized mainly by the collection of traits and attributes common by leaders. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s points shifted and also leadership ended up being largely equated with the habits of leaders. Leadership was characterized primarily by what leader do. Nowadays, definitions gravitate around the process of affecting others towards achieving shared goals. But brand-new discoveries on, for example, the evolutionary function of leadership<41>, may change or also revolutionize our knowledge of what leadership is.


Based ~ above the definitions of leadership and on the vital elements us outlined above, think about taking a closer look at at your own management efforts and followership choices. You have the right to use the questions below as a guide yet feel totally free to monitor your very own reflection process. In law so, analyze the degree to i m sorry your leadership fulfills all its vital elements. If possible, pinpoint ultimate biases you might have around what management is, and the level to i beg your pardon they have been affecting your leadership efforts and also followership choices. In other words, check out if there is a link between the means you check out leadership and your very own behaviors. Finally, provided your context and also current connection status v your followers, contemplate different behaviors and strategies that can enact or sustain her leadership.

Here space some inquiries to overview your reflection. Are you engaging in a constant and relational process with her followers that, relying on the context, gives resources or leverages present ones? room you conscious of the impact your leadership influence has on her followers’ thoughts, feeling and also behaviors at work? Is the kind of affect you most use (charisma, prestige, or dominance) always effective at work, and also do you have actually the flexibility to do different species of influence? carry out others accord friend leadership, or space you simply relying on a managerial function to influence others? Finally, is everyone on the very same page about the importance and meaningfulness of what her team or firm is trying to achieve?


Approximately fifty percent of the people who occupy leadership positions finish up failing or derailing in one way or another<42>. These statistics carry out not appear to bode well for those with leadership aspirations, nor for those currently in leadership positions. No to point out the aftermath for followers that accord leadership to someone can not to efficiently start, direct, and coordinate their efforts.

With every the “be a leader” messaging the end there, numerous of us finish up fall in love with a romanticized and also glamorized watch of leadership, without understanding the day-to-day work required to be an actual leader. Relying on these views certainty does not make things better. Among other things, these views placed you at threat of gift unprepared to satisfy the true challenges associated with leadership, of encountering relationship difficulties with her followers, and of failing to build and also sustain an efficient team or company. And these are all developed reasons for management failure<32>. ~ all, how deserve to you perform something fine without understanding what it is?

Knowing what management is has actually the potential to make you an actual, if not a better, leader. It can likewise be advantageous for potential pendant to make educated decisions on whether to follow an additional person or not. In reality, knowing what leadership is and also understanding the underlying facets has helpful value for all of us and for many facets of our lives (for instance, at work, in our an individual lives, or in exactly how we operate in society).

As always, say thanks to you because that trusting her time through inter-base.net. It has been a pleasure to re-publishing this info with you. See you every in the next short article (do not forget to subscribe to our news and/or come bookmark us). Till then, keep being (or following) an actual leader.

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