Leader and Leadership


One of the biggest problems in understanding the concept of leadership is the confusion between individuals identified as leaders and the actual process of leadership. Just because someone is referred to as a leader does not mean that they will necessarily practice leadership. Similarly, the emergence of many of the most significant and consequential acts of leadership can be both unpredictable and unexpected in origin, completely detached from anyone called a leader.

Looking at the concept of leader in more detail, at the simplest level, the word is often used to designate a particular role like group leader, team leader, party leader, and so on. In this sense, the leader may act as principal decision maker, spokesperson, allocator of tasks, and settler of disputes, to name a few. The source of authority for carrying out these actions is embodied in the person’s title. The functions leaders perform are a normal part of management, and individuals can be trained to carry out these functions, and they can improve their performance through practice.

The idea of leader can also express the position of one person relative to others, at a particular point in time. For example, you may be a leading goal scorer, or in the lead for sales of a particular product. Your status can change at any time, as others compete to take the lead. This sense of leader is strictly a performance based measure of rank.

From these two notions of leader, we can observe that when the word leader is used to designate a role, it signifies an assigned position relative to others. Alternately, when the word is used to indicate rank, it signifies an achieved position. While the idea of leadership may be used in discussing individuals in either of these situations, neither case really captures the deeper understanding of leadership that informs our critiques and expectations.

Leadership is a process and, more specifically, it is a social process based on relationships among individuals. The relationships in question are not the sort of static objective entities expressed by position and rank, but rather the dynamic interpretive states of shared meaning that are constructed and maintained through social interaction. Leadership is often discussed in terms of ideological notions such as vision and courage, but these ideas do not help us to understand how leadership actually takes place. The process of leadership is much like a conversation, but this conversation must involve the genuine exchange of ideas and the development of mutual understanding. Anyone in an organization who engages in genuine conversation is practicing leadership. It has nothing to do with position or rank.

Source by Robert A. Campbell, Ph.D.

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