Leadership: Concepts from Outstanding Scholars


Shizzi Ahmed
IILM Business School
69, Nagarjuna Hills, Punjagutta, Hyderabad–500082


We all have heard about leadership. Most of us know also many things about leadership.  This is an attempt to understand leadership from different dimensions. First of all let us try to define leadership

Leadership can be defined in simple terms as the art of motivating people towards achieving a common goal. This implies that the leader is a prime mover in achieving the objective.

He or she possesses the combination of personality and skills that inspires others towards following his or her direction.

In organizations, leadership is linked to producing results. . A leader is effective only when he is meeting the performance standard expected of him.

This discussion has three parts viz.  Leadership through Quotations, Significant Factors affecting Leadership and Guidelines for Effective Leadership.

Now let's try to understand leadership based on some Quotations which can also act as definitions:  We shall proceed from simple to complex ones.

Leadership through Quotations:

One of the simplest we can think of is that of Michael McKinney who says, "Leadership is intentional influence." Though apparently simple, this quote is pregnant with meaning. The cardinal point in this definition is that one does not become a leader by inheritance or by occupying a position of authority. Leadership has to be shown in action; it doesn't come by fluke!

Now let's see a quote from Seneca which says, "He who has great power should use it lightly." Great power is like a high tension wire. If we go near it we will get electrocuted.    On the other hand, if the voltage is appropriately stepped down we can use it for multifarious applications.  The leader does not wield power; People work for him not because of his power but in spite of it.

Theodore Roosevelt distinguishes between a leader and a boss in his definition; "People ask the difference between a leader and a boss. The leader leads, and the boss drives." We may restate his definition as the leader has pulling power or attraction or inspiration whereas a boss has pushing power, authority or driving force.

"The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been."

This proposal by Henry Kissinger tells us that leader raises the vision and facilitates the journey of his people towards heights of excellence.

Jesus Christ says, "If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall in the ditch." In other words the leader should have superior vision and commitment towards objective. Mere wishful thinking doesn't make one a leader.

"The task of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there."  This statement by John Buchan implies that the leader is not somebody great and the followers are not mediocre. Every member of the team is great. But the greatness has to be brought forth from the members. This is just like winning gold from the ore. Gold is not manufactured, it is just extracted!

Winston Churchill gives a pragmatic comparison of dictators who disguise themselves as leaders when he says "Dictators ride to and fro upon tigers which they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry." The sum and substance is that dictators try to keep their subordinates under control by autocratic means. However it is not going to last long and their end is going to come sooner than later. 

St. Francis of Assisi is very down to earth when he says "It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching."   In other words he is emphasizing leading by example. This is further highlighted by General Douglas MacArthur when he says,
"Never give an order that can't be obeyed." Every leader must know the physical and mental demand of any task and should be prepared to carry out the same by himself, if need be, before delegating the same to anybody else.

"No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it. It must be organized in such a way as to be able to get along under a leadership composed of average human beings." This quotation from Peter Drucker reminds us that leadership by an extraordinary person will be short lived. We need to inspire and emancipate ordinary people to   carry out extra ordinary performance if organizations are to survive and have sustainable growth. This is the task of leadership.

The following quotation from Admiral James B. Stockdale   is bound to make us stop and think about various facets of leadership. According to him "Leadership must be based on goodwill. Goodwill does not mean posturing and, least of all, pandering to the mob. It means obvious and wholehearted commitment to helping followers. We are tired of leaders we fear, tired of leaders we love, and of tired of leaders who let us take liberties with them. What we need for leaders are men of the heart who are so helpful that they, in effect, do away with the need of their jobs. But leaders like that are never out of a job, never out of followers. Strange as it sounds, great leaders gain authority by giving it away."  There seems to be always some confusion regarding goodwill. He says that goodwill should not be based on pretences or excess familiarity.  Further he says that a good leader is not indispensible. In other words, a good leader develops others so that everyone automatically becomes a leader. Leadership is like a candle which kindles many a candle!

The last definition we are going to see is that of Lao-Tzu. It is almost an extension of the foregoing one : "To lead people, walk beside them ... As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best, the people honor and praise. The next, the people fear; and the next, the people hate ... When the best leader's work is done the people say, 'We did it ourselves!'" Here also the author says that a good leader is not indispensible and that it is one of his prime duties to generate other leaders and relieve himself of the prime leadership job.

Significant Factors Affecting Leadership:

Now let's try to see some significant factor affecting Leadership. According to "U.S. Army. (October 1983). Military Leadership (FM 22-100). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office" there are four major factors affecting leadership.  These are

1) Situation
2) Communication
3) Followers, and
4) Leaders

Various forces will affect these four factors. Some examples of these forces are your relationship with your seniors, the skill of your followers, the informal leaders within your organization, and how your organization is organized.

Let us discuss each of them separately-

1. Situation: Every situation is always different. What you do in one situation will not be same in a different situation. An effective leader changes his approach in accordance with the demands of the situation. A simple example would be that of leadership practices under monopoly and perfect competition. Similarly these would be widely different in a regulated market and a free market.  Another example of changing leadership demands would be a normal situation as against a crisis.

2. Communication: You lead through two-way communication. With out communication the leader cannot be a true leader because communication plays an important role in any organization. For example, if the communication is good the organization can pass their information from top level to bottom level and vice versa and all the members in the organization can have mutual understanding among them selves. This ensures the availability of the right information at  the right time in right quantity to the right people  so that proper  decisions are taken from time to time

3. Followers: Different people require different styles of leadership. We say "different strokes for different folks!" For example, a new hire requires more supervision and guidance  than an experienced employee. A person who lacks motivation requires a different approach than one with a high degree of motivation. You must know your people and have proper understanding of human nature such as needs, wants, emotions, and motivation. Also, note that it is the followers, not the leader or someone else who determines if the leader is successful.

4. Leader: You must have an honest understanding of who you are, what you know, and what you can do. If the followers  do not trust or lack confidence in their leader, then they will be uninspired. To be successful you have to convince your followers, not yourself or your superiors, that you are worthy of being followed.

The best profile of a leader is that of a Team Leader corresponding to High Task and High Relationship in the Blake's Managerial Grid. Such a person leads by positive example and practices a team environment in which all members can reach their highest potential, both in the work and social spheres.

Guidelines for Effective Leadership:

E. Shinseki suggests "BE >KNOW> DO"  as a framework to practice effective leadership ("BE KNOW DO" by E. Shinseki (Ed.) Frances Hesselbein, Richard Cavanagh).  It tells us two characteristics we should have or what "We should BE", five things "We should KNOW" and   three things "We should DO" in order to become a trusted, respected and hence effective leader. They are:

1. BE a professional.  One can become a professional by being loyal to the organization, performing selfless service and taking personal responsibility.

2. BE a professional who possess good character traits. These traits are honesty, competence, candor, commitment, integrity, courage, straightforwardness and imagination.

3. KNOW the four factors of leadership — follower, leader, communication, situation.

4. KNOW yourself. You must know your strengths and weakness of your character, knowledge, and skills.

5. KNOW human nature. This can be done by understanding human needs, emotions, and how people respond to stress.

6. KNOW your job. Examples: be proficient and be able to train others in their tasks.

7. KNOW your organization. This includes knowing where to go for help, organization  climate and culture, who the unofficial leaders are etc.

8. DO provide direction. This can be achieved by goal setting, problem solving, decision making, planning.

9. DO implement. Examples: communicating, coordinating, supervising, evaluating.

10. DO motivate. The process is developing  morale and esprit de corps in the organization, training, coaching and counseling.


Finally I thank Dr. T. Thomas, Director (Academics) and Prof. G. Murali Krishna, Center Director, IILM Business School, Hyderabad – 500082 for their suggestions and kind guidance in preparing this article.

Shizzi Ahmed
IILM Business School
69, Nagarjuna Hills, Punjagutta, Hyderabad–500082

Source: E-mail July 30, 2010


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