Here are 3 popular ways of defining leadership, each from a slightly different perspective:

1.  Leadership means being the dominant individual in a group.

2.  Leadership means getting things done through people.

3.  Leadership means challenging the status quo, promoting a better way.

For many, leadership means doing all three of these things but there are subtle and important differences. Let’s look at them one by one.

  1.  Leadership means being the dominant individual in a group.

In primitive tribes and higher animal species the dominant individual was the leader. Being the leader simply meant having the power to attain and hold the top position for a reasonable length of time. Contrary to definition 2, you could be the leader without getting anything done through others. A leader was the person in charge even if the group was in a stable state where people went about their business as normal. As long as group members obeyed the leader’s rules, the leader did not even need to be actively involved in the lives of group members, let alone get anything done through them. You could also be the leader in such a group without promoting a better way as suggested by definition 3. If you didn’t need to be voted into power, why have a platform for change? You simply seized power; no sales pitch was needed on how you could make life better for the group. Yes, such leaders may have led groups successfully in battle and built great monuments with them, but, strictly speaking, you could be the leader without achieving anything through a group effort. The meaning of leadership, according to this definition, is simply to be at the top of the pile.

2.    Leadership means getting things done through people.

Great leaders throughout history have led their groups to momentous achievements, but the idea that leadership should be defined as getting things done through people has been developed most fully by modern business, which is all about achieving results. As business has become more complex, the leadership challenge has grown form one of the simple issuing of orders to a few “hands” to the subtle coordination of highly skilled, diverse knowledge workers to build sophisticated machines and put men on the moon. There is a problem with this definition of leadership, however. It used to belong to management. Why the switch from management to leadership? And is this a good move? Up to the late 1970’s writers used the terms leadership and management interchangeably but with more emphasis on management. For example, the management theorists, Blake and Mouton, developed their famous managerial grid in the 1960’s. At the time, it was portrayed as a way of identifying your management style. Today, in line with the shift to leadership, the name is the same (managerial grid) but it is now positioned as a leadership style instrument.

Similarly, we used to talk about management style more than leadership style. Managers could be either “theory X” and task oriented or “theory Y” and concerned for people. But a profound shift in thinking took place in a revolutionary period lasting from the late 1970’s through the mid 1980’s. The cause of this upheaval was the commercial success of Japanese industry in North America. This led pundits to claim that the U.S. had lost its competitive edge because U.S. management was too bureaucratic, controlling, uninspiring and inept at fostering innovation. Rather than upgrade management, there was an emotional over reaction such that management was rejected and replaced by leadership. Since then, leaders were portrayed as theory Y, inspiring and concerned about people while management got saddled with all the bad guy attributes of being controlling, theory X, uninspiring and narrowly task focused. Similarly, the distinction between being transformational and transactional was originally launched to differentiate two leadership styles, but it wasn’t long before it became used to separate leadership from management, the former being transformational and the latter transactional.

In our haste to trash management, we grabbed whatever tools were handy but with heavy costs. First, we painted leadership into a corner by suggesting that you needed to be an inspiring cheerleader to be a leader, leaving no room for quiet or simply factual leadership. Second, we created a bloated concept of leadership by banishing management. Third, by attaching leadership to getting things done through a team, we associated leadership irrevocably with being in charge of people, thereby ruling out positionless leadership. Yes, there is informal leadership but this concept is essentially the same as formal leadership except for their power bases. Like its formal counterpart, informal leadership still means taking charge and managing a group to achieve a target. In either case, you need to have the personal presence, organizational skills and motivation to take charge to be a leader.

3.    Leadership means challenging the status quo, promoting a better way.

We have always felt, intuitively, that leaders have the courage to stand up and be counted. They go against the grain, often at great risk, to call for change. We only need to look at Martin Luther King, Jr. His leadership rested not so much on his oratorical skills – they were just icing on the cake. He was a leader primarily because he marched and spoke against injustice. He challenged the status quo and promoted a better world.

However, and this is the whole point here, if you think through what it means to challenge the status quo or advocate change, there is no necessary implication that you have to be in charge of the people you are trying to influence. The bottom line is that this third definition, when worked through fully, gives us a way to break the stranglehold of the previous two definitions. The benefit of this move is that we gain a clearer understanding of how all employees can show leadership even if they totally lack the skills or inclination to take charge of groups in a managerial sense, even informally. Think again of Martin Luther King, Jr. He sought to move the U.S. Government and the population at large to think differently about such issues as segregation on buses. His leadership efforts were successful when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled such discrimination unconstitutional. Now, it is obvious that he was not in a managerial role within the Supreme Court. He showed leadership to this group as an outsider. You could say the same of Jack Welch who had a leadership impact on countless businesses around the globe through his novel practices, such as being first or second in a market. Again, those who followed the lead of Jack Welch did not report to him. They were not even members of a common group.

Leadership Reinvented for the 21st Century

If we cast aside the first two definitions of leadership, what is left? If leadership means nothing more than promoting a better way, then we need to upgrade management to take care of everything to do with getting things done through people. We need to say that management does not entail being controlling, bureaucratic or theory X, that they can be as inspiring as they need to be, good at coaching, developing and empowering people.

Key Features of Leadership Reinvented

It does not involve managing people to get things done.

It comes to an end once those led get on board. It sells the tickets for the journey; management drives the bus to the destination.

It is a discrete episode, a one-off act of influence, not an ongoing position of dominance.

It is based on the promotion of a better way.

It can be shown bottom-up as well as top-down.

It can be shown by outsiders and between competing individuals or groups.

Thought Leadership – The Essence of Leadership Reinvented

Organizations today need all employees to think creatively and to promote new products. Promoting a better idea can be called thought leadership. In a knowledge driven environment, the newest, best idea influences others to get on board. When a product developer convinces top management to adopt a new product, that person has shown thought leadership bottom-up. But it can be shown across groups as well. When Microsoft develops products or services invented by Apple or Google, they are following the lead of these innovators. This also is thought leadership

By Mitch Mc Crimmon.

A Leadership Model for the 21st Century


In today’s fast-paced and turbulent environment, as a leader you struggle with the demands and burdens of assuming the mantle of leadership. You truly want to be a dedicated and effective leader, but you feel on the verge of burn-out as you face ongoing challenges which never seem to end. Your employees don’t seem as motivated, they’ve lost their commitment to the larger vision, and they’re not as productive as you’d like them to be. You’re also tired of putting out fires and wish people would stop complaining, and just do their work.

And to make matters worse, you often feel isolated and believe that nobody really appreciates what you’re going through. You ask yourself – who can I trust to share my burdens with? Where can I go for help to turn things around?

If you can relate to these issues, then I have a provocative question for you: Have you ever considered that your basic assumptions about leadership may be contributing to your struggles?

Let’s examine some current leadership models and their limitations, and then propose a model that more effectively addresses the common problems confronting today’s leader.


Our culture has no shortage of leadership theories and models. There is charismatic leadership, situational leadership, and transformational leadership to name only a few. Each theory has its own focus as to what makes for an effective leader, whether it be the sheer appeal of one’s personality, the context in which leadership occurs, or the needs of the organization. In effect, they all attempt to answer the question: What leadership style must a leader adopt in order to maximize his or her effectiveness with followers? However, leadership style is really not the most fundamental issue to consider. Effective leadership has more to do with one’s intentions or motives for leading. Put succinctly, the question is: Whose interests are you ultimately serving as a leader? How you answer this question determines not only your effectiveness as a leader but also the success of your organization.