We can all agree that “leadership” is such a vast term that the mere mentioning of the word evokes a multitude of associations. In other words, I may imagine leadership one way, while you can have a very different perspective and that’s normal, and common. This, however, poses the inevitable question of whether or not we all search and expect the same thing from leaders, and their approaches. The short answer to this almost entirely rhetorical asking is of course “no”.
There is an inevitable level of subjectivity that makes the terms “leadership” and “leader” a little more elusive than we’d like them to be because that same elusiveness makes it also that bit harder to nail the exact ways in which one can become a leader and be successful at it.
Nevertheless, this article is intended to clear the murkiness and equip you with strategies that you can practically apply.
Generally, leadership is being discussed and analyzed through the context in which it operates. We have a set of ideas about what a political leadership looks like, what corporate leadership does, what the leadership of sports coaches should be and many, many more. This makes it easier for all of us to form our expectations and be flexible enough when “edge cases” appear. In other words, when leadership doesn’t fit into our existing views or we don’t understand how someone rose to a leadership status, we turn our heads to the context in order to be able to explain and justify its existence.
While it’s true that leadership is contextual in the ways in which it practically manifests – its core really doesn’t change IF it exists!
“Leadership is not a person and it is different with management. Leadership is an influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes that reflect their mutual purposes.
Four essential elements that must be present if leadership exists are:
(1) the relationship is based on influence;
(2) leaders and followers are people in this relationship;
(3) leadersand followers intend real changes;
(4) leaders and followers develop mutual purposes.”
Reni Rosari, 2019; Journal ofLeadership in Organizations
In a nutshell, this means that leadership appears when a group of people are being united by a common purpose and form a two-sided relationship where each side contributes differently but equally. This also means that leadership first and foremost requires a vision and purpose that can be accepted, and loved by others.
Let's quickly take as an example the modern influencers. Many people would argue that they are not representing "true leadership". The existence of influencers is in turn being justified by many theoretical reasonings: the rise of social media channels; the individualism that bounds us to devices rather than real life connections; the allure of images and the attempt to create a reality that is more beautiful than the real world, etc. – all of which, however, are looking at the CONTEXT. At its core, we can't deny that the "influencers phenomenon" unites people based on shared purpose and willingness to work towards, and change something!
“People want to change the way they look through exercise”;
“Women want to change the way the life of working moms’ is perceived”;
“People want to change their country to what it once used to be”;
“People want to live longer and healthier, and want to stop their consumption of GMO foods”; etc.
Thinking about the shared purpose and leaders that pull forward a particular movement through their “influencer accounts” are no exception to the leaders, who we are traditionally inclined to call as such.
So what should we do with this understanding?
In whatever position you are – what are the visions and purposes that youcurrently want to communicate to others? Which ones are likely to be accepted and loved by those around you? Are they easy to understand and do they impact enough people? Your vision(s) and purpose(s) don’t need to be tied to anything novel or unaddressed. They just need to be something that is truly important to you and those around you. Personal preferences or even personal battles rarely transform into a catalyst for leadership, unless they are shared by many people.
It is important to note that the number of followers does NOT define the existence of leadership. A particular vision and purpose can be shared by a small, niche group or by a very broad one. Regardless, leadership may be present and successful.
There are numerous strategies around communication. From how to structure a particular message, and what the content would hold, to how to use visuals,your voice, body language and silence – it’s a whole science and we are not going to go into that. However, what we want to go into is much simpler yet incredibly important – the powerful act of putting your message (what you want others to adopt) out there. Regardless of the style or means of communication this step surprisingly gets omitted a lot.
Share what you think with others openly!
It’s no coincidence that many people bypass, delay or ignore for as long as possible the communication part. Initiating the relationship with others entails overcoming fear of rejection and criticism. Communicating our visions means we are making an open attempt to take up and enter into a leadership dynamic which paradoxically is a socially disapproved behavior. Despite the fact that we love, admire and need leadership, we also may have a natural resistance if we see the process unfolding before our eyes.
Nevertheless, the only way for leadership to exist is through communication that ideally develops as a cross-communication over time – i.e. between leaders, between followers, and between followers & leaders.
Leadership occurs when one group member modifies the motivation or competencies of others in the group (Bass, 1990). Obviously, history has shown many examples when the group “does as the leader says” without a community feel or engagement. This continues to be a valid approach in many cases that secures temporary (contextual) leadership dynamic. However, if one is after leadership in a sense of sustainable change into a particular direction through influencing the motivation or competencies of others - creating a community around the vision and the purpose, rather than a particular figure is a better, more potent way of ensuring engagement and continuation.
Ultimately, leadership sits on those three pillars and if they are consciously addressed – the results will be visible.
After all, the strive for good leadership is a strive for outcomes and not a merely a manifestation of someone’s personality. Enhance your leadership to enhance the positive results we all want to see.
1. Bass, B.M. (1990). Bass & Stodgill’s Handbook ofLeadership: Theory, Research, and Managerial Applications. Third Edition. New York: The Free Press.
2. Rosari, Reni (2019). “Leadership definitions application forlecturers’ leadership development.” Journal of Leadership in OrganizationsVol.1, No. 1 (2019) 17-28