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Defining Leadership - Trying to Understand

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You can ask ten different people what their definition of leadership is and you will probably get ten different answers. Leadership doesn't have a specific definition. By giving it a definition, you are putting restrictions and limitations on the word and the true value of leadership. Leadership is something that is complicated to explain and understand. It is formless; it doesn't take on a particular shape or form, nor does it go in one particular direction. A great leader can adjust to any situation at any given time, under any circumstance, and still come out successful.

Leadership is something that can't be measured or tested by science or technology. Leadership theories are based on an opinion of an individual, i.e., human factors, and no two humans are the same. Although it can't be measured by science, it is considered a soft science, because you really can't base it off of experimental data. No one can prove what it is, but they can show what it does. It is like fine art, it crafts in a formless way that tends to go in many different directions at any given time. Leadership is rational and emotional; it involves both sides of human experience, which can include your "firmness, fairness, dignity and compassion."

Some people believe that being a leader is either in one's genes or not; others believe that life experiences mold the individual, and no one is born a leader, hence the saying "Leaders are made, not born." Who's to say which is right? This saying has been an ongoing debate for years and always will be. But in a sense, they both are right and they both are wrong. "Both views are right in the sense that innate factors as well as formative experiences influence many sorts of behavior, including leadership. Yet, both views are wrong to the extent they imply leadership is either innate or acquired" (Hughes, 2006). What matters most is how well a leader make these factors interact with one another.

Leadership can be created from inspiration and a leader must have a true passion to lead. A true leader understands that leadership is continuous and is a constant learning process. He also understands that leadership is a process and not a position. There are great leaders, but there are not perfect leaders. A great leader must have failed at something in order to succeed. If you have never failed at anything, you can never appreciate the true value of success.

A good leader is someone who utilizes effective leadership skills in dealing with people. They are someone who respects their subordinates as well as their leaders. In reality, a leader is a servant for his subordinates; he works for them just as much as they work for him. A leader must work to make sure that his subordinates are taken care of to the best of his ability by utilizing all of his leadership skills. In turn, his subordinates will take care of him.

Subordinates expect leaders to show them the standard and train them to reach it. They expect leaders to lead by example. Additionally, they expect leaders to keep them informed and not withhold the truth. Leaders may have to ask others to make extraordinary sacrifices to achieve goals. Leaders may have to call on them to do things that seem impossible. "If leaders have trained their people to standard, inspired their willingness, and consistently looked after their interests, they will be prepared to accomplish any goal, anytime, anywhere" (Reeves, 2004).

In reality, most subordinates are leaders. A lot of them just haven't exercised their true ability to lead. Not to mention the exemplary subordinate who is a self-leader per say. Like a good leader, he can adjust to any situation at any given time. He is very independent and can be depended on. This type of subordinate can help a good leader become better.

Many believe that leadership implies power, but it shouldn't imply power, it should influence the ability to apply powerful leadership. Power is something that isn't measured by a position or billet; it is merely a function of the leader, the subordinates, and the situation. Leaders have the potential to influence their subordinates' behavior, attitude, and growth.

"Leadership allows leaders to have different styles of interaction styles when dealing with individual followers" (Hughes, 2006), hence one of the reasons why leadership will always be open to many different opinions and debates. Study after study has been done on leadership and no one still knows what it is and what makes a true leader. Even those with the most extensive knowledge in leadership research can be poor leaders, which proves, it is not about how much research or studying you do, it's what you do with it that can make you a success.

In conclusion, we can spend five lifetimes trying to figure out what leadership really is, where it comes from, and which is right or wrong. But it's not about defining it (it can never be defined, just shown). It's not about where it comes from, and it's not about which is right or wrong; it's about continuous learning, trying to understand it, and which style to use at the right time.

Hughes, R.L., Ginnett, R.C., & Curphy, G.J. (2006). Leadership: Enhancing the Lessons of Experience. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Reeves, R. (2004). Changing Your Style. In Leadership. . Retrieved December 12, 2006, from United States Marine Corps Web site: www.usmc.mil


About the Author

Darnell E. Patton is currently an active duty Marine. He has held many management and leadership positions, to include the legendary Marine Drill Instructor, Instructor. He has a BS in Management, a BS in Finance, and his MBA with specialization in Human Resources.


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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2007-09-07 00:47:54 in Business Articles

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