Leadership is everywhere. We check out it in ours news, social media, work, and also political and social systems. Leadership is so installed in person nature that if we space left alone through other human being for a while, we instantly create a framework with leaders and also followers<1> <2>.

You are watching: The four key elements of the definition of leadership used in the text are

And yet, if girlfriend ask ten human being “what is leadership?”, you will many likely gain ten different answers. People see leadership in so many different methods that you can find hundreds of meanings out there<3> <4>. These space not an excellent news if you want a working guide on how to it is in a leader, improve your leadership, or make an informed decision on whether you have to follow someone’s leadership.

With that in mind, let’s see how leadership is being defined, identify the key elements shared by most definitions, and reflect on why we are all (leaders and also followers) much far better off knowing what leadership is and also what that is not.


With numerous leadership interpretations out there, over there is yes, really no allude in coming up with yet an additional one. Possibly a much more meaningful and also useful path would be to research existing definitions and also uncover the an essential elements lock share. In act so, we might have the ability to pinpoint exactly what leadership is, to build a deep expertise of its aspects (and of leadership itself), and also to interact in actual acts of leadership.

In the table listed below you have actually ten representative definitions of leadership, from some of the many prominent modern scholars, practitioners, and writers. At first glance, these interpretations may appear to be quite various from every other. However, a simple scratch ~ above the surface reveals that most definitions obtainable today have an ext in usual than meets the eye.

In the “key elements” obelisk of the table, we highlighted the core elements encompassed, straight or indirectly, by each definition. Authors present their interpretations using an ext specific or more generic terms, and even emphasize some elements more than others. However, once you overlap every definitions, you begin seeing a clear and shared sample of crucial elements.

Before we research this pattern, take a 2nd to go v Table 1. An alert that, despite the disparities in language, most interpretations share the same an essential elements.


Table 1. Ten current and also representative interpretations of leadership.

DefinitionAuthor (Year)Key elements
“Leadership is the procedure of influencing others come understand and agree around what demands to it is in done and also how to execute it, and also the procedure of facilitating individual and also collective initiatives to attain shared objectives.”<5>Yukl (2013)Process, influence, others, shared goals
“Leadership is a procedure whereby one individual impacts a group of individuals to attain a typical goal.”<6>Northouse (2019)Process, influence, others, mutual goals
“Leadership is the influencing procedure between leaders and also followers to achieve organizational objectives through change.”<7>Lussier and also Achua (2016)Process, influence, others, objectives (through change)
“We specify it (leadership) extensively in terms of a) influencing people to contribute to team goals and b) coordinating the quest of those goals.”<8>Van Vugt, Hogan, and also Kaiser (2008)Influence, others, mutual goals, process
“Leadership is human being (symbolic) communication that modifies the attitudes and behaviors of rather in bespeak to meet shared group goals and also needs.”<9>Johnson and also Hackman (2018)Process, influence, others, mutual goals
Leadership is “a process of social influence that is planned and unplanned, formal and informal, and also defined as much by the leader together the follower.”<10>Ruben and Gigliotti (2017)Process, influence, others
“Leadership is a multi-level (person, dyad, group, collective) leader-follower interaction procedure that wake up in a details situation (context) wherein a leader (e.g., superior, supervisor) and also followers (e.g., subordinates, direct reports) re-publishing a purpose (vision, mission) and also jointly accomplish things (e.g., goals, objectives, tasks) willingly (e.g., without coercion).”<11>Yammarino (2013)Process, context, affect (indirectly), others, shared goals
“Leadership entails multiple individuals engaged in a procedure of interpersonal and mutual influence that is ultimately embedded within some collective.”<12>DeRue and also Ashford (2010)Process, influence, others, context
“Leadership is a social and goal-oriented influence process, unfolding in a temporal and spatial milieu.”<13>Fischer, Dietz, and also Antonakis (2017)Process, influence, others, goals, context
“Leadership is a formal or unshened contextually rooted and also goal-influencing process that occurs between a leader and also a follower, groups of followers, or institutions.”<14>Antonakis and Day (2018)Process, influence, context, goals, others


Process is the first element arising in every the definitions of management we reviewed. A process involves a collection of interaction that take place over time and also within a provided context<15>. Leadership, thus, is an interaction relationship in between leaders and also those they lead, let’s speak to them followers. This method that, currently, many Authors see management not in regards to what a leader is or does, however rather in regards to the relationship in between leaders and followers.

This connection is not static, no one something that is established once and also that continues to be stable transparent time. Rather, it is fluid, dynamic and tends to readjust over time<12> <16>. Like any other relationship, that is an ongoing procedure that emerges, evolves, spirals up and down, and does not always have a clean beginning and also end. For instance, that takes time, and also in plenty of instances multiple interactions, for followers to attribute friend a management role, because that the monitor or leader identification to sink in, and also for the outcomes of your leadership efforts to surface.

You have actually two main types of leadership processes at your disposal: advancement and leveraging processes<13>. In advance processes you produce or improve resources by, for example, coaching, training, or sharing expertise with followers. Together a consequence, girlfriend promote their knowledge, skills, abilities, and other competencies in ~ work. In leveraging procedures you capitalize on currently resources by, for example, encouraging your pendant or setup specific and difficult, yet attainable, objectives with them. As a consequence, girlfriend raise the probability the working through followers in ~ their full potential.

Since advancement and leveraging processes feed each other, you will many likely communicate in both processes, as forced over time. Because that instance, it can be awkward come motivate others if they perform not have actually the compelled competence to do better. Let’s say the you check out leadership mostly as a leveraging procedure and girlfriend focus practically exclusively on motivating followers. In together a case, now and then, you may come up v an inspirational blog post that pumps up her followers momentarily. However, if nothing rather is done, girlfriend may also fuel frustration, specifically when they come back to work and also do not have the an abilities to fulfill the expected level that success.

Still, the result of any breakthrough or leveraging process often relies on the context wherein it occurred. This wake up mainly because context largely specifies the meaning and relevance followers attribute come the management process. Context have the right to be plenty of things<17>. It can be whereby you lead (for example, your social background or her company), who you command (for example, her occupation or hierarchical position in the company), or also when you command (for example, during an business or financial crisis, stagnation, or booming). Paper definition can likewise be the form of job you are coordinating, the time you have actually to complete the job with your team, the setting where you command (for example, the temperature or the physics distance in between you and also your followers), and how well your team is functioning.

Regardless of exactly how you look at context, it is a dominant part of any kind of leadership procedure (even showing up as a separated facet in part definitions). Take the example of U.S. Presidents<18>. Interacting with enthusiasm, emphasizing economic growth, and highlighting ideals (called promotion-focused communication) only raises presidential ratings and the probability the reelection throughout periods that high inflation or low financial growth. In the paper definition of short inflation or high economic growth, the exact same promotion-focused communication did no change, at the very least until now, U.S. Presidents ratings nor their probability of reelection. Paper definition leads voter to analyze the exact same presidential message differently. In the very same vein, her followers can attribute quite different meanings and also intentions come the exact same interaction/process you have actually with them, depending upon where, when, and also in what conditions it occurred.


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The element of influence additionally appeared, directly or indirectly, in all meanings of leadership. Note that this affect is not unidirectional, from the leader to the follower. Rather, both leaders and followers affect each other throughout leadership. The is, the leader affects, and is affected by, the followers.

Often, your leadership influence ends up shaping the ideas, priorities, and even values and also feelings of your followers<19>. However, your followers room not empty receptors, passively wait for your influence. They can accept, modify, or even refuse your influence; and also their reaction to your influence ends increase shaping you and your leadership. There room two key explanations for this. First, your followers translate your influence through their very own eyes. For example, your beliefs, needs, values, goals, and life background ultimately define how reliable your influence is and also the reaction friend get. Second, we evolved to constantly and automatically evaluate how reliable a leadership affect is in a provided context or because that a given task<20>. Because that example, her followers may decide to publicly slam you or also follow a various path once they believe your affect is not in the finest interest the everyone.

So what distinguish leadership influence from monitor influence? Leadership involves a differential influence on the leader-follower relationship and also on exactly how collaborative occupational is started, directed and also coordinated. In other words, the influence of leaders on followers is greater than the impact of followers on leaders<13>.

According to evolutionary perspectives, you can exercise her differential leadership affect in three main ways: prestige, charisma, and also dominance<21> <22>. With prestige-based affect you rely on her competence, abilities, expertise, skills, and knowledge to affect others. Human being voluntarily accord you leadership because, because that example, they desire to discover from friend or see you as the most qualified person to attain what the group wants. You count on charisma-based influence when you signal values, emotions, and symbols that resonate with your followers. Human being follow friend because, for example, they determine with the values you signal, and also feel inspired approximately you and also around the ideas and also possibilities you articulate.

Finally, friend can also exert influence through dominance. Note that coercing and intimidating someone to accept your influence is no leadership, according to the interpretations we reviewed. However, dominance strategies space usually considered leadership as soon as followers expropriate them willingly. For instance, your followers might willingly accept, and even welcome, a prominence strategy as soon as danger or one emergency instance arises and the group needs to conveniently adapt to survive or to deal properly with the situation<23> <24>.

You watch dominance-based influence generally in surgical, military, and also sports teams. José Mourinho (the football coach, soccer coach if you space from the U.S.), leads greatly through charisma- and also prestige-based influence. However, when players violate important group standards or honest standards, he easily switches to dominance strategies, such as sanctions and also public reprimands. Although it is not always the case, in many instances his players expropriate these strategies rather well. Aligned with this example are the outcomes of large scale studies, describe that dominance can it is in an effective source of influence. They found that leaders who are urged by dominance tend to be more effective<25> and are an ext frequently watched by others as leaders<26>.

Given that management is a relational procedure that unfolds over time, influence deserve to take plenty of forms<9> <27>. Your influence can take place through formal (emanating from your position, role, or title) and informal networks (coming from your informal conversations and tasks at work). It can be intentional (for example, you create a well-crafted email through the intentionally of influencing someone) or accidental (for example, you have a casual conversation, with no on purpose of affect in mind, the ends up influencing someone). Influence have the right to take the form of a life-changing interaction with rippling effects, or a series of initiatives that develop incremental changes end time. Your dominant leadership style additionally tends to develop unique creates of affect and, relying on the context, various reactions from followers. Also your silence have the right to be as significant as your speech in send a powerful leadership message.

This way that, in one means or another, influence is an facet of leadership. Sometimes influence will be much more blunt and also overt, other times it will manifest in an ext subtle and indirect ways<10>. One of two people way, it is present and also largely forms the method followers check out their work and the meaning they extract from it.


The presence of rather (that is, of followers) is additionally a necessary aspect of leadership, popping increase in all definitions we reviewed. Come say that leadership only occurs as soon as there are people following the leader seems nothing however a truism. However, to fully understand what leadership is, the is necessary to think around why others, the followers, have to be contained in the definition. There are two main reasons for that.

First, acts of leadership (or attempts to influence others) do not grant you leadership status automatically. For leadership to occur, others additionally need to decide to follow you. Thus, leadership happens as soon as acts of management are combined with action of followership<28>.

Let’s look at an illustration top top the importance of followers for management to occur. Hamadryas baboons prefer to sleep in large groups ~ above cliffs. In the morning, after a update night that sleep, some try to command the team by moving towards locations where food is available. Sometimes the group remains still and also the aspiring leader returns to the team unfulfilled – management did no occur. However, as soon as the team decides to follow, the leadership aspirations of that baboon become a reality, at the very least temporarily<8>. Here’s an additional example (now in genuine time) of the prestige of others because that leadership:


It seems reasonable come say that there is no leadership when you effort to affect others and they perform not follow you. However, there is additionally no management when others provide you a leadership duty and you decline it. For example, imagine that you are the many qualified person to settle an emergency concern at work. Because of your competence, rather decide to give you leadership. However, you decline it. This might happen for numerous reasons. It could be since you are already dealing with other pressing issues, due to the fact that you fail to check out it as an opportunity to develop your leadership competencies, or due to the fact that you believe you would not it is in an reliable leader in the situation. Regardless of the motive, in this instance leadership did no occur.

Evolutionary perspectives provide another explanation because that why followers room a requisite because that leadership. Follow to these perspectives, leadership and followership are adaptive strategies that beforehand humans occurred to successfully coordinate their collective efforts<8> <22>. For example, because that a group of early on humans to move to one more area or to keep peace with competing groups, it would be beneficial to have leaders and also followers. Without these two methods (leadership and followership), coordination would be difficult – straightforward things choose deciding what to do, when to execute it, and also who to perform it would be rather an overwhelming to accomplish. And also the after-effects of bad coordination would have been serious. Leadership could thus it is in an evolutionary systems to boost the probability that a group’s survival. It follows that natural choice should have actually favored teams where management emerged and also followers to be able to successfully recognize it.

What this evolutionary view tells us is that management only occurs in groups and because that groups<20>. Therefore if you decision to take it a program on leading yourself towards your objectives or on boosting your management skills, the is not specifically leadership based upon current definitions<6>. Others room as crucial for you to become a leader.


Goals also appear in many definitions. However, while in some cases shared goals are mentioned, in other instances only goals appear in the definition. This sport reflects one that the many controversial concerns in leadership: the purpose and outcome the leaders’ differential influence.

Shared goals provide leadership an honest undertone – the is, it suggests that management only occurs once both the leader and also the larger group benefit from the participating work. Follow to this view, the purpose and the outcome of influence are ethically sound and also benefit everyone (leaders, followers, organization, and also society)<6>. Affecting others just for an individual benefit is not leadership, also when rather follow you willingly.

This watch is greatly supported by evolution perspectives and also by brand-new forms that leadership, such together ethical and also servant leadership. Evolutionary perspectives imply that leadership and followership are options to fix coordination troubles that groups face<8>. Thus, we can be normally inclined to automatically see leadership as other ethical and beneficial because that the whole group. Large scale studies additionally indicate that ethical and servant leaders have tendency to be much more trusted and also effective in driving goal achievement than various other leaders<29> <30>. This suggests that as soon as you have actually both your and also your followers best interests in mind, you boost the possibility that lock will acknowledge you as a leader.

However, there is also the argument that leadership influence consists of all purposes and also outcomes, honest or unethical, because that the great of anyone or for selfish reasons<27>. Follow to this view, as lengthy as followers room on board v the leader, leadership occurs. Funny enough, our own history largely supports this view. Because that instance, the frequency and magnitude the wrongdoing in organizations indicates that, in ~ least, some followers was standing by their unethical or selfish leaders.

Thinking about this dichotomy (any score vs common goals) can be useful, an especially when friend have challenging decisions to make and you desire to be certain that your affect is ethical and also for the advantage of everyone. However, thinking solely in these terms deserve to be limiting and also overwhelming. In real life at work, it is rarely feasible to clearly articulate every the purposes and outcomes the your management influence. For instance, your great intentions have the right to have multiple unintended after-effects and can end up being detrimental to her followers. A goal the benefits your organization can undermine your team. In contrast, periodically selfish leadership actions deserve to have advantageous outcomes for followers. Because that example, if you want a raise in ~ work and also push your followers to execute more, it is feasible that they likewise end up v a raise.

So, might you exploit others because that egoistic reasons and also still it is in a leader? most likely yes, however only temporarily. Indeed, estimates indicate the approximately fifty percent of the people who reach a leadership position fail<31> <32>. Egoistic and also selfish leaders are amongst those an ext likely to fail. There room two main reasons for that. First, huge scale studies suggest that, nevertheless of our nation or culture, us all worth leadership features like integrity and also fairness<33>. Second, since leadership arised as a method to facilitate collaborative efforts, we arisen a collection of mechanisms to detect and punish selfish or biased develops of leadership<20> <34>. Because that example, we and many other mammals are naturally and particularly attentive to unfair treatment as soon as we work together. As an illustration, check out the reaction that these two Capuchin chimpanzees to what have the right to be perceived as a biased kind of management – a Capuchin monkey it s okay a far better reward 보다 the various other one for the same task.


In contrast, shared objectives tend to sustain leadership. You deserve to achieve this by affecting others towards an already shared goal, or by affecting others to develop a new, meaningful, and also shared goal to pursue. If the score is currently shared, you might use your affect to, because that example, anticipate unseen problems, develop priorities, and guide her followers towards short-term goals. If the score is no yet shared, you may use your affect to, for example, encourage new thinking, and share and collect feedback on your vision because that the future. Most effective leaders end up doing both together there are virtually always points to continue doing and new things to consider doing.


We have actually seen that management occurs at the intersection of 4 elements: process, influence, others, and also shared goals. Nevertheless, would certainly it be feasible to exercise leadership if one or an ext elements were not present? The prize is not straightforward, yet when you eliminate an aspect you tend to finish up v a failed effort or even with a derailed form of leadership.

Let’s say the you overlook the common goals element. In such a case, you can find you yourself exploiting others for egoistic factors or being the facility of attention without articulating any direction or vision. What if you eliminate influence? In such a case, you would certainly be working v other people to achieve common goals. However, without differential affect in the group, you would be an ext like a group member than a leader guiding the initiation, direction and also coordination the the work.


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Do these interpretations imply that leaders’ behaviors, attributes, or qualities no longer matter for leadership? no quite. A offered behavior, attribute, or characteristic can facilitate or hinder your capability to enact and maintain leadership. for example, extraversion<35>, ambition<36>, view taking<37>, and general intelligence<38> have all been linked to leadership enactment and maintenance. These qualities or traits offer you the benefit of, because that example, being able to know when and also why a given instance requires leadership (general intelligence), take it the initiative to command others (extraversion, ambition), and also estimate what your followers actually want to attain (perspective taking).

Thus, although your behaviors, attributes, or qualities do not necessarily do you spreading leadership, nor space they leadership per se, they issue for management quite substantially.

If us see management as a leader-follower relationship, your followers’ behaviors, attributes, or qualities are likewise relevant. Who your followers are and also what castle do influence your own actions during leadership, and likewise the nature and also the outcomes of the connection established. Because that example, your followers may empower girlfriend and boost your self-confidence by sustaining your efforts, acknowledging her leadership, and also deciding to follow you. Similarly, that is well developed that most of us willingly expropriate the leadership influence of civilization who are professionals in the problem at hand; however we also tend to overlook or even ostracize the leadership initiatives of exploitative or dilute people<8>.

Check out this video clip from Steve Ballmer, previous CEO the Microsoft. His actions may not be exactly your cup that tea or also aligned with exactly how you see leadership. Nonetheless, the is a fine example of an act of leadership. He controlled to, in the context of a that company meeting, communicate (process) enthusiastically (influence) through Microsoft employee (who accepted his influence – others) and articulate his love because that the company, probably to avoid designers fleeing come another agency (shared goals). Back Steve Ballmer’s leadership was no in his behavior, no one in its underlying traits or attributes, these contributed to just how the action of management started and unfolded.


At first glance, the four facets of present definitions of leadership seem satisfying. However, specifying leadership making use of these four elements can be problematic. For instance, if you think around it, both management and leadership can be identified with the same 4 elements<6>. Both assume you work with other civilization over time (process and others), and that girlfriend influence others in the direction of shared goals.

The most common attempt to solve this problem is come accord different functions to leadership and management<39>. The function of management would it is in to develop order and also consistency through, for example, allocation resources, staffing, and also solving problems. In contrast, the role of management would be to lug forth change and creation through, for example, share a vision and inspiring followers.

These attributes are appealing, but insufficient. Because that example, you might need leadership to preserve visions, ideas, and also values that space working (instead of transforming them). Similarly, you may need management to drive development (instead of driving stability), for instance by addressing a staffing trouble or reallocating resources.

Thus, in current years, researchers started to attribute other attributes to leadership and also management<19> <40>. The main function of a manager is to ensure that objectives are completed in the many efficient and also effective way. The main role of a leader is to ensure that followers derive a shared definition for what is gift done. For example, leaders can have a function in the ideas, feelings, behaviors, and values followers have around the work at hand or the possibilities ahead. In a way, leaders are supervisors of an interpretation at work.


None the the definitions, nor the vital elements of every one, are claimed to be permanent. They are mostly a have fun of existing times and accessible knowledge. As such, us are taking care of working definitions that are likely to change.

You do not need to go back very far to watch the reflection of time and accessible knowledge in exactly how leadership is defined. Return the present are somewhat blurry, perspectives have adjusted substantially throughout the years<14>. From the 1920s to the 1940s the dominant perspective was to equate management with leaders’ traits and attributes. Leadership was characterized mainly by the set of traits and attributes common by leaders. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s points shifted and also leadership came to be largely equated with the actions of leaders. Management was characterized primarily by what leaders do. Nowadays, definitions gravitate around the process of affecting others towards achieving common goals. But brand-new discoveries on, for example, the evolutionary function of leadership<41>, may adjust or even revolutionize our understanding of what management is.


Based ~ above the interpretations of leadership and on the an essential elements us outlined above, think about taking a closer watch at your own leadership efforts and followership choices. You can use the questions listed below as a guide however feel totally free to follow your own reflection process. In doing so, analyze the extent to i beg your pardon your management fulfills every its crucial elements. If possible, pinpoint ultimate biases you may have about what management is, and also the extent to which they have actually been affecting your management efforts and followership choices. In other words, see if there is a link between the way you view leadership and also your own behaviors. Finally, given your context and current relationship status with your followers, contemplate alternative behaviors and also strategies that deserve to enact or sustain her leadership.

Here space some questions to overview your reflection. Are friend engaging in a constant and relational process with her followers that, relying on the context, offers resources or leverages present ones? room you conscious of the affect your leadership influence has actually on her followers’ thoughts, feeling and also behaviors at work? Is the type of affect you many use (charisma, prestige, or dominance) constantly effective at work, and do you have the versatility to perform different types of influence? carry out others accord friend leadership, or room you simply relying ~ above a managerial function to affect others? Finally, is anyone on the same page about the importance and meaningfulness the what your team or company is trying come achieve?


Approximately fifty percent of the civilization who occupy management positions end up failing or derailing in one way or another<42>. This statistics execute not show up to bode well because that those with leadership aspirations, nor for those currently in management positions. Not to mention the consequences for followers who accord management to someone unable to effectively start, direct, and also coordinate their efforts.

With every the “be a leader” messaging the end there, countless of us finish up fallout’s in love v a romanticized and glamorized check out of leadership, without understanding the day-to-day work required to be an yes, really leader. Relying on this views certainty does not make points better. Among other things, these views placed you at hazard of being unprepared to satisfy the true challenges connected with leadership, of dealing with relationship difficulties with your followers, and also of failing come build and also sustain an efficient team or company. And these room all established reasons for leadership failure<32>. After all, how have the right to you do something fine without learning what it is?

Knowing what leadership is has the potential to make you one actual, if not a better, leader. The can additionally be beneficial for potential followers to make informed decisions on whether to follow an additional person or not. In reality, knowing what management is and also understanding that underlying elements has handy value for all of us and for many facets of our lives (for instance, in ~ work, in our an individual lives, or in exactly how we run in society).

As always, thank you because that trusting your time v ivorycrimestory.com. It has been a satisfied to re-superstructure this details with you. Watch you all in the next post (do not forget to subscribe to our newsletter and/or to bookmark us). Till then, keep being (or following) an yes, really leader.

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