Leadership Essay

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Leadership is the process of inspiring, directing, coordinating, motivating, and mentoring individuals, groups, organizations, societies, and nations. Weber (1947) identified three typologies of leadership in bureaucracy: charismatic, traditional, and legal. Charismatic leaders were attributed powerful qualities by their followers; traditional leaders were powerful by virtue of hereditary wealth; legal leadership draws its power from professional knowledge and technical expertise. The authority of leadership was legitimized through roles in the bureaucratic hierarchy, and by subordinates understanding and respecting the bureaucracy s rules.

Sociological approaches to leadership tend to be about how power structures allow domination and control over others. In contrast, early leadership research and theory is embedded in psychological trait theories of personality. Such approaches distinguish leaders from non-leaders by identifying specific biological and genetic personality traits. Research, however, has been quite mixed because leaders proved no more likely to possess special traits than did ”non-leaders. As a result, the behavioral school gained strength over trait theorists. Behaviorists argued that what distinguished leaders from non-leaders were observable behaviors rather than traits. As with trait theory, behavioral theory also produced spurious results. In response, arguments emerged stating that effective leadership was contingent upon certain situational factors. Situational leadership theory moved away from individual difference psychology back to the social psychological and sociological notions of leadership. There was a return to Weber s idea that leadership is a function of the willingness of subordinates to be led, but also as a function of several situational contingencies.

More recently the study of charismatic, transformational, and transactional leadership has dominated. Charismatic leaders exhibit qualities that followers are attracted to, and have the ability to inspire and sell vision. Transactional leaders attend to the necessary functional aspects of management, such as coordination and control. The transformational leader was based on the sociological work of Burns (1978) who argued such leaders set examples through inspirational performance, inspired change and innovation. Bass (1985) and others now offer

Full range Leadership theory, which posits that effective leadership requires a combination of all styles of leadership – transformational, transactional, and laissez-faire (the ability to step back).

”Newer approaches to leadership have emerged, most notably from a positive psychological perspective. Positive psychology has its roots in William James, Carl Rogers, and Abraham Maslow, and has been reinvigorated by Seligman (1999). Work on positive leadership concentrates on a person s ability to create social as well as psychological capital, and an ability to be ”authentic (Luthans & Youssef 2004).

Other area of leadership theory and research are those of leadership substitutes, dispersed leadership and servant leadership. Substitutes are those things that replace or make leaders obsolete (teams, empowerment, self-leadership). Dispersed leadership addresses how leadership power is transferred to structure, rules, procedures, and technologies. Some argue that leadership substitutes such as empowerment are advanced and ingeniously designed forms of power.

In some postmodern leadership perspectives, leaders are servants to the frontline people who are servants to customers. Consumers and consumerism is king and all are servants to consumption. In essence postmodern leaders provide running commentary on how the organization is doing, and how people fit within it; they construct the stories and rituals around life in organizations, where the organization will go and can go, and how one can become a better servant of the consumer. For others leadership is nothing but a social construction of our collective imagination, and the role and performance of leadership are overstated. An example is the global expectation on President Obama to solve the world’s problems.


  1. Bass, B. M. (1985) Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectation. Free Press, New York.
  2. Burns, J. M. (1978) Leadership. Harper & Row, New York.
  3. Luthans, F. & Youssef, C. (2004) Human, social, and now positive psychological capital management: investing in people for   competitive   Organizational Dynamics 33 (2): 143-60.
  4. Seligman, M. E. P. (1999) The president s address. American Psychologist 54: 559-62.
  5. Weber, M. (1947) The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, trans. T. Parsons & A. M. Henderson. Free Press, New York.

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