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What is Leadership in Business Management?

Updated on January 17, 2014

What is Leadership in Business Management?

What is Leadership in Business Management? Why is a leader not a superhero? Why is it hard to define leadership? What does leadership involve? Who were some of the great leaders in history? Read more!

Leaders are not Superheroes!

by vectorolie
by vectorolie | Source

Super Heroes

Who was your favorite super hero as a kid?

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To lead people, walk beside them... not in front:

"When the best leader's work is done the people say, "We did it ourselves". - Lao Tzu

Leaders are not Superheroes!

Superheroes and stories of greatness are our first impression of leadership as a kid. Spider-Man, Batman, Wonder Woman, Iron Man, Aqua Man, Phoenix, Wolverine, and the Incredible Hulk are just a few examples. The official Merriam Webster dictionary defines a super hero as a "mythological or legendary figure of great strength or ability, an outstanding warrior or soldier, a person admired for achievements and qualities, and one that shows great courage" (Merriam-Webster, 2007).

Important to note: A leader, viewed as a super hero, is a myth. A person who acts or thinks they are a super hero, in their business, will ultimately lead to failure. Why? - According to the Jack Welch Management Institute, "the world is far too complex and fast-changing today for a single person to have enough knowledge and expertise to lead solo" (JWMI510, What is Leadership Lecture, Pg. 1). So, don't do it all on your own! In truth, leadership involves much more! Leaders need to take on a team mentality as they work with their bosses, coworkers, and subordinates, who are the real resources that make the organization's success possible.

I personally think that one main reason why a leader is not a superhero is because true leaders give credit to others, instead of basking in the glory of successes. A superhero, on the other hand, generally is the center of attention and is applauded for their actions as the main character. Anyway, heroes are pretty hard to find these days. Even in our celebrity-obsessed age, they do not live up to their ideals, lose their way in the glare of the spotlight, and they are generally missing a few critical qualities.

Leaders Give Credit to Others! They do not take the glory for themselves like a superhero!

Leader Success

by supakitmod
by supakitmod | Source

Why is it hard to define leadership?

The word leadership can have different meanings to each person. Have you ever tried to ask someone what they thought leadership meant? If you did, you would likely receive a variety of responses. For this reason, leadership has many different meanings. It is far less difficult to point out a bad leader, than to define a good one. In fact, "in the past 50 years, there have been as many as 65 different classification systems developed to define the dimensions of leadership" (Fleishman et al., 1991). Some of those classifications include personality characteristics, behavioral actions, relationship power, goal achievement, and focus of group processes. Despite the many ways that leadership can be classified, leadership can always be defined as a process which involves influence, within a group or team, to achieve a goal.

Consider some definitions of leadership:

  • "Great leadership combine the work of individuals into a collective effort and then mobilize them to achieve great results" (JWMI510, What is Leadership Lecture, Pg. 2).
  • "Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal" (Northouse, Peter, 2007, Pg. 3).
  • "Leadership is an influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes and outcomes that reflect their shared purposes" (Daft, Richard, 2008, Pg. 4).

As a mature adult, we can now put the superhero notion aside, and recognize many true leaders throughout history. Some pretty obvious examples, include: John F. Kennedy, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Napoleon Bonaparte, Thomas Jefferson, Alfred Einstein, Newton, Leonardo Di Vinci, etc. While these great leaders were able to manage important accomplishments, they also had the help of many others in the process of their work. In most circumstances, the leader recognizes their own weaknesses, and therefore has to ask for others help in completing their mission or task. Althea Gibson said, "No matter what accomplishments you make, somebody helps you." To these people, leadership is about molding a team of capable helpers and thereafter motivating and inspiring them to work together in achieving a greater purpose.

What Leadership Involves

(Daft, Richard, 2008, Pg. 5)
(Daft, Richard, 2008, Pg. 5) | Source

Leaders work behind the scenes; not like superheros!

"A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves." - Lao Tzu

What does Leadership Involve?

The picture above illustrates what leadership involves, which includes: influence, intention, personal responsibility and integrity, change, shared purpose, and followers. What does this mean? Leadership involves the reciprocal influence of both leaders and followers, with the intention, personal responsibility, integrity, and shared purpose to create change.

As with the superhero myth, other stereotypes exist which suggest that leaders are above others, the best strategist, the smartest, the most charismatic, or the best speaker. This is definitely not true. In actual fact, the facets necessary for successful leadership are similar as those required to be a valuable follower. Therefore, leadership involves the following:

  • Capacity to think - Leaders need to have the capacity to think for themselves and thus carry out assignments with energy and commitment.
  • Courage - Leaders have the courage to stand up for a higher purpose, or their beliefs.
  • Selfless - Leaders are able to stay committed to something outside of their own self interest.
  • Don't blindly follow - Leaders don't blindly follow others, but first check on the validity of statements or actions before going along with the crowd.

Leaders and followers can have roles which are interchangeable. "At its best, leadership is shared among leaders and followers, with everyone fully engaged and accepting higher levels of responsibility" (Daft, Richard, 2008, Pg. 5). Leaders are created as a result of experience, education, perseverance, refined by feedback and training.


Daft, Richard, L. (2008). The Leadership Experience (4th Ed.) Thomson Higher Education: Mason, OH.

Jack Welch Management Institute (2014) JWMI510, What is Leadership Lecture.

Merriam-Webster. (2007). Definition of Hero. Retrieved on January 17, 2014, from .

Northouse, P.E. (2007). Leadership: Theory and Practice (5th Ed.). Sage: Thousand Oaks, CA.

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