4 Different Approaches to Leadership — A Definition of Leadership

Artwork by Dimitra Tzanos with a quote from Nelson Mandela: "If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart."

Different Approaches to Leadership

What’s your definition of leadership?

Does it have something to do with leadership traits or characteristics? Can our potential for leadership be developed? Or is leadership an innate skill?

To help you decide … here are 4 different approaches to leadership.

But first, why ask such questions?

The clearer we are about what leadership means, the more likely we are to improve our own leadership skills.

Leadership is a function of knowing yourself, having a vision that is well communicated, building trust among colleagues, and taking effective action to realise your own leadership potential. – Warren Bennis

4 Different Approaches to Leadership

So, let’s make a brief journey through 4 different approaches to leadership.

In Leadership: A Very Short Introduction* Keith Grint introduces a four definitions of leadership:

  • leadership as position,
  • leadership as person,
  • leadership as result, and
  • leadership as process.

Whilst other commentators use different definitions, I think these approached to leadership, although not universal, do cover most perspectives.

Bear in mind that each definition need not be mutually exclusive.

1. Leadership as Position

Position-based leadership assumes it is where people operate that makes them leaders.

This view usually takes the form of authority in a formal hierarchy. For instance, the general or CEO. This definition implies that the character of the leader is less important than their position.

Do people follow or do as they’re told?

Chef doesn’t mean that you’re the best cook, it simply means boss. – Tom Colicchi

2. Leadership as Person

This definition of leadership emphasises the importance of the person’s character.

Person-based — or character-based — leadership says it is who you are that makes you a leader.

But what does this mean?

That great leaders are heroic or charismatic? Do people follow because there is an emotional relationship between leader and follower?

The capacity and will to rally men and women to a common purpose together with the character that inspires confidence and trust. – Field Marshal Montgomery

3. Leadership as Result

With this definition of leadership we look at the results of leadership.

Results-based leadership focuses on what leaders do.

The dilemma here is this: Is success the result of something leaders do or is it the successful organisation that propels the leader forward?

Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality. – Warren Bennis

It seems that results-based leadership can embody many definitions of leadership: Leadership as change, leadership as influence and so on.

4. Leadership as Process

The process-based definition of leadership considers the relationship between leader and practice. It is what leaders do that matters.

Leadership is the process of influencing the activities of an individual or a group in efforts toward goal achievement in a given situation. – Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard

My Definition of Leadership

I have come to a conclusion that leadership cannot be given a single definition.

The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers. – Ralph Nadar

Moreover, it is clear that anyone can develop leadership ability. Indeed I believe the following combinations define leadership.

What you have to be — mindset — is a characteristic attitude that determines how we interpret and respond to situations. In essence, the essential leadership qualities or traits.

Leaders think. They think because they are leaders. They are leaders because they think. – Paul Parker

What you need to do — performance — is about results accomplished by groups.

What you need to know — knowledge — is about creating confidence in others. Our technical and professional knowledge is an essential part of our development as a leader.

Authority flows from the one who knows. – Proverb

How you develop yourself — growth — is the process of personal leadership discovery and development.

Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning. – Benjamin Franklin

How you develop others — service — is to lead by serving. An approach to leadership that promotes a self-leadership environment where everyone is empowered and working toward the good of the whole. This means growing leaders at all levels of the organisation.

Leaders in all realms and activities of life knew that the power they had come to hold existed because they were responsible to serve the many, thus power was position of service. – Vanna Bonta

How to lead others — wisdom — is the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgement. Wisdom is at the very core of what we mean by leadership.

Wisdom is the power that enables us to use our knowledge for the benefit of ourselves and others. – Thomas J. Watson

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What is your personal definition of leadership?

Creative Commons image courtesy Dimitra Tzanos.

Last updated 15 May, 2014 4 CommentsShare the knowledge …


  1. Adib Charif says

    Leadership is the right understanding of others, right sizing of problems and right drawing the road map for change. It is about upgrading human hardware before upgrading machines.

  2. Seshagiri Rao K says

    Leadership is hard to define because Leadership is dependent on followers. Unless the followers ‘accept’ someone as a leader, he is not one. Again, the choice is a collective act, wherein each individual looks for specific character(s) or trait(s) in the Leader. The choice itself varies depending upon the situation, individual beliefs, demands/requirements of the task ……. so on and so forth. Thus, one who is a Leader in a specific situation or subject, may be a follower of another Leader in some other matter or case. Leadership is thus fluid – neither stagnant nor eternal. Therefore, a Leader has to not only cultivate several traits but should also hone his/her skills continuously, in order to remain a Leader. Leadership, thus, eternally new.


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