A quick look at the literature on leadership theories shows how
this field has been under constant change--from trait theories of
leadership, where leaders were defined based on their exhibited
traits, to contingency and situational leadership theories, where
leaders' success was attributed to the interplay of their personal
qualities with the organizational context, and finally to
servant-leadership or post-heroic leadership theories being
proposed now in which a leader is seen as one who carries forward
the people to help them achieve what they want to achieve.
Though the basic role of leaders is unlikely to change,
globalization and liberalization will certainly lead to future
mental-models of leadership to encompass the goals of a growingly
diverse population. In addition, women and minorities are--and will
continue--taking on leadership roles.
For this next generation of leaders, it is important to understand
what we mean by leadership today. First, though, let's identify
what leadership is not.
- Leadership is not derived from formal authority or a positional
power as is so often misunderstood in organizational
context--hence, the CEO of an organization is definitely a manager
but not always a leader.
- Leadership is not about influencing people to follow the
routine directives of the organization.
Leadership is, in fact, the ability of a person (or a group of
people) to empower other people to transcend their short-term goals
to achieve their higher order intrinsic goals. This concept is
explored in leadership literature as the theory of transformational
leadership. According to this thoery, a leader
- should have a strong vision that she practices in her life
every day (idealized influence)
- understands the intrinsic higher-order needs of his followers,
and is able to motivate them to achieve those (inspirational
- is able to stimulate and encourage creativity in her followers
by challenging their assumptions and by taking risks on behalf of
the followers (intellectual stimulation)
- is able to attend to the needs of the followers and act as a
mentor and coach to them (individualized considerations).
In order to exhibit the above dimensions, a leader would need the
following five qualities:
A compelling vision. This could be a vision for
taking the organization or society from its current state to an
undefined future state. The important thing to note here is that
not only must the leader be fully committed to this vision (living
and breathing it at all times) but this should be a "desired"
future state of the followers, as well.
Empathy. Deriving further from the above point, a
leader would be able to translate her vision into a shared vision
for all her followers only when she can empathize with their needs
Bias for action. Once a leader has identified the
vision and lined up the followers for that vision, she now needs to
move toward achieving it with a well-organized and thought-through
set of actions and tactics using the strengths of the followers.
Coaching. As the team of leaders and followers
executes their tactics to achieve the vision, the leader needs to
constantly keep in touch with them to coach, mentor, and guide them
toward their common goals. This could also be viewed as "action
learning," where the followers are enabled to achieve their goals
as a result of the learning and feedback they get from the leader.
Collaboration. The leader should be able to foster
collaboration among followers such that the whole is greater than
the sum of the parts. The group is then able to accomplish the
vision as a team of well-orchestrated individuals working with
their shared passion toward a common goal. A successful leader
should be able to demonstrate her collaborative skills in her
dealings thus acting as a powerful role-model for all her
followers--this is the most critical skill, and without it there is
a danger of factionalism and loss of collective knowledge and
skills of individuals.
The gender of leadership attributes
Certainly the above five qualities are displayed by all leaders,
regardless of gender, though much research has been done to answer
this question: Who displays leadership qualities more often: men or
It is a difficult question to answer, in part for these three
Role-modeling. As men and women are brought up in
a gender-stereotyped society, they model their primary skills
according to the expectations of the society. In other words, a man
who has good collaborative skills will display those skills
primarily as "networking" skills--seeking out people and building
relationships based on a business-driven need--whereas a woman with
the same good collaborative skills will display those as reaching
out and building a rapport with people based on family, life, and
interests and not purely for business needs or reasons.
Categorization. A common human process of
cognition defined by psychologists is "categorization," which
allows the human brain to process all external stimuli easily by
cutting up the environment into classifications so objects can be
grouped and labelled. It is possible, then, for followers to focus
more on one quality of the leader even though the leader might be
exhibiting all of those qualities in equal measure. For
instance, followers might view collaboration or action-orientation
as the most compelling quality of their leader compared to other
qualities that he displays. People are also often inclined to
assign what are seen as "male" qualities to male leaders and
"female" qualities to female leaders.
Lack of data. As the number of women leaders so
far is very limited, we cannot make decisive conclusion based on
this small data set.
At the same time, one important consideration from leadership
research is that a leader is made by the identification of the
followers to the leader's qualities, and hence, in many respects, a
leader's qualities do not exist in vacuum. So as groups of
followers change in definition, so do their leaders.
This is a positive finding and will have an impact on the
leadership theories and women's growth trajectories in
societies--particularly as followers change from a group defined
largely as white and male to a more multi-racial, multi-cultural,
and gender-diverse group.
References and further reading
Bass, Bernard. Bass and Stogdill's Handbook of Leadership:
Theory, Research, & Managerial Applications (1981).
Bass. "From Transitional to Transformational Leadership: Learning
to Share the Vision," Organizational Dynamics (Winter
1990), pp. 140, 148.
Bennis, W.. On Becoming a Leader, Addison Wesley, New
Burns, J. M. Leadership, New York, NY: Harper Torchbooks
Fletcher, J. K. Greatly exaggerated demise of heroic
leadership, CGO Insights No. 13 Boston: Center for Gender in
Organizations (August 2002).
Hersey and Blanchard. Management of Organizational
Behavior, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall (1993).
Huey J. "The new post-heroic leadership," Fortune Magazine
(Feb 21, 1994).
Rhode, Deborah L. The Difference Difference Makes, Women
and Leadership, Stanford University Press, 2003
Rosch, E.H., Mervis, C.B., Gray, W.D. Johnson, D.M. and
Boyes-Braem, P. (1976) Basic objects in natural categories,
Cognitive Psychology 8: 382-439.
Rosener, Judy B. "Ways women Lead," Harvard Business Review on
Women in Business, HBSP (2005)
Zaleznik, A. "Managers and Leaders: Is there a difference?"
Harvard Business Review, (May-June 1977)
2007 ASTD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.