Anda di halaman 1dari 5


What is Leadership?

Jessica R. Dreistadt

LEAD 720 Leadership Theory and Practice

Eastern University

April 1, 2011

Leadership scholars often concern themselves with the problem of defining

leadership. Some believe that if they could only agree on a common definition

of leadership, they would be better able to understand it. This really does not

make sense, because scholars in history, biology, and other subjects do not all

agree on the definition of their subject and, even if they did, it would not help

them to understand it better. (Ciulla, 2004, p. 305)

What is leadership? Perhaps this question distracts leadership scholars from more

profound questions such as: Why do leaders emerge in societies? How is leadership influenced,

both internally and externally? What difference does leadership make?

Yet, there is pragmatic utility in developing a definition of leadership. An operational

definition of leadership provides a common frame of reference from which scholars and

practitioners can explore human phenomena, test hypotheses, draw conclusions, and formulate

recommendations. Sashkin (2004) noted that there are “literally hundreds of definitions of

leadership.” These theories are based on diverse factors including on inherent traits,

psychological and cognitive processes, values, culture, behaviors, spirituality, social interactions,

situational contingencies, and organizational and environmental contexts. Many theories

seamlessly integrate two or more of the aforementioned factors while others focus on only one.

Whether the discipline of leadership will allow for a diversity of leadership theories

reflective of the multiple milieux coexisting on our planet remains unresolved. Rather, there may

be a tendency among some scholars to advance a preferred theory of leadership aligned with

their own worldview, ideology, experience, and academic discipline. In addition, the popular

media and large organizations have the power to disseminate research findings to a broad

audience and mobilize the momentum behind popular theories. Therefore, there may be

prevalent leadership theories at any given moment, with others continuing to churn in the


I propose that there is not, and should not be, one consolidated theory of leadership. The

goal of leadership research should not be to narrow the conceptualization of our field but to

broaden it. As leadership scholars, we should be working towards developing a greater

understanding of leadership from our particular academic juxtaposition to complement and add

to the wealth of other research in the field. Allowing room for multiple theories of leadership

sparks the academic debate that is crucial to developing a stronger understanding of leadership-

related phenomena, presents a more complete and accurate picture of the world of leadership

from every angle, and uncovers new relationships and dynamics that might otherwise go


As a critical sociologist who works in the nonprofit sector, I take a particular view on the

field of leadership. This influences my working definition of leadership, which is as follows:

Leadership is the process of envisioning something greater than ourselves, engaging an

interested community, strategically mobilizing and directing resources, and creating, maintaining,

and expanding networks and systems to multiply momentum toward the vision. It is accepting a

call to be responsible for stewardship of some part of G-d’s many blessings with love, humility,

grace, and gratitude. Leadership is a constant struggle against conformity that requires

simultaneously maintaining a sense of equilibrium and connection.

While I like many things about my definition, particularly its emphasis on social change

and incorporation of spirituality, it is a bit leader-centered. I am not sure that this definition

adequately recognizes the contribution of people who are not “the leader.” This is one of my

biases, and one that is shared by many other leadership theorists. Through continued exposure to

a variety of approaches to understanding leadership as well as self-reflection, this working

definition will continue to emerge and gain clarity.



Ciulla, J. B. (2004). Ethics and leadership effectiveness. In Antonakis, J., Cianciolo, A. T., &
Sternberg, R. J. (Eds.) The nature of leadership (pp. 302-327). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

Sashkin, M. (2004). Transformational leadership approaches: A review and synthesis. In

Antonakis, J., Cianciolo, A. T., & Sternberg, R. J. (Eds.) The nature of leadership (pp.
171-196). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.