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Why defining leadership is imperative

Our definition of leadership offers a starting point to help organizations cut through the clutter

Source | | Michiel Kruyt | Gautam Kumra | Ramesh Srinivasan

Ask any five management experts what makes a good leader, and chances are you will get six answers: Aspiration. Inspiration. Imagination. Creativity. Authenticity. Integrity. It’s time for a reality check. While there’s no one-word answer to the leadership question, we have identified the stepping stones that enable organizations to develop more effective leadership across the organization.

To pinpoint them, we looked at the major schools of leadership, including traits-based behavioral, situational, functional and psychological perspectives. Each adds richness to defining leadership, yet with the key limitation that each views leadership through a single lens. Since no single model carries the whole field, an integrated definition and approach are required.

Our fresh definition of organizational leadership strives to be comprehensive and pragmatic: Leadership is a set of behaviors that, in a given context, align an organization, foster execution and ensure organizational renewal. They are enabled by relevant skills and mindsets.

Here’s how we arrived at that definition and the implications it triggers:

  1. Leadership comes alive in the behaviors that are used, felt and observed across an organization. They comprise our unit of analysis and are what we measure objectively and seek to enhance during leadership development interventions.
  2. The behaviors are highly contextual depending on each organization. So, it is essential to define leadership traits that prove most effective in helping an organization achieve its performance goals. Take the chief executive of a U.S. energy utility. 

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