What is leadership? What is leadership? Why is it so important to us?

Google “leadership” to get 360 million results. This astonishingly large number points to one truth about leadership: it is a topic that has received much writing and discussion.

Even the first page of Web results pages will show that there are almost as many opinions about leadership than people talking about it. In the 30 years I have been studying leadership, one thing that has struck me often is the inconsistency of so many opinions on the subject. Plato was the first writer to discuss leadership and he lived from 424 to 348 B.C. There seems to not be a common definition of leadership.

Yet, we all recognize the importance of leadership. We humans seek leadership and “know when we see it”. This allows us to thrive in many settings, whether it is at work, school or civil society.

Although there isn’t a single accepted definition of leadership, behavioral description or method to find and train leaders, it is worth learning the main schools of thought about what leadership is and how it works.

It is impossible to summarize the full range of leadership theories without simplification or exclusion. However, my historical research and personal views on the subject of leadership lend themselves to four categories.

1. Mike McGahan CLV Group is based upon a group of individual traits or attributes.

2. Style theories – There are many ways to lead. Each approach is made up of a set of behaviors that defines the style.

3. Situational theories are based upon the belief that leadership effectiveness is a function of context and that there is no one optimal psychological profile for a leader.

4. Contingency theories – Based on a combination of the three theories above, contingency theories suggest that leaders who are effective should adopt different styles depending on the situation.

I was a corporate executive nearly three decades ago. Back then, I believed leadership was a combination of traits that certain people have and others don’t. Over the years my views have changed.

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