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  • Writer's pictureDr. Patrick E. Crawford

Essence of Leadership

Leadership Thoughts | Issue #107

Let's start this week's issue of Leadership Thoughts with a quiz. Can you answer the following questions and begin to speculate on the theme of this article?

  1. If the word "leader" is a noun and "leading" is a verb, what is "leadership?"

  2. What are the specific qualities (attributes) of a leader?

  3. Is there a difference between being a leader and leadership?

  4. How would you describe the "essence" of a leader?

Despite all the scholarly studies, philosophical interpretations, and professional opinions, it's still tough to explain what leadership is. Maybe identifying leadership is more straightforward than defining it. After researching leadership and reading countless books and articles on the subject, I've noticed one recurring leadership element - something to do with a particular essence and a handful of crucial qualities.

The fundamental nature of a person defines the essence of their leadership. Hence, effective leaders demonstrate their leadership differently. At the core are the intrinsic qualities that distinguish them from others. These qualities are essential and unchanging, thus always the nature of the individual. Leading is filtered through these qualities, usually at the subconscious level.

The early research of leadership focuses on basic styles of leadership. Kurt Lewin's psychologist identified three basic types: authoritarian, democratic, and laissez-faire. He believed effective leaders could motivate others, are good communicators, and have a strong sense of self-awareness.

Others promoted the "trait" theory of leadership. These scholars believe that personal qualities like intelligence, self-confidence, integrity, and empathy are the traits of effective leaders.

In 1980, Dr. Howard Gardner gave the world a new way of looking at intelligence with his theory of multiple intelligences. This led to the concept of emotional leadership intelligence - what it takes for someone to understand and manage their emotions and those of others. Scholars have argued that highly emotionally intelligent leaders are better at making connections, communicating with people, and motivating them.

Research on the components of effective leadership point to certain personal qualities, behaviors, and skills common among successful leaders. While it's impossible to say someone must possess all these traits to lead effectively definitively, evidence suggests they may play a role. With an awareness of these attributes, individuals can work to improve their abilities as a leader.

Leadership involves many different terms that are often interpreted differently. I used the words qualities, attributes, and characteristics in this article. Attributes refer to specific traits that create successful leadership. Characteristics are a broader range of features that incorporate multiple elements of an individual, the leader, and their leadership style. The qualities of a leader's character are based on their values and convictions.

Great leaders possess various attributes, abilities, and qualities that form their distinct leadership styles. Although no single formula for leadership works in all situations, specific factors can be associated with effective leadership, especially when considering the context and the individual's characteristics and strengths.

There is a difference between being a leader and leadership. A leader holds a designated position of authority and influence over others. Leadership is a much broader concept that refers to the process and guiding others toward a common goal. For leadership to flourish, it is not necessary to hold a specific position but to have the ability to inspire and motivate others to work together towards a shared vision. Regardless of status or title, anyone can exhibit leadership in various contexts and situations.

Leadership is a set of skills and qualities that anyone can use. Not all leaders practice leadership, and some people are outstanding at leadership without holding a position or title as leader.


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