According to Google analytics, users search for terms around leadership more often than management.
More specifically, today, search queries like the "dichotomy of leadership" and "leadership in turbulent times" are very common.
Since the industrial age with its studies focused on the first generations of great leaders, incomprehensible dollars have been spent researching leadership. Many quests have been made to find the elusive and illusive set or combinations of traits and skills that contribute most to a person developing into a successful and effective leader.
And yet, to this day, human kind has not come up with a definitive response to the question, "What are the essentials skills of the most successful and effective leaders?"
There Is No Right Way to Define a Leader
Consult just one resource about leadership studies (I recommend the Bass Handbook of Leadership (Bass, 2008), and you will find that thousands and thousands of studies have been conducted world-wide.
Trillions of words and sentences have been written about this leadership topic. Yet, there is little consistency in the answers researchers arrive at to define leadership and explain its traits and skills. For example, I just conducted a Google search on the topic, "first article or book on leadership".
The Google search resulted in 590 million hits, and the first page of results included:
• 15 best leadership books
• 24 leadership books to read before you die
• 101 leadership skills
• Top 10 best books on leadership (among them: The Art of War by Sun Tzu - 5th Century B.C. and Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman)
By the time I got to the 10th page I had all the proof I needed - we still have not uncovered the one all-inclusive definition, or a definitive set of traits or most essential skills necessary to be an effective leader.
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In Reality, Leadership Is Contextual and Dynamic
Here's the point. Leadership is relative, contextual, and is different in each scenario given situational circumstances. These changing circumstances can include any number of factors: problem, opportunity, people, processes, motives, values, culture, goals, organizational design, etc.
When we study leadership we are studying people. Leaders lead PEOPLE. And because people are involved, leadership must be dynamic and complex in order to account for the variety of human action and motivation. It is simply counter-productive to try to reduce it down to one standard definition (though it does sell books and workshops).
My Expert Advice: Stick to Developing the Right Values for Leadership
Since everyone else seems to have an opinion on what is needed for effective leadership, it can't hurt to add mine too.
So, here is one more educator and trainer advocating for his “best and most truthful insights” on leadership. I say – stick to values and tenets/principles and you may achieve greater heights as an effective leader.
I propose these leadership tenets as core and essential:
1. FLUENCY in your leadership (noun)
Traits: Awareness - Purpose - Belief – Vision - Values.
2. RESONANCE within and externally with others.
Traits: Mindful - Hopeful – Compassionate - Resilient
3. FLUIDITY in your leadership (verb)
Traits: Relational - Collaborative - Flexible – Dynamic - Genuine
4. PRODUCE results
Skills/Traits: Planning (organized) - Strategize (decisive) - Execution (driven)
5. LIFELONG LEARNING
Traits: Curious/inquisitive – Reflective – Engaged - Connector
Logic tells me that in the reality of ever-present change and ever-increasing expectations for sustainable high performance, if you want to be branded as an effective leader start with your own internal resonance as an effort to be more resonant with others (Boyatzis & McKee, 2005).
If you should discover the holy grail of all leadership definitions, drop me a line. I would love to hear it. For more reading on the topic, check out this Inc. article, Why Leadership Development Programs Don't Work (And What Does).
Want to learn more about how you can grow as a leader within your organization and take on professional responsibilities? Explore our Master's in Leadership and Organizational Development today!