This factsheet was last updated in August 2013.
What is leadership?
Leadership may be defined as the capacity to influence people, by means of personal attributes and/or behaviours, to achieve a common goal. However, while leadership is currently much discussed, and academic studies on the topic have multiplied since the 1970s, there is no single definition or concept of leadership that satisfies all commentators.
It is important to recognise that most people, at some points in their lives, are leaders. Leadership is not just about the qualities of an elite few, and is not always associated with a formal managerial role, although the leadership skills of chief executives and their teams are of fundamental importance for organisations.
Experience also suggests that successful leaders do not invariably behave in identical ways. They may, in fact, act very differently even in similar situations and they may have quite different personalities. Moreover, different leadership qualities may be needed in different circumstances. To take an obvious example, Churchill was a great wartime leader but less successful in peacetime. Similarly, CEOs who excel in turning round ailing companies may perform less well when things are on a more even keel.
There is therefore no single template of leadership behaviour, which in turn poses the question of whether leaders can be developed: what are the qualities (or competencies) of leadership, and how can organisations bring out such qualities among their employees?
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- What is leadership?
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