Leadership is a characteristic many people already possess. It is also something many people wish they could develop. Regardless of where people are on the leadership spectrum, there is always something new they can learn. One thing is certain, since the beginning of time, leadership has been held in high esteem.

While leadership styles have evolved over eons and leadership skills have been continually developed, leadership itself has always been an intriguing subject to many academicians, politicians, and business people. Is leadership innate or acquired? While there are arguments on both sides, it appears there is some consensus that it can be acquired, even though there might be some inherent characteristics that make it easier to acquire. Clearly, leadership is an ever expanding field of study.

Peter Northouse in his landmark book from twenty years ago, Leadership Theory and Practice, now in its seventh and most recent printing (2016), did an excellent job of delineating the evolution of leadership.

From 1900 – 1929 leaders were characterized by “control and centralization of power with a common theme of domination.”

During the 1930s, they were more influencers rather than dominating authoritarians.

In the 1940s, along with World War II, leadership became the “behavior of an individual while involved in directing group activities.”

The leadership themes of the 50s were identified by three definitions: Group Theory; “which framed leadership as what leaders do in groups.” Relationships that Develop Shared Goals; “which defined leadership based on the behavior of the leader.” And Effectiveness; “in which leadership was defined by the ability to influence overall group effectiveness.”

The 1960s with all of its turmoil brought “harmony amongst leadership scholars.” The definition of leadership became “behavior that influences people toward shared goals.”

The 70s enhanced the definition by viewing leadership as “initiating and maintaining groups or organizations to accomplish group or organizational goals.”

The 1980s brought multiple definitions to include Do as the leader wishes, Influence, Traits, and Transformation.

Northouse observed this from an academician’s viewpoint “After decades of dissonance, leadership scholars agree on one thing: They can’t come up with a common definition for leadership.” Many factors and circumstances influence leadership. Even so, Northouse went on to state “leadership will continue to have different meanings for different people.”

As subsequent decades came and went, the definition became: “Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal.”

He then began to identify four approaches to leadership:

Authentic Leadership – The character of the leader and their authenticity, sincerity, and genuineness, were the hallmarks of this form of leadership. Bill George of the Harvard Business School published the definitive book entitled "Authentic Leadership" in 2003. In summary they are very self-aware and genuine. They know their strengths, as well as their weaknesses. They are the same way in private as they are in public and they do not hide their mistakes. Authentic leaders also tend to look at issues for the long run impact, not the short term return.

Spiritual Leadership – Emphasized someone’s values and their calling in order to encourage followers for their cause or belief. J. Oswald Sanders in his book Spiritual Leadership defines it this way:

“Spiritual leaders are not elected, appointed, or created by synods or churchly assemblies. God alone makes them. If a leader shows strong discipline, others will see it and cooperate with the expectations placed on them. At this point, leadership by example is crucial.”

Servant Leadership – Allowed for focusing on the needs of the followers and helping them to be more independent and grow in their own right, eventually becoming just like the leader themselves. It appears the phrase servant leader was defined by Robert K. Greenleaf in his essay The Servant as Leader (1970)

He goes on to say “The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.

Adaptive Leadership – Is where leaders would motivate their followers to adapt to the situations as they were presented. The primary approach was to identify, confront, and solve the problem by adapting or doing what was necessary to achieve the objective. Dr. Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky of Harvard helped develop and bring the concept of adaptive leadership to the forefront. Their definition: “When you realize that your organizations aspirations- the innovations and progress you want to see- cannot be attained through your current approaches, Adaptive Leadership is the framework you need to diagnose, interrupt, and innovate to create the capabilities that match your organizations aspirations.”

Any way it is viewed, leadership is critical to the growth and success of your company.

Dan Arens is an Indiana-based business growth advisor.

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