In 1991, Professor Joseph Rost published a painstakingly well-researched manuscript titled “Leadership for the Twenty-First Century.” A sizable portion of Dr. Rost’s treatise reviews and classifies definitions of leadership that have been identified since the term was established in the early 1300s. Suffice it to say there have been plenty. In brief review:
- Leaders have been defined by physical prowess in a world where “might made right”
- Leaders have been defined by genetics or divine right which universally legitimized literally any action they felt compelled to take
- Leaders have been defined by the seemingly unique traits they possessed, which distinguished them from their followers
There were even schools of thought on leadership that suggested leaders were people that simply happened to be in the right place at the right time. The sociological perspective on leadership suggests a series of highly unpredictable forces are in play that produces heroes out of the most unlikely characters. For example, the economic devastation that engulfed post-World War I Germany produced a platform for Adolph Hitler to rise to power (i.e. desperate people will consider almost any solution). In the absence of the universal threat that Nazi Germany went on to become, it is difficult to imagine Winston Churchill as anything other than an obscure career politician that rarely missed a good happy hour at his local pub.
Not surprisingly, on the other side of his scholarly review, Dr. Rost offered his own definition of leadership that took the last 700 years or so of history into account.
He said, “Leadership is an influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes that reflect their mutual purposes.”
For the record, we would wholeheartedly embrace the essence of Dr. Rost’s contribution to the literature! As a matter of fact, Dr. Paul Hersey, founder of The Center for Leadership Studies and originator of the Situational Leadership® Model, defined leadership as “any attempt to influence.” For over four decades, we have operated in the spirit of that characterization, training leaders around the world to be individuals of influence!
We would also suggest the implications of our commitment to that vision are wide-reaching. While it is true that leadership includes the discipline of top-down management, it clearly extends far beyond those boundaries and in every direction.
Leadership is when members of strong teams ensure alignment and relentless progress. It is when employees and their supervisors see those individuals making decisions that adversely impact productivity, morale or retention. It also includes what high-performing sales associates and account managers do with targeted prospects and existing customers who are trying their best to make informed decisions that result in increased effectiveness and/or efficiency.
To that point, everyone in every organization is in a leadership role!