Leadership: Main Aspects

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Leadership, whether in political or business context, is about influence, strategic planning, and organization (Carl, 2006). According to Bono & Ilies (2006), good leaders are not unaware of the existing conditions and circumstances, but that they act to produce good results in those prevailing circumstances. The qualities as well as the functions and roles of good leaders have been brought forward. This paper analyzes leadership, discusses qualities of good leadership, analysis of how a person becomes a leader, the approaches to leadership among other aspects related to leadership.

What is leadership?

Irrespective of the fact that there is no definite description of leadership, definitions have over the years been developed to explain the concept of leadership. According to Fiedler and Chemers (1984), leadership is described as a social process by which an individual uses his influence to garner loyalty and support of the followers or other people with an objective of wanting to attain the support of the latter to accomplish certain tasks and responsibility by inculcating an idea of mutual responsibility. According to Vroom & Sternberg (2002), the leader’s objectives can either be personal or own interests or on behalf of the society or the organization. Shane (2000) in his definition of leadership referred to it as a model through which individuals (leaders) creates leeway via which the followers can contribute their efforts towards making something unusual to occur. In a definition to leadership that appears more inclined to relating leadership with management however, Busenitz and Barnley (2000) defined effective leadership as the ability on the part of the leader to successfully incorporate and optimally use the existing resources as presented both by the macro and micro environment to successfully achieve the goals and objectives of the organization or the society. In his own fashion of definition, Dwight D. Eisenhower in Dasborough (2006) referred to leadership as basically the art via which an individual gathers other people’s efforts and commitment to perform activities and tasks that he or she wants without having to force them to do with an objective of wanting to achieve the objectives that the leader has him/ herself set. As a result, leadership can take the varied forms which includes, political leadership, social leaderships, and organizational leadership which is an equivalent of the organizational management (Spillane, 2004). In addition, the leadership styles may be described in relation to the leader’s behavior and the leadership approach that the leader adopts. Basing on the aforementioned approach to leadership classification, Kurt Lewin categorized leadership into four classes. These include dictatorial leadership, autocratic leadership, participative leadership, and the Laissez faire leadership all of which represents the outcomes of the philosophy, personality traits, and experience of a leader (Carl, 2006).

Leadership and management

In relation to organizational management, people have over the years tended to refer to organizational management and leadership as one and the same thing. Irrespective of the difference in the terms however, the two are extremely closely related function-wise and that they have almost insignificant points of distinction (Dasborough, 2006). Nevertheless, Gupta & Khanka (2003) attempted to differentiate the terms using transactional leadership and transformational leadership. According to Gupta & Khanka (2003) while transformational leadership concentrated on fostering emphasis on procedures, group reward, and organization by exemption, transformational leadership are typically steered by personality, personal relations, and originality. However, all aspects in the definition of the two terms indicate that they are greatly integrated hence the attempt to obtain a clear distinction between them may be futile. However, a notable distinction in the application of leadership in the context of the organization is in use of individual leadership’s styles and group leaderships; the latter of which are characterized by use of cross functional leadership teams to make organizational decisions (House, 1996).

Becoming a leader: are leaders born or made?

Whether leadership behavior can be learnt or not is explained through clear analysis of the leadership traits or characteristics. The question is closely associated with the question as to whether leaders are born or made.

According to Morrison (2003) leaders are partly made and partly born. However, Spillane (2004) argues that some leaders can be exclusively born. Spillane asserts that such form a group of individuals with exceptional inborn leadership traits and are highly successful in leadership. In contrast, Walker (2006) maintains that there are some aspects of leadership that are naturally embedded in an individual’s personality while others can be indicted in the individual through learning and interacting with the external factors.

Factors that shape leadership behavior are of two categories (Miner, 2000). According to the latter, there are the natural or rather the inborn characteristics that are psychologically controlled which are also referred to as the personality variables and the physiological variables that an individual can acquire through learning and continued interaction with a certain environment. Personality traits of an individual are key determinants of his or her behavior as they influence leadership behavior (Spillane, 2004). Since there are some leadership traits that can be taught (McCarthy, 2000), leadership behavior can also be learnt. However, most of the traits that make leadership behavior are inborn according to walker (2006).

According to Begley (1995), the personality traits of a leader are high internal drive for personal achievement, internal locus of control, willingness to take individual risks, exceptional working values, excellent problem solving skills, and innovativeness. According to Miner (2000) however, most of the trait described by Begley irrespective of being inborn, they can also be induced in individuals through formal education. For instance, creativity, and innovativeness can be acquired if an individual constantly interact with an environment that necessitates him or her to be innovative. Similarly, risk taking can be acquired through the study of risk management as individual learn how to mitigate such risks (Anonymous, 1991).

Personality Characteristics of Leaders as Determinants of Leadership Behaviors

Personality traits on the part of a leader are the major determinant of leadership behavior. These are typically in-born to an individual. The traits are psychologically entrenched into an individual, acquired by birth, and highly unique to the leaders. These attributes largely define leadership behavior and can barely be learnt by others according to Adrian Atkinson’s psychological school of thought. Born leaders exhibit exceptional behavior and skills that is unique to them and attempts by others to acquire the same through learning has always proved futile (Carl, 2006). According to Gupta & Khanka (2003), typical leaders are guided by a very great internal urge for high achievement, a force that is psychological and from within an individual. It makes leaders believe they can achieve anything that they want to. As a result, they have exceptional determination, accept nothing less than success, highly optimistic, and rarely despair irrespective of the challenge presented by the current situation (Carl, 2006).

Leaders with inherent leadership qualities and who are more successful in their endeavor have a high locus of control and have a strong believe in themselves. They have a great urge for independence and thus unwilling to be under any authority whatsoever and want to do things in their own ways (Cannon, 2003). Furthermore, born leaders are great risk takers, are willing to endanger their lives and commit their resources to projects despite the risk levels and uncertainties involved (Anonymous, 1991). They depict great willingness to take individual risks irrespective of uncertainties so long as they satisfy their urge to exploit an existing opportunity through influence. Moreover, they exhibit exceptional creativity, innovativeness and brilliance in organizational as well as personal problems solving and decision making (William, 2007). They are capable of solving almost all nature of problems facing the business with great efficiency and effectiveness. Another unique characteristic to leaders is that they have excellent business morals, exceptional value of their own work, and willing to work round the clock to ensure success of the organization (maximum profitability and optimization), the latter of which are preconditions for leading by example (Maxwell and Westerfield, 2004)

Although personality traits are the major determinants of leadership behavior, there are other external factors which may influence the behavior of leaders. They form a constituent of leadership behavior that can easily be entrenched in an individual through learning (Anonymous, 1991). These factors are greatly controlled by the environment which an individual consistently interact with. Leadership behavior is largely shaped by the culture or beliefs of the society that he or she is directly in contact with. If the society depicts leadership culture, majority of members in the community will develop leadership behaviors acquired through acculturation, learning by doing and observation or through performance as a belief or norms. For instance, the Indian community develops leadership behavior through acculturation of the siblings. Formal education can also influence leadership behavior. Individuals who go through formal leadership education become leadership professionals and will ultimately exhibit leadership behavior. In such a case, leadership behavior is learnt via a person being taken through formal classes on the discipline.

According to Carl (2006), leaders who are products of formal education will not show complete leadership behavior unless they have the practical experience in the practice. Individual’s perception towards the aspects of leadership also affects leadership behavior. Perception can be acquired from secondary sources; through learning and experience. As a result, the behavior embedded upon perception can be influenced by external factors and can be learnt.

Experience is a major determinant of leadership behavior. According to Anonymous (1991), experience with the past work can trigger leadership behavior in an individual. Similarly, experience increases ones familiarity with the work. As a result, the more experience in leadership that a person has, the more the leadership traits and behavior will be entrenched in him or her. Experience is thus acquired through time and hence behavior can be learnt via experience.

The role of expert support and role models in shaping up leadership behavior cannot be underestimated. In this case, individuals learn through observing how others are doing things and practice what their mentors are doing. According to the social learning theory, the role models play a significant role in influencing the behavior of the learners as they will learn and practice what they see the models do. Individuals who are constantly in contact with other leaders therefore will learn from them and are more likely to acquire leadership behavior. The students are therefore more likely to venture in leadership later on in life. According to Maxwell and Westerfield (2004), most leaders are likely to have been in contact with role models at one point or another making them learn the leadership behavior. Some cultures presents novices with more leadership mentors than others. Similarly, Working with leaders can make an individual learn so much about what they do and ultimately be able to be as good as they are or even better. Great leaders are born and as such they will always excel irrespective of the circumstances that surround them. However, members of this group are few in real leadership world. Majority of leadership are hence made, having acquired leadership traits through direct or indirect learning from others, copying behavior from role models, and submitting to pressure from family members. Made leaders are however imperfect and possibility of failure is higher in the latter than in born leaders.

Whether leadership behavior can be learnt or not has been explained basically in two psychological schools of thought. In the first school of thought, it holds the conception that any person can be a leader provided that he or she works hard enough to learn the art of leadership. It holds that the leadership art/ behavior can be acquired through learning; both from individuals who are already experts or from the environment that we live in. In the other school of thought championed by psychologist Adrian Atkinson, leadership is a reserve of individuals with specific characteristics unique to them and that if you don’t belong to that group you will be bound to fail in your endeavor; hence one need not waste his or her time trying to learn. According to Atkinson, leaders are strictly born and hence the art cannot be artificially transmitted to others through teaching (House, 1996). He maintains that leadership behavior is a result of natural characteristics unique to leaders and hence learning such behavior if one is not a leader is impracticable.

According to Fiedler & Chemers (1984) therefore, leadership behavior is a result of a combination between what is naturally unique to the leaders and the aspects that can be learnt from the external environment surrounding the individual. Great leaders according to the latter are those who have the inborn traits of leaders and improve their behavior through learning and experience. They hence exhibit complete leadership behavior and will be characterized with great success.

The qualities of good leader

Appropriate qualities on the part of a leader help leaders to anticipate and overcome challenges that are inherent in leadership. As such, Greenstein attempted to bring out qualities of a good leader that he considered essential for good performance. According to Greenstein (2000) a leader must be proficient in public communication hence good public speaking skills are preconditions for effective leadership. The latter argues that the organizational capacity is the ability of the leader to mobilize and bring together all the members of the organization as well as structure their activities effectively, while the holder of the office should be proficient in political skill and extensively harness this to a definitive vision of public policy. The leader must posses the cognitive style to handle and process the advice and information coming his way. Ideally, the leaders must have emotional intelligence that will make him to manage his emotions and turn them to constructive purposes rather than allowing them to dominate and undermine his public performance (Greenstein, 2000).

Consequently, theories about good leadership have come up. Sturgis and American Institute of Parliamentarians have theoritized three roles of the president leader, namely; as a leader, administrator, and a presiding officer. Political or business leaders must have the ability to plan, to unite all people behind a plan, and the courage to win. For instance, a political leader must seek to integrate the social, political, and economical factors which he is heading in order to provide good climate and success for all.

Leadership qualities are essential as they form the basis of making decisions. There are those qualities such as honesty and integrity that are deep seated and develop only slowly over time (Shane, 2003)). A strong leader by example must contain good morality that can be exemplified by others, and be of integrity. This is essential so that he can be trusted with those that he is leading. Furthermore, Maxwell and Westerfield (2004) argue that trust is important for effective leadership as such the latter indicates that leaders must be able to lead by persuasions and autonomous follower ship and not coercion built of a foundation of established mutual trust and motivation of the followers towards the achievement of the objectives that the leader has set.

Management skills for leaders

According to anonymous (1991), in addition to having leadership skills, the leader must posses managerial skills which will make him become conscious of organizing the resources that are available to him and how to utilize them efficiently and effectively. These are not like the leadership skills, in that they can be taught and developed over short time. They comprise abilities such as to build partnerships and have dialogues. Consequently as Miner (2000) indicates, a leader with independent powers must learn to work with his or her colleagues who have some form of independent powers such as the Congress or definition of purpose in order to effectively carry out his mandate (Carl, 2006). Leaders too must learn to work with his subordinates in order to make sure that the commands in the implementation of policies and his directives do not fail. Leaders therefore can learn management skills on how to involve and make partnerships with other like-minded parties and how to best benefit from these partnerships. Ideally, leaders must be able to integrate the social and environmental considerations into core decisions through the exercise of reflexive abilities. Reflexive abilities are a combination of leadership and management skills. They include emotional awareness, meaningful dialogue and developing a new language, embracing diversity and managing risks, and systemic thinking (Wilson, Gilbert, & Patricia, 2006). Greenstein (2000) while demonstrating the qualities of good leadership has given example mainly of the American political leaders and president. For example, Greenstein attempted to bring out the issues of absolute communication effectiveness as an essential quality of effective leadership by citing renowned American leaders such as Roosevelt, Kennedy, Reagan and Clinton-when at his best as exceptional demonstrations of good public communication skills in leadership. The author argues that the three gained the character by effort and experience.

As a politically skilled person, a leader must retain, maintain or establish a reputation of being skilled and determined political operator, use his office assertively, and build public support (Neustadt, 1960; cited in Greenstein, 2000). Carter performed best in this category while FDR was the best in policy vision, i.e. best in the extent to which his political views informed his action.

Lack of certain leadership qualities may lead to failure in leadership (Anonymous, 1991). Consequently, a leader should earn respect from subordinates not through coercion or any other means than influence. Influence helps a person to rally the subordinates behind him, and this would make such a leader more effective and perform better.

Leadership styles and leadership effectiveness

Ideally, the success of an organization to some extent depends on its leaders. As a matter of facts, leaders plays central yet critical role in influencing the organizations through decision-making. Therefore, the decision making on the part of the leaders is not only determined by the company resources, staff or existing environmental conditions, but also the internal characteristics of the leaders such as self-confidence and interpersonal skills (House, 1996). As a result, the style of leadership may influence the leaders performance output because it makes employees feel either as owners of the processes or separate entities. Leadership is about influence and although interpersonal qualities are not solely important (Anonymous, 1991), good score in the qualities in leadership as well as the approach to leadership that a leader employs are greatly important because they determine relationships with subordinates and other staff at work place as they pertains day to day relations between the leaders and the latter. In addition, communication is very essential for leadership in an organization. Communication determines to an extent the quality of performance of activities and proper relationships.

From the definitions, leadership is about pursuing certain goals through careful planning and strategy and using the efforts of the others (followers and subordinates) to autonomously achieve such goals while avoiding explicit use of force (Lorsch, 2004). According to Lorsch, the role of a leader as strong decision maker can expressly be seen in the characteristics and leaderships of past political leaders such as Adolf Hitler by his decisions and maintained impeccable focus to achieving his political goals irrespective of the challenges and circumstance that surrounded his leadership at the time.

Strong inclination and willpower to follow the organization’s principles are particularly essential tools to help leaders pursue their own or organizational goals regardless of the prevailing environmental factors and other disruptions. However, just like this self-confidence led Hitler to fail to accept advice, it may cause rigidity among the leaders; the latter of which would be undoing to the organization/ leadership since wide consultation and consideration of various factors is necessary while making leadership decisions. Furthermore, De Luca, (1983) indicates that leadership involves establishment and development of interpersonal relationships as well as bonding between the leaders and the followers. Consequently, leaders must be people-oriented individuals to be effective and for them to be effective in achieving organizational goals through them. De Luca (1983) attributes the success of the Colleen Barrett of Southwest Airlines to this aspect of good leadership qualities. The implication of this success is that leaders must be people who have concern for people who form their followers so as to be in a position to inspire them towards successful achievement of the organizational goals and at the same time inspired success in the company. Growing more to becoming people-oriented, leaders must employ strategy used in the company to selectively view other people as important to the organization and not just to be used to achieve things, but that they can contribute towards it (as an organizational leader).

Argument for and against dictatorial leadership

Effective leadership involves investing in other people according to Maxwell and Westerfield (2004). Similarly, it is investing in other people that helps leaders to achieve his own or the organization goals. Irrespective of the proponents of dictatorial style of leadership such as the one exhibited by Adolf Hitler arguing that it helps leaders to carry on with their interests and commitment as leaders for the organization without being influenced by other people with their ill-motives or who do not have the interests of the organization at heart, it is characteristically ineffective and inefficient because such leaders do not include other members of the organization or followers in the decision making process and such leaders never consult all of which are important function in leadership (Lorsch,2004).

People oriented leadership styles

Instead leaders must adopt people oriented leadership styles as exhibited by the leadership of Southwest Airlines (Zoltan, 2003). As a matter of facts, the leadership in the latter has virtually invested in employees and viewing employees as important assets of the organization is necessary for good performance of the organization. As a leader, one develops deep interest in studying people’s behavior and those of their subordinates not only in using the organization’s resources in garnering their support but also promoting their inward abilities (Dasborough, 2006). According to Shane (2003) promoting and investing in career of the employees is important because it helps them to view themselves as being taken care of helping leaders anticipate and overcome the challenges that are inherent in leadership.


Leadership forms a very wide concept both in the societal and organizational context. In whatever platform that leadership takes place, objectives of leadership tends to overlap. Organizational leadership is often equated to management since the two performs almost similar functions. While some qualities of leadership are inherent in the individual, some aspects of a leader can still be learnt through education, interactions with the environment or experience. However, all such qualities are important for effective leadership as they help leaders to anticipate and overcome leadership challenges.

The importance of extensive and wide knowledge by leaders cannot be overemphasized because effective decision-making in leadership is possible through knowledge and careful analysis of the existing facts. Leaders like Jung have been termed as rational in making decisions though their knowledge was limited in the particular fields but knowledge and skills on the part of a leader is critical for effective anticipation of leadership problems and devising suitable solutions to overcome challenges inherent in leadership. Furthermore, different authors point out to the importance of experience in leadership for precision in leadership decision making and general effectiveness. Leaders must be willing to learn from their past mistakes and reveal trend of conditions and situations they have no control over so that they can take prudent steps. Hitler was not ignorant of the capability of the weaponry resources the country had. From the Hitler’s example (Lewin, Lippitt, & White, 1939), we can learn that although strategies are important, careful planning is also necessary as does trust for the subordinates and other people in the structure of leadership. Trusting employees helps the leaders to allow them to utilize their expertise, knowledge, and experience to perform their jobs. This also helps them to hold themselves responsible of what they are doing, other than act from fear.

Although expertise in particular fields of leadership is important, it has been proved that sometimes leaders succeed without it. Miner (2000) argues that Leadership is not all about expertise in the particular field, but a combination of this and so many other factors as well. However, such expertise in a leader is critical for absolute effectiveness. A leader for example is mainly concerned with directing and can hire expertise, but other important qualities of leadership such as interpersonal skills are inward. For instance, Leaders need to inspire change and innovation. As a result they need to be creative, innovative, and highly knowledgeable and must have the ability to use their knowledge in positively influencing change in the context in which they lead.

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