I recently wrote a lengthy paper about leadership, followership, and effectiveness. It took me over a year to research and write, mostly due to working full-time and family commitments.
My research led me to conclude that:
“Leadership is the most misunderstood concept in the world today.”
The primary reason leadership has been misconstrued is that “studies on leadership have been leader-oriented” (Uhl-Bien, Riggio, Lowe and Carsten, 2014). In other words, leadership has been viewed from a leaders perspective only. The problem with this is that “leadership is a two-way developmental process between leaders and followers” (Uhl-bien et al., 2014). If we neglect followers and their thoughts regarding leadership we end up with a half-truth about leadership.
If I asked you what qualities are typical of a good leader you might say things like initiative, communication, confidence, and passion and you would be right in that assessment. However, what is it that differentiates a leader from a follower? Can followers or subordinates have the same qualities as leaders? Bligh and Kohles (2012) and Uhl-Bien et al. (2014) conclude, “Leaders and followers can behave similarly and are not so different.”
So what makes a leader? Is it their behavior, their title, their positional authority, and power or some other attribute?
I define leadership as:
“The outcome of leaders and followers collaboratively using their gifts and skills to solve contextual problems.”
• Leadership requires both leaders and followers.
• You are not a leader if no one if following you.
• You cannot produce leadership alone.
Leadership is also influenced by various factors such as context, psychology, and behavior. Good leadership in one context might be bad leadership in another. This is why there are so many definitions and variations when discussing leadership and precisely why my definition of leadership uses the terms:
Leadership is an outcome, produced by people in a specific situation, using their innate gifts and learned skills, trying to provide solutions.
As a born again Christian I believe that leadership is a gift. Romans 12:3, 4, 6, 8 say,
“God has dealt to each one of us a measure of faith… we do not all have the same function… we should use our gifts according to our measure of faith and by God’s grace… if you are gifted to lead, be diligent about it…” (NKJV, paraphrase).
As a teacher of the Bible, I believe that each person has an inherent gift given by God at birth. These gifts are not operable for the right reasons until an individual makes the decision to follow Christ; individuals have the gift nonetheless.
These gifts are outlined in Romans 12 and consist of prophecy, ministry (serving), teaching, exhortation, giving, leadership, and mercy. Again, these are inherent gifts. There are other areas of the Bible that use the term “gifts,” namely, Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12.
For the sake of time I will say that Ephesians 4 speaks of five offices or callings and 1 Corinthians 12 speaks of manifestations of the spirit and both differ from inherent gifts, but work together to fully equip each individual believer.
Leadership can be a gift, but for many, it is a learned skill, which adds to the confusion.
How do you know if someone has the gift or is a skilled leader or both or neither?
This would be a good place to stop and talk about interpersonal communication and the relational characteristics of leaders and followers, but it would take another three to four pages to break that down.
Instead, I’ll say this:
“There is a relational dynamic to good leadership.”
A good leader knows and cares about the people he/she is leading.
If leadership is an outcome produced by two or more people, then what is a leader?
My definition of a leader is:
“An individual who makes role-based contributions in solving contextual problems using a specific set of inherent gifts or learned skills.”
The term leader entails:
Positional authority is granted by the ruling body (e.g. ownership, a board of directors, etc.) and is usually based on experience, education, skill set, and too often gender or race.
Two people applying for the same position may have a similar education, experience, and skillset, but for some reason, the ruling body decides one way or the other; hopefully not determined by gender or race. One ends up with positional authority as the leader and the other ends up with a lesser-valued authority as the follower or subordinate; I prefer the term “colleague.”
In either case, the leader is chosen and authority is granted; bias always plays a role. Regardless, the leader and the follower will co-produce leadership and both will function as leaders and followers throughout the process.
Everyone Leads and Follows at the Same Time
It is difficult for me personally to acknowledge that much of what I have been taught concerning leadership has left me with only a portion of the equation, while ignorant to the other half of the leadership dynamic (i.e. followership). I do not have the time or space to write about followership here, but I will say that if we neglect to study leadership from both leader and follower perspectives we will continue to leave people in the dark.
By the end of 2017, I am hoping to publish a book entitled “The 30 Qualities of Effective Employees” in hopes of quelling the leadership dilemma. The book gives a brief history of leadership and challenges readers to define the terms leader, follower, leadership, and followership while encouraging a shift in vocabulary away from the term leadership and toward the term effectiveness.
It is my belief that we should be concerned with effectiveness not necessarily leadership or followership, although both are needed. Effectiveness can be achieved by developing the 30 qualities emphasized in the book and will equip employees in all positions to resolve organizational dilemmas.
In conclusion, leadership is a dual process involving leaders and followers.
Leadership involves leader and follower behavior, context, and psychology. Leadership cannot be produced alone. A leader is simply a person filling a role.
Leaders and followers can have the same attributes. All people function as leaders and followers at the same time.
Good leaders develop meaningful relationships with their followers (subordinates).
We should be concerned with effectiveness, not leadership or followership necessarily.
I hope to provide more information on followership and effectiveness in a future blog.
Jacob Valtierra (MA) received his B.A. in Youth Ministries in 2011 and his M.A. in Strategic Leadership in 2017. He helped found Running with Fire Ministries, an evangelistic ministry that reaches out to Native American tribes across the U.S. and Canada. He was the Youth and Associate Pastor at Cityview Church in South Minneapolis from 2011-2016 and teaches classes at Teen Challenge Leadership Institute, also in Minneapolis.
Jacob has been married for 5 years to his wife Maria and has three children, Jazmine (17), Israel (2) and Marianna (1). He currently works for Lakeville Area Public Schools as the American Indian School Success Liaison. He hopes to publish a book on leadership by year’s end. Jacob can be contacted on Facebook and LinkedIn.