What is leadership and what is it not? 7 theses highlighted

There is something mystical about leadership. And it’s massively hyped. New books by leadership gurus appear weekly; you probably know them. What’s tricky is: almost always the empirical evidence is lacking. Because there is surprisingly little quantitative research. As a result, we hardly know what really works and what doesn’t. And the unsubstantiated theories keep piling up. Some theories become theories. As if that can’t be helped. What is leadership and what is it not? There’s a lot of fake news going around. Time for a fact check: 7 statements.

Statement 1: Leadership leads to better results

In principle, effective leadership has a positive impact on the results of an organization. A number of studies indicate that good leadership can lead to reduced employee turnover (Sellgren et al. 2007), improved performance and higher employee satisfaction (Gerstner and Day, 1997). And Waldman et al. (2001) concludes that charismatic leadership can have a positive impact on firm performance especially in times of high risk. Barrick et al. (1991) estimates that the effect of excellent leadership on a company’s financial performance is more than 15%.

On the other hand, the dark side of charismatic leadership also has the potential, under certain circumstances, to cause long-term damage to an organization and its employees(Hogan and Kaiser, 2005). Consider negative personal traits such as narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism (where the leader will do anything to obtain or maintain power).

Thesis 2: Leaders are born

Leadership fact check Essenburgh Training & Advice

This is still the subject of intense debate. Are people born to be leaders or are they made to be? The current state of science assumes that there are indeed innate traits that characterize good leaders. Examples are: integrity, decisiveness and vision. There are also ‘proven’ methods by which leadership skills can be trained. But honestly: we don’t know if leaders are born or made. Because there is not (yet) enough scientific evidence to convincingly support the nature-or-nurture theory. It is probably a combination of inborn talents (nature) and developed talents (nurture).

Thesis 3: A good leader is dominant

As a leader, do you need to be dominant and visible? That remains to be seen. Because leadership is essentially the ability to get people and teams to work together. In that case, the leadership is more in the interaction between individuals and is therefore not directly visible or dominant in one person. It is different with the various forms of charismatic leadership, in which the leader is often more dominant. It is very doubtful whether this theory is tenable in the network economy. Read more about network leadership

Thesis 4: A good leader inspires

How do you best inspire employees? From the years tpeople started focusing on this more and more. The focus came to be on leadership that appeals to people’s emotions to stimulate and inspire them. This has led to the so-called neo-charismatic leadership theories, of which transformational and charismatic leadership are best known (Avilio et al. 2009). Recent studies suggest that leadership according to this approach is superior to leadership according to the transactional approach (Fiol et al. 1999). Transactional leadership richt is based on the exchange principle: in exchange for good work, someone receives a reward. But there are also critical voices that point out that neo-charismatic leadership theories lack an ethical dimension. The result is the rise of ethical and authentic leadership. However, the scientific evidence of the latter theories is not (yet) ereally convincing. It seems to be most effective to encourage and give responsibility to others, as with the
network approach

Thesis 5: Leadership must be authentic

Authentic leadership emerged in the 1990s; as a result of a number of major scandals, there was a discussion about moral and ethical standards. This led not only to changes in laws and regulations, but also to new leadership theories. Including authentic leadership. In other words: leadership that is characterised by authenticity, positive influence and motivation. Again, the evidence for these new theories is still wafer thin. Of course, ethical standards and a moral compass matter. But should you call that authentic leadership? Because without ethical values and a moral compass, you cannot
network leadership
pursue. Or

value-creating leadership


Thesis 6: Leadership is teamwork

Yes, that statement is true! In the eyes of the general public, a leader is one person who is the center of all activity. But even then, it’s generally a whole team running an organization. Therefore, the development and leadership of such a team is the critical factor for any organization(Hogan and Kaiser 2005). Of particular interest is the so-called behavioral complexity of leadership teams(Carmeli and Halevi 2009). The basic principle here is that teams can adapt quickly to the changing environment.

Thesis 7: Leadership is something you make together

Most old leadership theories assume the power of the individual. This view seems to be more and more outdated. Network leadership(Lichtenstein et al., 2006) has a different perspective and points to the importance of the interactions within a (social) network. This form of leadership rejects the idea that one individual would be able to determine the success of an organization. From a network point of view, it is all about the interactions between people. There is a fair amount of evidence that this network approach determines the success of an organization.

Towards value-creating leadership

Bottom line: a lot of falsehoods are spread about leadership. Fake news. It is therefore a great pity that very few theories of leadership have really been backed up by scientific evidence. The latter is important, because it helps prevent pointless interventions. And to get clear on what we’re talking about. What is certain is that thinking about leadership is changing in the direction of network thinking. And that we need leaders who can make quick decisions that are economically, socially and environmentally sound. So leaders who create value in several areas: value-creating leadership.

Do you want to know more about value creating leadership? Then download the ebook Leadership in the Economy of Value below. Or
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for our leadership training courses.

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dr. Pim Valentijn

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