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Thought Thursdays
What is the essence of leadership?


Leadership is currently being discussed in numerous management programmes, on radio talk shows and in the written media. The concern about the concept of leadership is probably that there is a lack of leadership in all spheres of life.  According to political commentators, management analysts and other observers, there is either weak leadership or even no leadership demonstrated in social society, organisations and, more significantly, in the political environments of our country to address the challenges of the day. Consequently, there is indeed a need for leadership. The question is: What kind of leadership should be considered to address the challenges of the political, societal, business and other organisations. 

Leadership characteristics, styles and approaches – and the implications thereof – have been defined and discussed in many leadership books and surveys to provide an understanding of leadership. But the question that should be answered is: What is the essence of leadership? 

In 2000, Hooper and Potter explored the essence of leadership i​n their book, Intelligent Leadership. The authors describe the development of leadership thought, and therefore the essence of leadership, by focusing on the development of leadership during the twentieth century. They distinguish between leadership and management, and identify seven key leadership competencies, namely, to set direction, to be influential role models, to be effective communicators, to be convincing, to bring out the best in people, to be proactive, and to have the ability to make decisions in times of crisis. And, finally, the role of leadership is to develop intellectual capital. For the purpose of this discussion the transcendent leadership approach and developing intellectual capital will be discussed in more detail.

Transcendent leadership involves the following: People, whether employees or employers, are the most important asset of organisations, businesses and political environments. Therefore, Hooper and Potter emphasise that the essence of leadership is, among others, to bring out the best in people. They argue that the realisation of people as the most important asset stimulates the change from transactional and transformational leadership to transcendent leadership. The implication of moving to transcendent leadership is a move from command and control to empowerment. According to a recent study by Robbins, DeCenzo and Coulter, transcendent leaders should demonstrate the following sources of power to empower their followers: expert power, referent power, legitimate power and coercive power. Furthermore, demonstrating transcendent leadership will also build trust in the organisation. Consequently, transcendent leaders focus on the process of engaging the emotional support of followers. Practically speaking, leaders should adapt their leadership style to focus much more on their employees; become aware of their needs and anxieties, and their expectations of growing and developing into future leaders.  

According to Hooper and Potter, the focus of business leaders should shift from merely developing the physical asset base of their organisations to a true recognition of the knowledge and intellectual capital contained within the organisation. The value of intellectual capital is having people’s knowledge, skills and experience as well as information systems. The future of leadership lies in information, communication, knowledge and people. These are the prime intellectual components which will become more important to measure the value of leadership in businesses, organisations and political environments.   

In summary: The essence of leadership is to move from a comfortable command and control approach to the uncomfortable requirement to become an empowerer, a coach, a facilitator and an educator. The transformation in leadership is to change to more thought, greater flexibility, more anticipation and less direct control. According to Senge, leaders, and potential leaders should consider focusing on the essence of leadership, namely to motivate, inspire and assist their followers to become more creative and innovative, and to work towards creating an ideal future for their businesses, organisations and the country.

Liano Greybe.JPG

Dr Liano Greybe has been a facilitator at USB-ED since 1997. His areas of expertise is general management, including strategic management, organisational behaviour and Leadership (which he lectures on our NMDP​).​

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