March 2009

Conceptions of Leadership

Heather Lyne de Ver

There is now a wide recognition in the international community that ‘leadership matters’ for growth and development, just as there was recognition some years ago that ‘institutions matter’. But what is ‘leadership’? How is it defined and can there be universal understandings and application of the concept?

Leadership is a concept which is often talked about, and which has generated a proliferation of literature, especially in the field of management and organizational science. However, despite the almost unanimous agreement on the importance of leadership for the success of private sector organizations and institutions, and the countless works on the concept, “the field of leadership studies has not succeeded in articulating a coherent, paradigm-shifting model or approach that both scholars and practitioners can accept and work with”. There is no unanimity as to what ‘leadership’ means. This brief survey sets out a representative sample of some of the ways in which ‘leadership’ has been defined from within a number of very different disciplines and approaches. It concludes with a preliminary working definition of ‘leadership’ in a developmental context.

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Conceptions of Leadership

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