The definition of leadership – where to start…

Simon Black –

The simplest definition of leadership has been suggested as “…having followers” (Grint 2010). Notions of good or bad leadership become difficult, particularly when it comes to what a leader leads his or her followers to do. Then there are layers of how much followers take on their own initiative, how powerful the group dynamic is in generating effective work (whole greater than the sum of the parts ) and so on. Leadership is about the person, but it is also about the process and position in organisations, and of course about the purpose to which the leader directs people.

It is tempting to divide ‘leadership’ and ‘management’ into two separate activities, leadership being one about the future, about new or complex problems, strategic ; whilst management is about the ‘seen it before’ the mundane or ordinary, tactical. However more and more expert thinkers on these topics are realising that the two are both interlinked. Deming always linked them together (he called leadership ‘supervision’, but updated the terminology on advice of a colleague to ‘leadership’) and never divided the right way of thinking, the right way of envisioning improvement and potential success and enacting meaningful conversations with workers, ultimately to let them get on with effective work.

The most successful leaders are also the most successful at getting people to get on with purposeful work (‘management’). As a leader you need to know the purpose, know the work, understand what people are grappling with and give them all the resources (including your own input AND allowing them to use their own brains to the full) to enable them to do it.

There is no magic formula except to do things which are relevant to purpose and the work. If your interpersonal skills are rusty (or non-existent) then you can get away with it if you do those first two things.



Grint, K. (2010) Leadership: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, Oxford UK.

One thought on “The definition of leadership – where to start…”

  1. I just found this blog Simon after going back through lecture slides revising for Conservation Leadership and Management exam next week. I’m finding the blog posts here very useful for reinforcing what we learned on the course.


    Jamie Dunlop
    (Durrell PG Dip in Endangered Species Recovery student 2016)

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