Leadership Theories Through Time
Contemporary studies of leadership started in the mid 19th century with the first theory on leadership: “The Great Man Theory” which assumes that leadership traits are innate and intrinsic to the leader. Of course, it didn’t take long for this theory to be discredited in favour of a long list of other theories, competing to define and codify leadership traits, skills, and behaviours. From the “Traits Theory” to the “Behavioural Theories” of the 1950s, all the way to the “Transactional Leadership Theory” and finally “Transformational Leadership Theory” of the 1970s, a very long and extensive list of traits, skills and behaviours has been compiled to define a leader.
In a well written article in Forbes Magazine, Kevin Kruse attempts to define leadership by critiquing a few older definitions, and reaches his own:
“Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.”
While I find this definition more accurate and more plausible to 21st century leadership, I still think it is incomplete. Because nowhere in all the theories, and nowhere in all the lists of traits and skills and behaviours, did I find a mention of “Kindness”.
Leadership and Kindness – The New Definition
We often speak of “good” and “bad” leadership. We often give examples of WWII leaders (both good and bad, but mostly bad), and we mention Ghandi, Martin Luther King, and Mandela as a model of social influence towards achieving a “good” goal… All great! But what I want to achieve in revisiting the definition of leadership is to intrinsically include “Good Leadership” in that definition. There is no bad leadership because a bad leader is not a leader to start with! If I were to call a person a leader it is because she is a good and kind leader. There is no other version of leadership!
Leadership must be defined with kindness as a driver of all other behaviours. Leadership is not greatness. It is not about grandiose achievements. It is not about rallying followers, breaking records, beating deadlines and reaching targets. Leadership is about how you make others feel. When the dust settles, that’s all they will remember!