What Is Your Definition of Leadership?

In my opinion, leadership is the ability to inspire and motivate people enough for them to be willing to participate and get involved towards the achievement of a common goal. I see leadership as a process which can be improved over time and experience, but only by someone who has some innate leadership competences. In determining what leadership means to me, I decided to analyse two different leadership cases. I will firstly discuss and analyse Nelson Mandela’s leadership style, which appeared to be mainly transformational.
I will try to demonstrate how Nelson Mandela proved that leadership was a two-way process between the leader and his followers, and how crucial it is for a leader to be respected and admired by his followers in order for him to be effective. In addition, a leader needs to be trustworthy, passionate and devoted to achieving a shared objective. More importantly, a good leader will abandon his subordinates once he achieved a personal goal. Throughout this essay, I will try to support my opinion being that, efficient leadership lies somewhere in between the trait and the style approaches whilst taking into account the situational approach.
In my opinion, not everyone can be a leader, but if someone is meant to be one, leadership skills need to be learned and improved over time and adapted according to different situations. If not born a leader, one can only become one to a certain and limited extent, as we will see in Barack Obama’s case. President Obama first started as an acknowledged inspirational and passionate leader, who people admired, respected and wanted to join. However, a few years after his election, it seems like his glory days are behind him, and that he isn’t the leader he used to be anymore.

It might appear that once he was elected president, and his personal goal has been achieved, Obama didn’t fight as hard for his subordinates as he did for his personal satisfaction. His lack of communication and inspirational speeches seem to have considerably damaged his reputation as a leader. It appears that Obama gave Americans too high hopes that he wasn’t able to keep up with and fulfil, creating a wave of disappointment among his supporters. It seems to me that Barack Obama was a great leader throughout his campaign, but that once elected, he was lacking some crucial leadership skills required as a President.
In fact, one could argue that he wasn’t born a leader. In contrast to Nelson Mandela, he was only able to be a leader to a certain extent, his apogee being during his presidential campaign. By fighting vigorously against apartheid, Nelson Mandela rapidly became an iconic figure of resistance in South Africa, and was thereafter acknowledged as the most significant black leader South Africa had ever known. He devoted his life to fighting against racism and apartheid in South Africa and for peace.
However his life objectives were not personal satisfactions, but satisfactions of his supporters. He fought for their freedom and well-being before fighting for his own. In fact, he never compromised his political position even to regain his freedom. He could have backed down after being released from the Robben Island prison in 1990 (after 27 years of cruel imprisonment), after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 or even after becoming president in 1994. Yet he didn’t, and continued to fight for his people’s freedom and rights.
Nelson Mandela has always demonstrated some legendary listening skills which are essential to being an efficient democratic leader. Indeed, he learned at a very young age from his guardian how listening to others was a vital skill in effective leadership. In fact, his guardian used to listen to everyone’s opinions first while remaining silent, before guiding the group to reach a consensus (Stengel, 1994). Therefore, one could argue that Mandela’s effective democratic or participative leadership style was greatly inspired by his childhood experience.
Throughout his life as a leader, Nelson Mandela always encouraged people to share their ideas and opinions, to which he carefully listened before making the final decision. This way, he managed to get people to be more engaged and devoted to a particular cause, leading to higher productivity towards their goals’ achievement (Lewin, K. , Liippit, R. and White, R. K. 1939). Moreover, by entering the debate and being the last one to speak, he also gains a considerable advantage, as he is the one to close the argument.
He also cultivated other leadership skills through his personal experience of being a cattle herder: “When you want to get a herd to move in a certain direction, you stand at the back with a stick. Then a few of the more energetic cattle move to the front and the rest of the cattle follow. You are really guiding them from behind. That is how a leader should do his work” (Stengel, 1994, Nelson Mandela: The making of a leader, Time Magazine, May 9th 1994). Thus, even before being in any position of leadership, Nelson Mandela revealed himself as a born leader.
We can consequently assume that the Traits approach is relevant to efficient leadership. Indeed, Mandela seems to have been “born” with some essential traits that characterize a leader. Known as the “main-man” in South Africa, he was charismatic, influential, sociable, intelligent, alert, persistent, responsible, self-confident, and ready to assume the consequences of his decisions, as he did by going to jail. Thus Mandela innate leadership style clearly corresponds to Stogdill’s characteristics of the Traits approach (Stogdill, 1948).
Moreover, Nelson Mandela was also widely accepted as a transformational leader, as he was able to inspire and motivate his supporters to work towards a common goal through the power and persuasiveness of his vision and personality. He strongly engaged with his followers, and made them aware of what achieving a particular goal meant (Barbuto, 2005; Barnett, McCormick & Conners, 2001; Gellis, 2001). As James MacGregor Burns (1978) firstly introduced it, transformational leadership is when “leaders and followers maker each other to advance to a higher level of moral and motivation. ” In addition, according to Bernard M.
Bass’s Transformational Leadership Theory (1985), transformational leaders are trusted, respected and admired by their followers. Thus, as Nelson Mandela clearly gathered trust, respect and admiration among his supporters, we can say that his leadership style also corresponded to the transformational one. In fact, Nelson Mandela didn’t sharpen his leadership skills from anywhere, he was a natural leader and his skills came intuitively. He was born a leader and refined his skills with the personal experiences he gained over the years, which enabled him to effectively adapt to various situations.
He strongly believed in consensus and knew how to empower his subordinates and motivate them to achieving a common objective. His legendary success as a leader was also mainly due to the fact that he was seen as approachable compassionate and honest. Yet, he was undeniably respected and admired for his courage, his wisdom and his determination. On the other hand, Barack Obama, whose presidential campaign aroused unrecorded enthusiasm, hope and inspiration, seems to have unexpectedly disappointed his followers once elected President of the United States of America.
Indeed, during his campaign, Barack Obama astonished everyone with his unpredicted inspirational, passionate and enthusiastic speeches. Who doesn’t remember his “Yes we can” speech given in New Hampshire in 2008? At the time, it seemed like Obama had all it took to be a great leader, he had a strong charisma, was motivated, inspired and seeking to achieve a common goal, thus showing many aspects of a Transformational as well as Charismatic leader. However, soon after his election, his supporters found themselves disillusioned by their President’s leadership skills.
They felt like his motivation and enthusiasm had faded away, and that he wasn’t the inspirational leader he used to be. Obama was effective as a leader during his campaign, at one place and time, but became unsuccessful as soon as the situation and the factors around him changed, due to his rigidity and inability to adapt to contextual changes. Thus, Obama can clearly be related to Fiedler’s Contingency theory, as he became ineffective as soon as the factors around him changed.
Unlike Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama seems to be more of an educated leader, who cultivated most of his leadership skills from Columbia and Harvard universities, therefore embracing the style approach which suggests that his behaviour of leader is distinct from his personality. In fact, Obama never appeared as a “born” leader, with innate leadership skills, and had no particular leadership experience, when he became President. Critics of Barack Obama emphasize the fact that his lack of leadership has already been demonstrated in various scenarios.
Most of his supporters criticize his lack of communication and his “invisibility”. They feel somehow deserted and let down by the man who not long ago, aroused their highest hopes. Even the Democrats now acknowledge his lack of presence “Dems say privately Obama is invisible, not a leader. ” (Joe Scarborough, 2011). One would have thought that Barack Obama’s leadership skills would have had improved as he gained in experience as a President, yet it looks like his apogee as a leader what during his campaign and that since then the leadership part of him is disappearing.
In fact, Barack Obama brought only a few, if any, leadership skills into his presidency, and has deceivingly developed none after almost 3 years of experience (Kelly OConnell, 2011). As a President, Obama has espoused a delegating and passive leadership style, which wasn’t the best style to adopt in a period of deep crisis, when perseverance and prompt decision-making skills were required, thus clearly lacking some situational leadership skills (David Brooks, 2011). Barack Obama consequently appeared as the wrong man for the situation, and not the erson America needed, due to his lack of toughness, imagination and determination. The Presidential candidate who was known for his grand enthusiasm and his passion seems to have vanished to make room to a President who got overwhelmed by his job and ran out of ideas shortly after taking office (David Frum, 2011; David Brooks, 2011). It became vague in Obama’s supporters’ minds whether he was the “turnaround leader” America needed or not (Michael Watkins, Thursday January 22, 2009, “Can Obama lead the Great American Turnaround? Harvard business review). According to Michael Watkins, Obama demonstrated more Steward Attributes than Hero Attributes, which were vital considering the depth of the crisis. Undoubtedly, President Obama was more conservative, diplomatic and supportive than visionary, directive and charismatic. To conclude, we can say that the difference between Nelson Mandela’s and Barack Obama’s leadership style is striking.
Nelson Mandela, can be acknowledged as a “born” leader who improved his leadership skills throughout his experience as a country’s leader, whereas Barack Obama tends to be more of an “educated” leader, who couldn’t keep up with his status’ expectations. One was able to adapt to situational changes and prove himself as a true leader fighting for his people when the other disappointed his followers by suddenly disappearing through a lack of communication and perseverance to achieve the set common goals, thus generating a common feeling of abandonment.
In my opinion, these two cases reinforce my proposition of a leader’s definition, as we clearly saw that leadership skills should be innate and improved through time to make an effective leader. Moreover, by observing Mandela’s and Obama’s leadership cases, we saw how an efficient leader must constantly motivate and inspire his followers to achieving a common objective that should be kept in mind and should remain the main focus of the leader as well as the followers.
Clearly, without the support of his followers, a leader cannot achieve anything. Thus, as I suggested it, leadership is a two-way process in which the nurture of relationships between the two parties is essential, as recognized by Peter Northouse (2010). References: Barbuto, 2005; Barnett, McCormick & Conners, 2001; Gellis, 2001 Bass,B. M,(1985). Leadership and Performance. N. Y,: Free Press Brooks, David (June 28, 2011), Convener in Chief, The New York Times, N. Y edition pA23. Burns, J. M. (1978). Leadership. N. Y: Harper and Raw.
Fiedler, F. E. (1967) A Theory of Leadership Effectiveness, New York: McGraw-Hill Frum, David (June 28th 2011), Obama is his own worst Enemy, http://www. frumforum. com/obama-is-his-own-worst-enemy, accessed the 07/01/12 Lewin, K. , Liippit, R. and White, R. K. (1939). Patterns of aggressive behavior in experimentally created social climates. Journal of Social Psychology, 10, 271-301 Northouse, P. G. (2010), Leadership: theory and practice (5th edition) Thousand Oaks, Sage. OConnell, Kelly, Sunday, July 31, 2011 , www. canadafreepress. om “obama’s leadership style is classic liberalism: no vision+ utter incompetence = total failure” accessed the 05/01/12 Stengel, 1994, Nelson Mandela: The making of a leader, Time Magazine, May 9th 1994 Stogdill, R. M. , 1948. “Personal factors associated with leadership: A survey of the literature. ” Journal of Psychology. 25: 35-71. Watkins, Michael (Thursday January 22nd, 2009), “Can Obama lead the Great American Turnaround? ” Harvard business review, http://blogs. hbr. org/watkins/2009/01/the_great_american_turnaround. html, accessed the 07/02/12

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