“Leadership is a word on everyone’s lips. The young attack it and police seek it. Experts claim it and artists spurn it, while scholars want it… bureaucrats pretend they have it, politicians wish they did. Everybody agrees that there is less of it that there used to be” –Warren Bennis

Thanks to those who have submitted a definition or at least have thought through the idea of leadership. It really is one of those ‘roles’ lacking in today’s society and dare I say in our churches. I have derived important words and ideas from your definitions and they are: leadership is influential, leadership is a position, leadership achieves, leadership differs from management, and leadership is of God. These are really great thoughts and ideas and hopefully your definitions, like mine, are working definitions. I want our thinking on the topic to expand and grow as we discuss more ideas and concepts of leadership.

In this post, I want to bring to the floor the nature of leadership. Much of the ideas from this post has come from an excerpt of “Leadership… Theory and Practice” by Peter G. Northhouse (Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, London, pg 4-10). I stress again that I will simply be bringing thoughts from articles I’m reading and my own opinions to the floor but I would like people to discuss these ideas and concepts and even challenge them.

So what is the nature of leadership? Is leadership a trait or is it a process? Is it appointed or is emergent? These are the questions we will be exploring.

Trait Versus Process Leadership

Many of us have grown up hearing the phrases “He is born to be a leader” or “They are a natural leader.” These types of statements are often spoken by those who take a trait perspective towards leadership.

“The trait perspective suggests that certain individuals have special innate or inborn characteristics or qualities that make them leaders, and it is these qualities that differentiate them from non-leaders. Some of the personal qualities used to identify leaders include unique physical factors (e.g., height), personality features (e.g., extroversion), and ability characteristics (e.g., speech fluency)” (Bryman, 1992).

“To describe leadership as a trait is quite different from describing it as a process. This trait viewpoint conceptualizes leadership as a property or set of properties possessed in varying degrees by different people” (Jago, 1982).

“The process leadership viewpoint suggests it is a phenomenon that resides in the context and makes leadership available to everyone. As process, leadership can be observed in leader behaviours and it is something that can be learned” (Jago, 1982).

Questions: What are your thoughts? Is leadership a trait that people are born with or is it a process? Is it both? Does someone who displays process leadership have to have none, some, or all of the traits of leadership? What are the traits of leadership? Can you think of any examples in your own life or others?

Assigned Versus Emergent Leadership

Many people think of leadership as a formal position within an organisation, where as others are leaders by the way group members respond to them, regardless of their position. These two types of leadership are called assigned leadership and emergent leadership. Examples of assigned leadership are: team leaders, plant managers, department heads, directors, and administrators etc. These are examples of people occupying a position within an organisation.

“Yet the person assigned to a leadership position does not always become the real leader in particular setting. When an individual is perceived by others as the most influential member of a group or organization, regardless of the individual’s title, the person is exhibiting emergent leadership. The individual acquires emergent leadership through other people in the organisation who support and accept that individual’s behaviour. This type of leadership is not assigned by position, but rather it emerges over a period of time through communication. Some of the positive communication behaviours that account for successful leader emergence include being verbally involved, being informed, seeking others opinion, initiating new ideas, and being firm but not rigid” (Fisher, 1974).

When an individual is engaged in leadership, that individual is a leader, whether or not the individual was assigned to be the leader or the individual emerged as the leader.

Questions: What are you thoughts? Is leadership a formal position? Can we say that leadership is only displayed in formal positions? Is leadership needed in formal positions? Do emergent leaders show signs of rebellion? Can you think of examples of emergent leadership?

The floor is open…

Stay tuned. Next week we will be looking at leadership and power, coercion, and management…

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About Apo Malo

Apo is an active part of the ministries of his church where his heart for people is clearly evident. Apo has a degree in theology and is also an accomplished musician maintaining a part time teaching studio. Apo works as a carer for Anglicare and lives in Sydney, Australia.


  1. Jason Harris 25 March, 2009 at 11:46 am

    Question 1: I think leadership is a process of developing traits. Some are born with natural gifts which give them substantial advantages in that process.

    Question 2: I think formal and emergent leadership both exist and the key is to put the emergent leaders in the formal positions.


  2. Apo 27 March, 2009 at 5:34 am

    “… the key is yo put the emergent leaders in the formal positions…”
    -Excellent thought Jason.

    I think there are many people out there who occupy a position and are not really influencing people. The extent of their leadership is between the letters of their title. Having said that, there are leaders who do occupy a position and are leaders and they have great influence.

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