The Anatomy of Leadership

7.30.14 Anatomy of Leadership

Story provided by The Powell Consulting Group – 

For years, scholars and students have been intrigued with the phenomenon of leading people in organizations.  Anyone who has reviewed the leadership literature of the past few decades can attest to the fact that interest in the subject remains lively based on the proliferation of books, articles and programs with varying points of view about the subject.  However, the search for a unified definition and theory has been hampered by a general lack of agreement about terminology and methods of study.  Some writers have suggested that the concept be discarded entirely while others defend its usefulness.

The difficulty in reaching a consensus on a definition can be attributed to the difference in approaches to the study of leadership.  There are four basic schools of thought.  One school defines leadership by the traits exhibited by successful leaders; a second school by the behaviors exhibited by successful leaders; a third school approaches the study from the way leaders exert power and influence; and, a fourth looks at leadership based on situational responses to followers.

Rather than focus on nailing down a precise definition of leadership, we simply offer that leadership is a relationship between those who would aspire to lead and those who would choose to follow.  We believe that it is far more practical to understand why organized groups of people need the influence of leaders to make necessary interactions work. To help explain this need we offer three core leadership principles that undergird why organized groups of people need the influence, structure, and functions of leadership.

Leadership Principle #1: People want to have dominion, control or choice over their lives. To some degree, everyone wants to have some say about what they do, how they do it, what happens to them, what they get, how they relate to the others and how they spend their time.  This principle is a bit paradoxical to the notion of needing to be influenced by someone else. As is the case with paradoxes, these two competing ideals represent forces that must be managed in order for the leader-follower relationship to thrive. The concept of followership infers that the follower has made a conscious or unconscious choice to align and comply with the direction of another person(s).


Leadership Principle #2: Leadership is a privilege that is bestowed to a person(s) who would aspire to lead by people who would choose to align and comply. Leadership doesn’t exist solely because of rights, positions, titles, hierarchies, structures or might. If there are no followers, then there is no leadership.  Followers always make choices about the degree to which they will follow despite the wishes and intent of the person aspiring to lead them.  This means that leadership is more of an honor because it is something that has been bestowed.


Leadership Principle #3: Both the aspiring leaders and the followers accrue benefit from and responsibility for the relationship.  The reciprocity principle means that both are leaders as well as followers of each other. Aspiring leaders want to lead because they have some interest in the activities and outcomes of the group or relationships.  Followers choose to align and comply with a leader because they too have some interest in the activities and outcomes of the group or relationships.


Despite the imbalance in formal power favoring the ‘leader’, he/she doesn’t hold all of the power in the relationship.  Followers deploy their informal power to influence the environment, relationships, work processes, performance and other concerns about the workplace. Behaviorally, this deployment shows up a requests, suggestions, inquiries, actions, compliance, or rejection.  Followers also use their discretionary emotional energy to influence outcomes they seek.  Viewed through the lens of the reciprocity principle, all actions whether direct or indirect can be viewed as forms of leadership.

Leadership occurs when there is alignment and compliance between leaders and followers in the fulfillment of the functions required to accomplish the mission.  Leaders should recognize that followers must be able to visualize the end state and believe in the value in achieving it before they can align themselves to the vision with passion.  Once aligned with and passionate about the vision, followers can be inspired to release their discretionary emotional energy toward the accomplishment of the targeted outcome.

All of this is held together by the constant accountability to which leaders hold themselves and others for accomplishing immediate tasks and intermediate outcomes.  Simultaneously, the leader keeps a constant eye on what needs to be done beyond what the team is currently doing or what they could become.

Regardless of your role, teams and organizations need both leaders and followers to reach success. In the long run, your ability to move effectively and appropriately between both roles will play a major role in determining how you get there.

© 2014 The Powell Consulting Group
All Rights Reserved.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

Gravatar Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s