Leadership PerspectivesSynthesizing leadership perspectives to enhance organizational performance

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Leadership has engaged the minds of sages and scholars since ancient times and through more than 100 years of scientific study. However, even after thousands of years of historic ponderings and decades of scientific studies on leadership, leadership's nature and definition remain elusive. Each ancient society developed its own definitions and understanding of leadership (Bass, 2008), while contemporary scholars and writers have added so many perspectives that some argue that defining leadership is near impossible (Hughes, Ginnett, & Curphy, 2005).

Today leadership remains a “mysterious process” (Yukl, 2010, p. 1) with as many definitions as people who have attempted to define the concept (Stogdill, 1948). Each definition depends on the perspective of the definer and generally falls within categories like traits, behaviors, context, psychology, relationships, position, power, and all the above. A multitude of divergent definitions does not mean that any of them are wrong. Each provides a different perspective that helps illuminate various aspects of the same complex process.

Attempting to add yet another definition of leadership would not clarify an elusive concept, but exploring leadership through various perspectives might help provide insight into a complex phenomenon. In this paper, I will consider various understandings of leadership from ancient times through contemporary dialogues. Next, I will summarize the traditional and modern theories that have emerged through the scientific study of leadership. Finally, I will consider emerging perspectives that apply new discoveries in neurological psychology and complexity theory to gain a deeper understanding of leadership. Throughout, I will consider critical concepts against personal leadership challenges during 20 years leading customer and employee development programs in the high tech, manufacturing, and real estate sectors and 20 years in higher education instruction and administration.

I conclude with a discussion about the relevancy of scientific leadership research to practical applications. I argue that scientific knowledge does not translate into effective leadership but can enhance leadership effectiveness when combined with experience. This does not mean the scientific study of leadership is without merit. Findings from scientific research can provide leaders with insight, awareness, and tools to enhance their ability to influence others while giving followers knowledge about how to inoculate themselves from undue influence.

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