Leadership: Different Definitions and Conceptualisations

1. Introduction

Leadership has emerged to be a concept with varying conceptualisations: some view it as a trait or behavior while others perceive it from an information-processing perspective. Regardless of the perspective, it is undeniable that leadership plays an important role in organisations and society. In this essay, I will present different definitions of leadership from different scholars, before discussing conceptualisations of leadership from an information-processing perspective. I will also offer my own insights on the topic.

2. Definitions of Leadership

There are many definitions of leadership, and scholars have proposed various models to explain the concept. Some common theories include trait theory, skill theory, emotional intelligence theory and situational theory.

2. 1 Trait Theory

Trait theory posits that leaders are born and not made; in other words, they have inherited traits that make them predisposed to leadership (Northouse, 2016). Early studies on trait theory focused on physical attributes such as height and weight, but later studies found that these attributes do not necessarily make one a leader (Northouse, 2016). Scholars have instead proposed other traits such as self-confidence, assertiveness, and risk-taking (Northouse, 2016).

2. 2 Skill Theory

Skill theory emphasises that leadership is a set of skills that can be learned (Northouse, 2016). Individuals who are skilled in leadership are able to inspire and motivate others to work towards common goals (Northouse, 2016). Unlike trait theory which suggests that leaders are born and not made, skill theory posits that leadership skills can be acquired through training and experience.

2. 3 Emotional Intelligence Theory

Emotional intelligence theory suggests that individuals who are emotionally intelligent are more likely to be successful leaders (Goleman et al., 2002). Emotional intelligence comprises of four main competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management (Goleman et al., 2002). Individuals who are emotionally intelligent are able to control their emotions and behaviours, understand the emotions of others, and manage relationships effectively (Goleman et al., 2002).

2. 4 Situational Theory

Situational theory posits that there is no single style of leadership that is effective in all situations (Northouse, 2016). Leaders must be adaptable and use the appropriate style of leadership for the situation at hand (Northouse, 2016). The most common framework for situational leadership is Hersey-Blanchard’s Situational Leadership Theory which consists of four leadership styles: telling, selling, participating and delegating (Hersey & Blanchard, 1969).

3. Conceptualisations of Leadership from an Information-Processing Perspective

There has been a shift in recent years from viewing leadership as a trait or behaviour to perceiving it from an information-processing perspective (Shin & Zhou, 2003). Information-processing perspective is concerned with how leaders process information and how they make decisions (Shin & Zhou, 2003). There are two main conceptualisations of leadership from this perspective: Leader-Member Exchange Theory and Leader-Follower Exchange Theory.

3. 1 Leader-Member Exchange Theory

Leader-Member Exchange Theory posits that there is a dyadic relationship between leaders and followers, and the quality of this relationship affects task performance and organisational citizenship behaviours (Gerstner & Day, 1997). This theory has two main propositions: the first is that there is a leader-member exchange, and the second is that this exchange results in differentiated treatment (Gerstner & Day, 1997). Leader-member exchange occurs when leaders and followers exchange trust, respect and support with one another (Gerstner & Day, 1997). This exchange results in differentiated treatment, whereby leaders provide rewards and opportunities to followers who are in the in-group, and withhold rewards and opportunities from those who are in the out-group (Gerstner & Day, 1997).

3. 2 Leader-Follower Exchange Theory

Leader-Follower Exchange Theory builds on Leader-Member Exchange Theory and proposes that there is a triadic relationship between leaders, followers and the organisation (Graen & Uhl-Bien, 1995). Like Leader-Member Exchange Theory, this theory posits that the quality of the relationship between leaders and followers affects task performance and organisational citizenship behaviours (Graen & Uhl-Bien, 1995). However, it goes one step further to suggest that the organisation also plays a role in this relationship – the organisation provides resources and opportunities for leaders and followers to interact with one another (Graen & Uhl-Bien, 1995).

4. Conclusion

In conclusion, leadership is a concept with varying conceptualisations. Some view it as a trait or behaviour while others perceive it from an information-processing perspective. Regardless of the perspective, it is undeniable that leadership plays an important role in organisations and society.


A leader is a person who influences a group of people towards the achievement of a common goal.

Anyone can be a leader, although some people are more naturally inclined towards leadership than others.

We need leaders to help guide and motivate us towards our goals, and to provide direction and structure.

Some qualities that make a good leader include: charisma, intelligence, decisiveness, confidence, and perseverance.

Someone can become a better leader by developing these qualities, as well as by learning from their mistakes and successes.

There are different types of leaders, such as democratic or autocratic leaders, but the most effective leaders are usually those who adapt their style to the situation and the people they are leading.