158909167The concept of leadership is critically important in society. From one generation to the next, our leaders have built the world we know today. Leadership roles are all about an individual in a group stepping forward: partly because of skill, partly because of a willingness to assume the leadership role, and partly because an opportunity presents itself.

There are three elements to leadership:

  1. An individual must have specific skills or traits.
  2. There must be people who recognize these skills or traits as helpful to the group overall.
  3. An opportunity must present itself that requires these skills or traits.

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You can’t have a leader without followers, and you can’t create leadership by simply declaring someone a leader. True leadership takes a combination of skills and traits from the leader and recognition by a group who are willing to follow.

The Leadership Role In Society

Leadership plays a prominent role in society at large. Think back to prehistoric times: identifying leaders was pretty basic. The individuals with the best knowledge and skill to find food, shelter and harness the power of fire were revered because they ensured the safety and well being of the tribe. These people were followed because they had the right traits. In this primitive environment, these were critically important leadership skills and traits. People were willing to follow them because they wanted to be fed, sheltered and warm.

In modern society our needs are quite different. But the concepts are the same; more abstract maybe, but still critically important. Well-known leaders like Nelson Mandela or Gandhi demonstrated leadership through passionately held beliefs that to them were for society’s greater good. True societal leaders aren’t looking for followers, but are taking a stand for something that resonates with the population, and which inspires followers. Both Mandela and Gandhi were able to create long-lasting change through great personal sacrifice. And because people rallied behind them, they were identified as leaders, and very significant change resulted.

Societal Leaders DO NOT Need Managerial Skills

Gandhi, for example, used charisma and determination to make significant contributions in the world. He didn’t need to be a manager because he wasn’t accountable for an organization and he didn’t have an executive management team.

This is quite different from what a manager needs to do within an organization. A manager, by definition, needs to rally a group of assigned individuals to a common purpose – a constrained form of leadership perhaps, but leadership by any definition. They need to be able to lead, certainly, but they also need to be able to manage. Without understanding this distinction, it’s easy to assume that there can be leaders within organizations who don’t need to be able to manage. This is simply not the case.

Organizational Leaders DO Need Managerial Skills

Leadership is indeed an important concept that is carried into the organization. But even though organizations exist in society, they are closed systems that are actually a subset of society. As such, all the things that apply in society do not necessarily apply in organizations. In most modern day organizations, managers are accountable for output of subordinate employees and play an essential role directing, delegating and orchestrating work throughout the organization to achieve intended outcomes. And it’s this set of skills, knowledge and capabilities, together with leadership skills and traits necessary for the role that supports organizational success.