What is leadership?

Leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena. (James MacGregor Burns)

For many years, the prevailing view was that not everyone can develop leadership. This myth has persisted because we are often faced with the question of whether we have to be born as leaders or whether leadership can be learnt. Posner and Kouzes answer this question very wittily:

"Of course, a leader has to be born. I have never met a leader who was not born. But not only leaders have to be born – so do accountants, artists, athletes, parents, zoologists, etc. We all have to be born, but what we do in our lifetime is up to us and us alone."

Another myth associated with leadership is that leadership is associated with job position. There is a notion that leadership starts with a capital 'L' and so when we reach a high position in the hierarchy of an organisation, we automatically become leaders. In reality, however, this is not the case. It is just a myth that leading people is not for everyone. Leadership integrates an obvious set of skills and abilities that a leader can use in all areas of his or her life. 

Posner asks extremely interesting questions in his work The Leadership Challenge:

"Why is it that people don't doubt at all that management can be learned, that one is not born a manager but can work one's way up to the position? Why do we see management as a set of certain skills and abilities, while leadership is seen as a set of innate personal qualities and characteristics?"

Indeed, many people believe that management can be learned and that they can become good managers if they work hard enough. In our view, this is because there are so many business schools and management universities. The attitudes, skills and knowledge learned are then combined with good management practices. In almost all organisations, the view has taken root that management skills can be acquired through education. This is true. However, this does not apply only to management practices. The same applies to leadership.

We at Mazars in Slovakia are of the opinion that leadership can be learned and you do not have to be born a leader, but you can become one. It is also important to realize that ethics and leadership go hand in hand in organizations of different types. An ethical environment leads to effective leadership and vice versa – effective leadership leads to the creation of an ethical organisational culture and thus to the moral development of the organisation.

Therefore, it could be said that effective leadership is the result of ethical behaviour and actions, and ethical behaviour and actions are in turn the result of effective leadership that can foster conditions for a psychologically safe environment.

At the start of this chain is leadership, represented by the leader. Leaders have many opportunities to influence the process of shaping a desirable organizational culture. Another part of this chain is organisational culture, which is actually the sum of all values and behaviours in a given organization. As we can see from the above chain, leadership has a direct influence on the creation and formation of an ethical organizational culture

Assuming that leaders appropriately influence the creation of an ethical organizational culture that fosters a safe environment and ethical behaviour by primary stakeholders, building trust is a natural response. Trust is the magic element in this chain that binds and cements the entire organization. Without this important link, the organisation would be just a group of disparate individuals, each going his or her own way and pursuing only his or her own interests. Trust is that wonderful thing that can do great wonders in an organisation.

All of this leads to the final link in the chain, long-term success. The long-term success of an organization can be defined as the optimal, sustainable satisfaction of the needs of all stakeholders in it

Within our PERMA Leadership Academy programme, we focus on the application of modern PERMA well-being theory to support the building of meaningfulness and credibility for individuals, teams, and the organization as a whole.