What Is The Fundamental Nature of Leadership?

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Photo by steved_np3

What is leadership? In this short article I will be assessing how the literature describes leadership and what the fundamental nature of leadership is.

Merton defined leadership as being a social exchange or transaction between those leading and those following (1969, pp. 2615-2616). Further, Barker (2001) discussed the view that leadership is an industry (p. 469) that revolves around a continuous social process (p. 472).  Determining what the nature of a good leader is within this social construct is a topic of debate (Barker, 2001, p. 470), however the general activities expected of leaders are to: adapt to change; be alert to environmental factors; be both present and future focused, represent the group or team to it’s environment; manage resources; express aspirations that resonate with the group or team; motivate the group or team; define the values and ideals of the group or team; arbitrate and mediate conflict; be the scapegoat (Merton, 1969, pp. 2616-2617). In 1994, Wills suggested that the primary role of a leader is to mobilize others toward a shared goal (p. 17).

In 2001 Hogg suggested that a leader could be the same as any other group member, except that they are involved in “actively influencing other people” (p. 189). Hogg explains this influence as something that a leader already has in an existing group or acquires in a new group because they are “socially attractive”. It is this social attractiveness that Hogg indicates is the reason a leader is able to “secure compliance with suggestions and recommendations he or she makes” (2001, p. 189). This is important as Hogg defines leadership as “a process of influence that enlists and mobilizes the involvement of others in the attainment of collective goals; it is not a coercive process in which power is exercised over others” (2001, p. 194).

Based on the deductions of the research since 1969 the fundamental nature of leadership could be considered as being a social hierarchy that develops both intentionally and unintentionally where two or more people group together. The person who best fits the prototype of a leader in a given situation will naturally become the leader intentionally or unintentionally in the majority of group situations as a result of their learned or natural social attractiveness. This prototype may be something as simple as being the most prototypical team member, or in other words, the member that best exemplifies the ideals of the group (Hogg, 2001, p. 189).


Barker, R. A. (2001). The nature of leadership. Human Relations, 54(4), 469-494. doi: 10.1177/0018726701544004

Hogg M. A. (2001). A social identity theory of leadership. Personality & Social Psychology Review (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates), 5(3), 184-200. Retrieved from http://psr.sagepub.com/

Merton, R. K. (1969). The social nature of leadership. American Journal of Nursing, 69(12), 2614-2618. Retrieved from http://journals.lww.com/AJNOnline/pages/default.aspx

Wills, G. (1994). Certain trumpets: The call of leaders. New York: Simon & Schuster.

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