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Leadership as an abstract concept emerges in situations where one or more entities ("leaders") gain pre-eminence over other entities ("followers").

Traditional academic study of leadership often concentrates on the ways in which leadership emerges and fades (organically or by imposition) and changes; and on different leadership "styles" (autocratic, democratic, participatory, mixed, ad hoc, etc). Attempts to study quality of leadership face difficulties in finding direct measurable parameters. Some academics distinguish transformational leaders from transactional leaders.

Separate qualities sometimes associated with leadership may include talent, technical/specific skill[?], initiative, charismatic inspiration[?] and service to a cause. The skills and practices of "leadership" may compare with management in the broadest sense of that word. In this connection one can view leadership as

In other uses of the word "leadership": it can mean a collective group of leaders or it can also mean the special if not mystical characteristics of those who lead (compare hero). Yet other usages have a leadership which does not lead, but to which one simply shows respect[?] (compare the courtesy title reverend). Aside from the prestige-role sometimes granted to inspirational[?] leaders, a more mundane meaning of the word "leadership" can mean "current front-runners": someone can take over the lead in a race, for example; or a corporation or a product can hold a position of market leadership.

In would-be controlling groups such as political parties, ruling elites, and other belief-based enterprises like religions or business, the idea of leadership can become a Holy Grail and people can come to expect transformational change stemming from the leader; such entities encourage their followers and believers to worship leadership, to respect it, and to strive to become proficient in it. Followers in such a situation may become uncritically obedient[?]. Note the different connotations of a synonym of the word "leader" adopted from the German: Führer. Alternatives to the cult of leadership include co-operative ventures, collegiality[?], consensus, anarchism and democracy.

Aristocratic thinkers have postulated that leadership depends on one's blue blood or genes. Contrariwise, more democratically-inclined theorists have pointed to examples of meritocratic leaders, such as the Napoleonic marshals profiting from careers open to talent. In similar fashion, traditionalists recall the role of leadership of the the Roman pater familias; against which feminist thinking posits emotionally attuned responsive and consensual empathetic[?] guidance.

Many organisations aim to identify, foster and promote leadership potential or ability. See for example the Scouting movement.

For a more general take on leadership in politics, compare the concept of the statesman.

Leadership Metaphors

  • An effective leader resembles an orchestra conductor in some ways. She has to somehow get a group of poentially diverse and talented people -- many of whom have strong personalities -- to work together toward a common output. Will the conductor harness and blend all the gifts her players possess? Will the players be happy with the degree of creative expression they have? Will the audience be pleased by the sound they make? The conductor may have a determining influence on all of that.

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