The Importance of Leadership
Group Goals
Leaders Empower Their Followers
Characteristics of Effective Leadership
Idealism and Pragmatism - A Necessary Combination
Company Example
What Is Needed Now


Like most significant words, "leadership" is difficult to define precisely. There are many different ways to understand leadership and many different perspectives from which to define or describe it. Leadership is the process of influencing the behavior of other people toward group goals in a way that fully respects their freedom.

The Importance of Leadership

Leadership has probably never been more important to our organizations and communities than it is today. Our ability to take collaborative action has become central to our social and economic health. Our notion of a leader as a strong individual who knows best, makes crucial decisions, and tells others what to do, is no longer consistent with our understandings of human behavior and our values of human dignity and freedom. Our society's mistrust of authority should not be confused with a mistrust of leaders - mistrust of leaders who do not respect our freedom and instead rely on authority, power and manipulation. Our realization that leaders do not necessarily act in our best interests has made us less compliant to exercises of authority and more needful of true leadership.

Leadership is not a magic solution to human problems and difficulties. At times we may yearn for a dominant figure who will "take charge" of a challenging situation and tell us what to do to be safe and secure. In times of crisis, we may even respond positively to this kind of leadership. But effective leadership is never that simple. It is not a one-time solution but rather a process that engages people for the long term. It requires commitment and trust between follower and leader so that a climate of leadership is created.

Like any long-term process, leadership is cyclical. It is never a question of "doing leadership" perfectly but rather of doing it better every day. Even that process of continuously improving leadership is not a linear one. Failed or ineffective leadership attempts are learning opportunities for one truly committed to the process of leadership. One so committed treads a consistent path of continuous improvement even though within any given period of time the path may reverse or wander.

Leadership is not about commanding and controlling people but about influencing them. To many of this seems too soft and weak. A true leader should make sure that followers do what the leader knows is right. Thus a leader who is committed to influencing others must be an excellent listener and communicator. The heart of influence is to call people to deal with reality: how things are rather than the way they would like them to be. This requires a constant statement and restatement of the "signs of the times." Those in leadership positions are in a unique position to read the signs of the times because they typically have a unique perspective, a view of the whole rather than the parts.

A leader who relies on influence is committed to long term change, constant learning, and continuous listening and communication. Influence based on reality can only be fruitful in an environment of trust.

Group Goals

To be effective in the long run leadership must focus on moving the members of the group toward group goals, not individual goals. Because of this, a leader must constantly be involved in creating and sustaining the mission, vision, and goals of a group. Every effective group needs a clear sense of direction and every member of an effective group needs to be aware of and involved in this process of creating and sustaining this sense of direction. The leader is not someone who brings this direction to a group but rather is one who listens to the heart and minds of the group members and articulates a vision, mission, and goals for the group.

Leaders Empower Their Followers

The simplest way to understand the notion of empowerment is to appreciate that everyone in a group or community exercise leadership - not just the formal leader. This occurs in an environment in which leadership is not seen solely as something which elates as to the rest, but in which everyone can legitimately exercise influence over others. Leaders must work diligently to create such a climate and to arrange the group or societal processes to nurture the leadership potential of all members, especially those who might be traditionally excluded from leadership. This is not as much a question of sharing power as it is of developing the capacity of each follower to influence the behavior of others in empowerment is seen only as sharing power, one is acting out of a model of leadership which relies on coercion and manipulation.

This is the challenge of leadership. A leader who is committed to long term, sustainable change in behavior knows that such change is only possible if people freely choose to change their behavior. Short-term compliance can be achieved with the power of coercion but such change can rarely be sustained without continuing oversight and application of coercion. A leader who fully respects the freedom of group members relies on active listening, clear communication, trust, education, and a constant focus on mission and vision. More important, such a leader reflects an internal freedom of action and thought that generates an authenticity that in turn has a powerful influence on others.

For example, a leader who preaches honesty, who teaches honesty, who focuses on honesty but who does not practice honesty may well respect the freedom of others but will have little impact on their behavior. Such a leader may be tempted to rely on coercion to gain compliance from others rather than confront his or her own failure to live up to espoused values. Such coercion can gain short-term compliance, it cannot achieve the long-term commitment of followers.

There are times, however, when coercion may be necessary as a final resort. This usually represents a failure of leadership attempts to influence behavior. This is usually the case when it becomes necessary to exclude someone from the group or organization. An unbridgeable rift has occurred in values, beliefs, and practices that no amount of leadership can heal. Rather than place the values and practices of the organization at risk, a leader may be required to exclude those who by their actions have already placed themselves outside the group.


Characteristics of Effective Leadership

Leaders respect the dignity and worth of each follower
There are two behaviors which are key to this. First, such leaders do everything possible to reduce status differentials in groups and communities. Status based on socioeconomic factors and job titles can probably never be eliminated from human groups, but leaders must work to de-emphasize those differentials rather than emphasize them. Second, leaders must make clear by their behavior that they value and respect all followers, especially those who are less powerful, less healthy, less educated, younger, older, poorer, less skillful in communication, and different in race, language, religion, gender or sexual orientation from the majority. No leader can be successful in influencing the behavior other people unless those followers trust the leader. The cornerstone of that trust is the confirmed belief that the leader values each follower and is guided by what is fair to all.

Leaders are learners

They learn from success, but they especially learn from their failures to which they freely admit. Leaders are constantly searching for the truth; they are open to reality even when that reality does not accord with their notions of what reality is or ought to be. They can see things as they are and they are not frightened of the change which that view of reality will cause in their own thinking. Leaders are not ideologues, though dictators typically, are.

Leaders have a vision of how things can be different and better
By definition, leaders are concerned about change if one is trying to influence the behavior of another one does so out of some dissatisfaction with the current or likely behavior of the other. One seeks to change that personís behavior. The direction and content of leadership behavior must be guided by a vision of how things can be not just different but butter. That vision of how things can be better must have the following characteristics. There must be an authenticity about the vision based on a clear consistency with the leaderís own personal values - not just espoused values, but values which can be clearly seen in the leaderís personal behavior. That vision must be clearly communicated in both the words and personal behavior of the leader. That vision must be drawn from the values of the followers. That vision must draw people together around the fundamental values which give meaning to the lives of the individual members. A charismatic leader is not someone who creates a vision and then uses it to lead people, but rather someone who draws on the values and meanings of the followers to articulate a common mission which provides meaning and direction to the group.

Effective leaders must be able to deal with ambiguity, uncertainty, and conflict
The number and rate of cultural and technological changes that characterize our world require leaders whose intellectual outlook and personal character enable them to operate effectively in confused and conflicted situation. This ability to act in such situations communicates a sense of confidence and potency to followers.
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Idealism and Pragmatism - A Necessary Combination

In short, effective leaders today can be characterized as pragmatic idealists. They must have a clear sense of values about the importance of all individuals and have the skills and understandings needed to influence the behavior of others while fully respecting their freedom. It is not enough to be a visionary. It has often been observed that there is no shortage of people with good, even revolutionary ideas; there is a shortage of people with good ideas who are able and willing to do the hard, pragmatic work of putting those ideas into practice. If one has a vision of how things ought to be, but he/she is not willing to engage in the work of leadership - listening, learning, empowering, taking risks, and driving relentlessly for real implementation Ė a person will be irrelevant, a "hopeless idealist," "a fuzzy thinking liberal," or worse. On the other hand, if he/she is skillful at implementing ideas without a clear sense of direction, a person will become a "technocrat," able to get things done, but not knowing what things to do or not do.

Company Example:


Nokia is the world leader in mobile communications. Backed by its experience, leadership, innovation, user-friendliness and secure solutions, the company has become the leading supplier of mobile phones and a leading supplier of mobile, fixed and IP networks. By adding mobility to the Internet Nokia creates new opportunities for companies and further enriches the daily lives of people.
Nokia is a good example of using leadership. The company's CEO Jorma Ollila has announced the importance of leadership. True leadership requires a talented and creatively thinking person and still he or she has to go through tough challenges in order to grow into true leadership. That is one of the thesis nokia has used and that is how it has become such a succesful company.

What Is Needed Now?

The challenge is to do what ever is necessary to make sure that our organizations and communities have men and women who are ready and able to exercise the leadership described here. In the past, perhaps, we could wait for economic or political success to identify our leaders. Todayís realities require that we invest in the development of future leaders.


Zigarmi P, Zigarmi D, Blanchard K, Leadership and the One Minute Manager, March 1985.

Warren G. Bennis, On Becoming a Leader, 2nd edition August 1994.

Morgan W. McCall, High Flyers, September 1997.





My name is Kimmo Valtonen and I'm a management major at Turku School of Economics and Business Administration. I will graduate in spring 2003.
Updated 28/11/01


By :Kimmo Valtonen

Turku School of Economics

and Business Administration