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What is leadership?


Leadership is a broad term used in various contexts. In the business and organizational context, leadership often refers to the action or process by which an individual or a group of individuals guides, coordinates, and influences other employees or groups within an organization or company to achieve common goals and objectives. Leadership encompasses not only providing structure and direction but also creating an inspiring environment that fosters motivation and engagement among employees.

Key responsibilities of leadership include:

  1. Setting Vision and Direction: Leaders should develop a clear vision for the future of the company or organization and communicate this vision to inspire and motivate employees.

  2. Decision-Making: Leaders regularly make important decisions that impact the course and strategy of the company. They should be capable of making informed decisions and accepting the consequences.

  3. Communication: Effective communication is crucial for conveying the vision, goals, and expectations clearly and ensuring that all team members are on the same page.

  4. Motivation and Teamwork: Leaders should encourage employee motivation, facilitate teamwork and collaboration, and create a positive work environment.

  5. Delegation: Delegating tasks and responsibilities to qualified employees is a significant aspect of leadership, allowing for the efficient distribution of workloads.

  6. Conflict Management: Conflicts can arise in any organization. Leaders should be able to recognize, address, and resolve conflicts in a constructive manner.

  7. Employee Development: Promoting and developing the skills and abilities of employees is another critical function of leadership. This contributes to enhancing individual performance and the long-term success of the team.

In summary, leadership is not just about establishing a hierarchy but also about creating an inspiring vision, taking responsibility, and fostering an environment where team members can reach their full potential.


The word "leadership" has its origin in the Old English word "lǣdan," which means "to lead" or "to guide." This term evolved over time to become "leadership" in modern English. The concept of leadership, however, predates the specific word and has been a fundamental aspect of human social organization and governance throughout history. Leadership involves guiding, directing, and influencing individuals or groups toward achieving common goals or objectives. It is a central element of human society, politics, organizations, and various aspects of life.

The origin of leadership in the business context can be traced back to ancient times, but the modern concept of leadership has evolved throughout history. Here are some key developmental phases and influences on the origin of leadership in the business context:

  1. Ancient Civilizations: In ancient cultures such as ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, there were leadership figures who served as military commanders, political leaders, and economic leaders. These leadership figures were often determined by their social status or skills.

  2. Early Management Theories: In the 19th century, early approaches to modern management emerged. Frederick Taylor introduced scientific management, which aimed at efficiency and effectiveness in work organization.

  3. Human Relations Movement: In the 1920s and 1930s, studies by Elton Mayo and others highlighted the importance of social relationships and the human side of work. This laid the foundation for modern organizational psychology and the understanding of leadership in terms of employee motivation and engagement.

  4. 20th Century Management Theories: In the 20th century, various management theories emerged that influenced the understanding of leadership. Douglas McGregor introduced Theory X and Theory Y, representing different views on employee motivation and leadership. Other theories, such as participative leadership and transformational leadership, contributed to the development of the modern understanding of leadership.

  5. Globalization and Technology: Globalization and technological advancement have significantly transformed the business world and imposed new requirements on leaders. Virtual teams, decentralized organizations, and the need for a global perspective have expanded the demands on modern leaders.

The origin of leadership in the business context reflects the evolutionary changes in the business world. Modern leaders today must not only be efficient managers but also inspiring visionaries, team players, and adaptable individuals to meet the challenges of today's global economy.


  • Management
  • Supervision
  • Authority
  • Command

Leadership in the social sciences

Leadership in the social sciences is described as the influence over the attitudes and behavior of a group or individuals to achieve a goal. The group perceives leadership as a social role (leader), which operates to varying degrees and intensities. The influence on group behavior can occur directly or indirectly.

Direct Influence

Direct influence is exerted by the leader themselves. Examples of direct influence include setting goals, establishing agreements, or role-modeling specific behaviors by the leader.

Indirect Influence

Indirect influence operates through various means, much like extrinsic motivational factors. This includes incentive systems such as salary increases or promotions. Additionally, cultural norms and values can strongly influence group behavior.

Leadership in Psychology

Psychology describes leadership or people management as actions taken by leaders to influence the cooperation, coordination, and communication of organization members. Leadership facilitates the translation of a goal into daily work and aims to motivate people to achieve it. The leadership process itself can be seen as continuous guidance of those being led. This process can apply to individuals (individual leadership) or groups of people. When a leader is responsible for leading an entire department or organization, the process is referred to as personnel management. A commonly used term for personnel management, especially in the German-speaking world, is the English word "Leadership."

The Beginning of Leadership Research

The Attribution Theory suggests that people need to be led and want to be led. However, this early explanatory approach has limitations and is no longer accepted today. There are individuals who do not wish to be led and prefer self-determination in pursuing their goals.

The Difference Between Management and Leadership

There are fundamental differences between the concepts of management and leadership. A manager possesses a certain level of power solely due to their designated position, which they can use to fulfill their duties. Since leadership is described as influencing behavior, it is essential that those being led accept this influence. Without this acceptance, sustained influence and subsequent behavioral adaptation will likely fail.

Infographic Management vs. LeadershipIt is primarily the acceptance of those being led that defines the difference between a supervisor and a leader. However, it is not to be ruled out that a person in a managerial position can also be a good leader.

Leadership Styles

There is a wide range of leadership styles, and it would go beyond the scope of this lexicon to describe them all in detail. Nevertheless, there are scientific studies that highlight certain leadership styles. For instance, employees under leaders who follow the "Servant Leader" style exhibit significantly higher job satisfaction. The Servant Leader stands out by serving and assisting those being led in their personal development.

A significantly enhanced organizational effectiveness has been observed among both those being led and leaders who apply the leadership style of "Safety Leadership." In this style, leaders aim to establish a culture where dealing with common goals, norms, interests, values, and behaviors is learned.

Infographic well known leadership stiles