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What Constitutes Leadership Effectiveness?

September 20, 2013 by Dr. Jon Warner in Leadership and Management

What Constitutes Leadership Effectiveness?

The whole concept of what constitutes leadership effectiveness is difficult to be completely clear about because it is a multi-faceted topic that may have a wide variety of possible components: But despite the challenges, let’s make an attempt to define what in broad terms is likely to be involved.

A working definition of leadership effectiveness is as follows:

“The successful exercise of personal influence by an individual, which results in accomplishing one or several goals as a result of the coordinated efforts of those who are led.”

This definition assumes that there is some formal control of one person over others (for influence to occur) and that the purpose of any group of people is for goals or pre-set targets to be achieved. It also assumes that a team of people can be led to better coordinate their efforts. But are these assumptions really true? Let’s look at each of these one at a time.

A leaders needs to control or be in charge of others in order to exert proper influence

In the earliest days of writing about leadership as a concept (and certainly in most of the notable research up to the 1960’s or so), almost all of the emphasis from writers and thinkers on the subject of leadership or management was placed on the leader needing to be an individual who was formally “in-charge” or possessing some legitimate authority over his or her designated followers. However, thinking about effective leadership has increasingly shifted to a much broader base and now includes any successful attempt to influence a group, whether or not there is formal authority or control in place (and in fact willingness to follow has assumed much greater importance).  This shift has occurred not only because the old-style command and control approach has been challenged by more democratic leadership methods but because it has made more sense to devolve some parts of the leadership role to individual team members who have the expertise or ability to perform them. For example, we can now successfully have task or project leaders who have no formal direct reports. Another example here is a technology leader, whose influence is mainly technical and indirect. These new models do not preclude the need for people management but they do add more flexibility into the mix in terms of indirect and informal leadership approaches.

Leadership is fundamentally about directing or steering people to achieve one or more goals

For a group of people to work together successfully, it is often necessary to coordinate individual effort to achieve both short and long-term goals or targets and in this model it is the leader’s prime responsibility to guide this effort.  At the widest level, this is to ensure that the team appreciates the longer-term direction for their efforts (often described as the group’s vision) and in a more narrow sense it is about setting specific task or project targets for individuals in the group being led (often as part of a formal objective setting and appraisal of performance system).

Rather like the greater democratization of leadership practices described above, more recent approaches have moved away from the formal top-down approach and now allows for individuals to set their own goals and targets much more often (and certainly to determine how they will perform a task or project even if what is to be achieved is set from above). In some cases, this may even extend to “self-direction” or a situation in which the team operates collectively to determine its work priorities and which goals and targets are to be pursued. In these circumstances the formal leader may only intervene if there is a wider conflict with other teams in the organization.

Leadership should be exercised to better coordinate team efforts

Which individuals need to work alone or need to work collectively to achieve the goals of the group is often seen to be a primary task of a leader in authority, who thereby spends considerable time in determining the match between the knowledge and skills of particular team members and the tasks that need to be carried out. Put another way, a leader’s key role under this model is to ensure that individuals work in well-coordinated, cooperative, efficient and effective ways to get tasks done.

Once again the approach in more recent times has been to give individuals considerably more freedom to determine not only what they feel confident to do (in terms of knowledge and skill) and what to work on (in terms of task) but also to determine whether they can perform tasks on their own or need to ask for help from other team members. Once again, if this operates well in a mature fairly self-directing group, the need for formal leader intervention is minimal (and would be reserved only for tasks/projects which seem to be beyond group ability to handle them, which may be rare).


Historically, leadership effectiveness was measured in terms of a leader’s influence in controlling others, to set and achieve goals and to coordinate the reporting team’s efforts on a “top-down” basis. However, although these factors may still play a part, leadership effectiveness is now likely to involve other factors, some of which are more important in terms of determining overall success, and to apply in part to individuals in a non-formal leadership role.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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