Academic journal article Journal of Leadership Studies

Leadership - Is That What We Study?

Academic journal article Journal of Leadership Studies

Leadership - Is That What We Study?

Article excerpt

Executive Summary

Leadership is a key issue in the development of groups, organizations and nations. The study of leadership plays a crucial role in the behavioral and management sciences. It receives a lot of attention and is intensively explored. However, leadership is different from headship or appointmentship. This study set itself the task of investigating whether studies on leadership really focus on this very phenomenon or do they refer to appointmentship instead. Recent research in the area of leadership is examined and analyzed, covering 113 papers published during the fifteen years between 1981-1995. Four leading journals in the behavioral studies were chosen, which have a specific interest and regularly publish papers in the area of leadership. The findings indicate that in most cases, papers which attempted or puported to study leadership are in fact focusing on "appointmentship". This is more apparent in empirical field studies. Implications are discussed and ideas are suggested for future research.


One of the most prominent subjects under study in the behavioral and management studies is leadership. The examination of leadership characterizes various kind of studies, and it is the focus of many papers in the academic and professional journals (cf. Mitchell 1979, DeMeuse 1986). The area varies - there are studies which focus on leadership theories whereas others cover rather practical aspects. Theoretical work on leadership was developed throughout the century, starting with `trait theory' (based on trait and other characteristics of leaders), through to theories which focus on the way leaders use and exploit power, theories which explore behavioral approaches (most notably Ohio and Michigan studies), others which look at contingencies (e.g. House goal-path model, 1971; Vroom & Yetton, 1973/Vroom & Jago, 1988), and finally those which consider situational aspects. These theories were explored and consequently numerous empirical studies were published, many of which are of importance to practitioners too. Recent developments saw the transactional versus transformational leadership, also known as the visionary leadership model (Sashkin, 1988; Bass and Avolio, 1994).

To test these theories scientists employ empirical studies, where the population under investigation is supposed to consist of leaders. Some are field studies whereas others are termed laboratory studies. It is not clear, however, whether these populations really represent cases of leadership, especially in light of the circumstances and kind of situation within which the events took place.

The aim of this paper is to explore how far studies directed in the phenomenon of leadership are focusing on actual leadership cases or do they rather focus on another phenomenon - appointmentship. There is a significant difference between the two. Appointmentship is a case where a person is granted, through an external authority, certain power and responsibilities over other people. The emergence of leadership, however, is concerned with inner processes, where people recognise and are ready and willing to be influenced by a person (see further discussion and definitions). As results, it is not simple, and perhaps even misleading to draw an analogy from one phenomenon to the other. Even worse is ignoring the difference and referring to one phenomenon as if it was actually the other. The distinction between the two is not novel (see for example Gibb 1969, Hollander 1978, Bass 1990), but the scope of the phenomenon is yet to be revealed.

Theoretical Framework

Scholars have always been trying to define what is leadership and what is effective leadership (and subsequently - how to achieve effective leadership). Already in 600BC, the Chinese Tao Te King defined leadership: "Most leaders are despised, some leaders are feared, few leaders are praised, and the rare leader is never noticed" (cited in Andriessen and Drenth 1984). …

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