Leaders are usually in charge of other people or responsible for them. The political system of every country in the modern world has political leaders. Some countries retain a monarch, although in some countries, such as Holland, the monarch has a diplomatic rather than a political leadership role. Businesses with multiple employees usually have one or more managers who lead the enterprise. Different departments within a business may have their own leaders, such as a production manager, sales manager and head of accounts. Successful businesses and brands are sometimes called market leaders. Groups and teams usually have a leader, including orchestras, rescue teams, sports teams and religious groups. Sometimes a group, such as a board of directors, management team or the Senate, can lead.
Social scientists argue that what a leader actually does depends largely on the qualities of the organization, political system or the wider social setting in which he or she functions. For example, a totalitarian regime will tend to produce an autocratic leader. Functional leadership theory, proposed by Richard Hackman, a professor of Social and Organizational Psychology at Harvard University, suggests that the most important leadership quality is promoting the effectiveness and cohesion of the group. Fred Fiedler defined a good leader as one whose prime concern was carrying out the group's task.
Leadership qualities may identify who the leader should be in a group, or who the de facto leader is. Evaluating the leadership qualities of rival candidates is essential for responsible democratic elections. Identifying leadership qualities may assist leaders in becoming more effective. Members of an organization may seek to develop their leadership qualities to advance within the organization. Junior employees and students may seek to develop leadership qualities to improve their vocational prospects or to pursue a political career. Quality management seeks to improve operational efficiency. Joseph Juran (1904–2008), referred to by some as the father of quality assurance, was a major proponent of performing quality assurance techniques on management.
In Plato's Republic, the classical Greek philosopher Socrates (469 BCE–399 BCE) addressed the qualities that distinguish an individual as a leader. He favored intelligence as the most important quality, suggesting that honor, economic leverage and physical might were characteristic of inferior leaders. Socrates implied that all these characteristics were innate. In his 1869 work, Hereditary Genius, Francis Galton observed that the numbers of relatives sharing leadership roles were lower among more distant relatives of famous leaders, leading him to the conclusion that leadership was inherited. Heredity used to be the most common criteria for leadership, such as among monarchs.
Machiavelli (1469–1527) discussed a pragmatic and cynical approach to leadership in The Prince, which associated leadership with economic, military or political power. This approach was adopted by the "enlightened despots" of the 19th century such as Frederick the Great of Prussia, Catherine the Great of Russia and Maria Theresa of the Hapsburg Empire, as well as the autocratic despots of the 20th century, including Hitler and Stalin. Ethics and virtue are generally considered essential qualities in leadership. Unethical leadership that harms those being led is sometimes called toxic leadership.
Thomas Carlyle in On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History (1841) assumed that leadership emanated from the characteristics of leaders themselves. Leadership by the oldest or strongest member of a group, or the member with the highest IQ would fit into Carlyle's perspective. Fred Greenstein suggested six principal personal qualities associated with political leadership: vision of public policy, proficiency as a public communicator, cognitive style, emotional intelligence, organizational capacity and political skill.
Visionary leaders are either able to predict future public policy trends accurately or set and communicate public policy goals persuasively. Pragmatism, considered a virtue by many, requires that goals be translated into a clear agenda and into action. Public speaking is usually the medium for rallying political support.
"Top heavy" leadership is generally considered ineffective. The ability to delegate downwards is essential. A board of directors is not supposed to carry out the day-to-day work of a global corporation. Instead, directors employ workers and appoint a chief executive officer to manage the workers. Appointments serve other personal and political goals also. An effective leader may need to create or adapt a hierarchy.
While intelligence stands out as a key prerequisite for leadership, this can be acquired and expressed in many different ways. Some leaders acquire and display knowledge by attending an Ivy League School or obtaining a doctorate. Juran advocated management training and education to promote effective leadership. Another facet of intelligence is emotional intelligence, which includes the ability of a leader to understand the feelings and needs of the individuals in the group.