Essay by mettlifeUniversity, Master'sB-, February 2004

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Leadership is one of the most intensely studied and written about areas of management, yet it remains an elusive, complex, and controversial topic. The questions authors attempt to resolve are simultaneously basic and complex. What is leadership? What do leaders do? Are leaders born or made? How do you develop leaders? These are difficult questions since leadership, organizational, environmental, and societal needs are continuously changing. A Nobel Prize awaits the person who cracks the "genetic code" of leadership. Leadership, like beauty, is almost impossible to define...but you know good and poor leadership when you see it. When I first started contemplating leadership and studying the literature on leadership, my initial response was to identify the common characteristics, attributes, traits, and competencies of "great" leaders, past and present, in order to identify similarities, differences, patterns, and trends. What I discovered is that there aren't any. Next, I attempted to break leadership down into elemental parts.

Again failure. One great leader's strength was another equally successful leader's weakness. The defining characteristic of another great leader was conspicuously missing from others (dealing with the issues of "great" and "effective" is another exercise in frustration). Finally, I turned to the mountains of literature published on the issue. To my comfort, and dismay, I soon discovered that others have met the same frustration. Each author's findings and conclusions were contradicted by another's research and findings. In the classic book The Leader of the Future, Peter F. Drucker opens the forward with the statement that "'leadership personality,' 'leadership style,' and 'leadership traits' do not exist" (Hasselbein, et al., 1996). I believe the desire to analyze leadership comes from our desire to understand, master, and control this thing called leadership. If we can reduce leadership to a few key elements, a list of characteristics, or a simple...