What does leadership mean to different leaders?

The definition of leadership can vary, and it can be interpreted in different ways based on a person’s experience. We previously defined the difference between transformational vs transactional leadership and developed a Facebook application with IE Business School to identify your leadership style.

Here’s what leadership means to different leaders

AIESEC International 

  • Leadership is about positively impacting others through living by example and enabling a continuous rippling effect – Ana Sofia Espejo
  • To me leadership reflects in everyday actions and behaviours. Being a leader is not a one-time thing, it’s a life-long commitment – Karolina Piotrowska
  • Leadership is service, empathy and clarity of vision – Giancarlo Ostuni
  • Leadership is the ability to not just have a vision, but to act on it and engage others around you to act on it. Successfully.  – Kevin Cornwell
  • Leadership means to me consciously changing and challenging yourself for a purpose you believe – Vishant Kothari
  • To me leadership means to inspire action, inspire by example, inspire by your stories – Lucia Taboda
  • Leadership is empowering others to become something greater than themselves  – Gordon Ching
Historical figures
  • To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
  • A leader is a dealer in hope. —Napoleon Bonaparte
  • Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations. —Peter Drucker
  • He who has never learned to obey cannot be a good commander. —Aristotle
  • To lead people, walk behind them – Lao Tzu
  • Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other. —John F. Kennedy

Modern leaders

  • As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others. —Bill Gates
  • A cowardly leader is the most dangerous of men. —Stephen King
  • Earn your leadership every day –Michael Jordan
  • Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others. —Jack Welch
  • My job is not to be easy on people. My job is to take these great people we have and to push them and make them even better  —Steve Jobs

What is your definition of leadership? Tell us on Twitter @AIESEC.

Discover your leadership style with the transactional vs transformational leadership quiz.

Transformational Leadership vs Transactional Leadership

Transformational or transactional leadership? Is one better than the other?

The concept of transformational leadership was initially introduced by leadership expert and presidential biographer James MacGregor Burns. According to Burns, transformational leadership can be seen when “leaders and followers make each other to advance to a higher level of moral and motivation.”

Transactional and transformational are the two modes of leadership that tend to be compared the most.

James MacGregor Burns distinguished between transactional leaders and transformational by explaining that:

  • Transactional leader are leaders who exchange tangible rewards for the work and loyalty of followers.
  • Transformational leaders are leaders who engage with followers, focus on higher order intrinsic needs, and raise consciousness about the significance of specific outcomes and new ways in which those outcomes might be achieved.

Here’s a great breakdown chart of transactional vs transformational leadership.

Transactional VS. Transformational
Leadership is responsive Leadership is proactive
Works within the organizational culture Works to change the organizational culture by implementing new ideas
Employees achieve objectives through rewards and punishments set by leader Employees achieve objectives through higher ideals and moral values
Motivates followers by appealing to their own self-interest 
Motivates followers by encouraging them to put group interests first
Management-by-exception: maintain the status quo; stress correct actions to improve performance.
Individualized consideration: Each behaviour is directed to each individual to express consideration and support.
Intellectual stimulation: Promote creative and innovative ideas to solve problems.

However, there has been recent arguments that transformationa lleadership may be more effective in a long-term setting.

“Research evidence clearly shows that groups led by transformational leaders have higher levels of performance and satisfaction than groups led by other types of leaders,” explained psychologist and leadership expert Ronald E. Riggio. The reason, he suggests, is that transformational leaders believe that their followers can do their best, leading members of the group to feel inspired and empowered.

Where transactional leadership works

Rules, procedures and standards are essential in transactional leadership. Followers are not encouraged to be creative or to find new solutions to problems. Research has found that transactional leadership tends to be most effective in situations where problems are simple and clearly-defined.

While transactional leadership can be effective in some situations, it is generally considered an insufficient and may prevent both leaders and followers from achieving their full potential.

How transformational leadership works:

In their classic text, Transformational Leadership , authors Bass and Riggio explained:

“Transformational leaders…are those who stimulate and inspire followers to both achieve extraordinary outcomes and, in the process, develop their own leadership capacity. Transformational leaders help followers grow and develop into leaders by responding to individual followers’ needs by empowering them and by aligning the objectives and goals of the individual followers, the leader, the group, and the larger organization.”

We’ve worked together with Juan-Carlos Pastor, PhD, Professor of Organizational Behaviour at IE Business School, to develop an app on Facebook that helps you determine whether you have a more transactional or transformational leadership style.

Curious which leadership style you are? Click here and find out!