According to many different sources and many different people, leadership can have multiple meanings. At any given time, these meanings can become dependent upon who you ask and when. However, no matter how many people you ask, there are certain criteria that many agree make up a good leader; leadership is about solving problems, it is about inspiring others to follow, it is about enabling people to use their imagination, and finally it is about encouraging people to feel empowered. While a leadership maxim may sound fairly convincing, examining leadership from a theory perspective provides an approach based on scientific evidence.
A maxim is essentially a moral statement about a universal truth. It is subjective and based on one person’s explanation of what leadership is or should be. A theory is a summary that describes how and why a set of behaviors or events occurs. Theories and maxim can both explain phenomena however a theory is usually based on multiple research projects while a maxim is based on a single opinion. Theories explain more information in a simpler way, they are more specific and more accurate and a theory can be tested. According to Yukl (1989) “differences between researchers in their conception of leadership lead to differences in the choice of phenomena to investigate and differences in the interpretation of the results” (p252). Therefore, it’s important to understand what people mean by leadership before one can study it properly. This cannot be done by using maxims.
There are a multitude of ways in which leadership can be assessed but according to Northouse (2012), “leadership is a process, it involves influence, it occurs in groups and finally, leadership involves common goals.” (p.5). Because leadership is such a difficult concept to study, we use the leadership theory to collect data, develop observations, create explanations and answer questions. Drath (2001) says, “Leaders lead because followers are convinced of the truth of their leadership” (p.13). That is, leaders demonstrate traits people recognize because we all share at least one leadership characteristic with other people. All in all, there are several different approaches used to assess a leader. As pointed out in our commentary PSU WC, (2013):
First a competency model would be developed in order to define a certain set of skills and abilities…