Why Leadership Doesn’t Change the World

Over the last century of studying leadership, a myriad of definitions have surfaced, all having variations that range from subtle detail differences to opposing perspectives all together. Scholars and practitioners have been unable to come to a universal consensus of leadership for the better part of a century, (Northouse, 2013, p. 2) and there are currently “as many different definitions of leadership as there are people who have tried to define it.” (Northouse, 2013, p. 2) According to Rost (1993), there are over 200 definitions for leadership.

The issue is not a lack of understanding on leadership, or a lack of theories. The issue lies in the application and adherence to a given leadership theory. Since leadership is influence, the focus is on how a leader affects followers. (Northouse, p. 5) The influence used by leaders is considered a process that moves groups of individuals to achieve common goals. (Northouse, p. 15) The two ends of the leadership extremes see the use of influence very differently. On one end there are coercive styles of leadership that focus on impressing the leader’s will upon others inducing obedience, (Northouse, p. 2) while on the other end leadership theories focus on the concerns and needs of followers using influence to nurture growth. (Northouse, p. 219) Theories are not necessarily practical reality, and the human factor always plays a role. Rather, theory is the postulation of reality that requires measurement and adequate observation. (Kuhn, 2012) Though leaders have the ability to influence according to a leadership theory, followers always have the will to choose not to follow, or to follow another leader. The world is still riddled with issues because some followers choose to not follow positive leadership theories for less positive leadership theories; or no leadership at all.


Kuhn, T. S., & Hacking, I. (2012). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: 50th Anniversary Edition (Fourth Edition edition.). Chicago ; London: University Of Chicago Press.

Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership: theory and practice (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks: SAGE.

Rost, J. (1993). Leadership for the Twenty-First Century (Reprint edition.). New York: Praeger.

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