Leadership in Contemporary Organisations. An Art and a Science?

Essay 2018 11 Pages

Business economics - Business Management, Corporate Governance



Leadership is one of the most significantly observed and examined phenomena which has remained debatable since ancient civilisations. No social, political and orgnisational subject has been explored more fanatically than leadership. Leadership is a complex group process by which an individual applies influence over other people and inspires, motivates and directs their activities to help their followers in achieving collective goals (Algahtani, A. 2014). Modern concepts of leadership emerge through the diverse political processes, complex career progressions and exceptional societal contributions developed during the twentieth century. The twenty-first century offers several novel challenges to effective leadership meshed with the moral philosophies, hyper-competitiveness, commercialism, internal and external environments, digitisation, sustainable economic prosperity, revolutionising social values, recognising fabric of multiculturism and the expanding globalisation. Leadership is a vital and arduous task, and it is the cornerstone of overall organisational success (Manning, G. and Curtis, K. 2007).

Leadership is not a newly discovered wonder. In fact, it has been cultivated progressively through numerous developmental perspectives and theories to create an evolutionary tree of leadership. The formal study of leadership has spanned across many cultures, revolutionary phases and theoretical beliefs; navigating through the nineteenth century of personality era (Periods of Great Man and Trait Theories) to the twentieth century of the transformational era (Naidoo, G. 2005). In recent times, leaders face multifaceted regional, national and global challenges; therefore, leadership has taken on greater importance than ever before. Great leaders have profound art to powerfully communicate a vision that animates, motivates and inspires their followers (Westley, F. and Mintzberg, H. 1989). Certainly, successful leaders are also getting more familiar with the norms and principles of organisational, behavioural, psychological and socio-political sciences in the present integrative era of global leadership.

Leadership is both an art and a science, the definition of which lies in the eye of the beholder and somewhat subjective. Stogdill (1974, cited in King, A. 1990) claims that "there are almost as many definitions of leadership as those who have attempted to define the concept." Leadership is an art because it continually evolves, changes its conceptual form, shifting its boundaries; and often requires personal judgement and some traits those cannot be fully learned. Leadership is also a science because it involves certain essential principles, processes, standards and learning techniques required to analyse situations, calculate risks and measure results (Bawany, S. 2013). Both aspects of leadership are conceptualised in various leadership theories and developed models. Some old theories support art-side of leadership and a few emphases on technical aspects of leadership while modern theories generally deal both attributes.


Nineteenth and twentieth centuries’ leadership theories and models are the major sources of modern studies for developing new integrative models and visualising future leadership theories covering the strategic thinking and intellectual activities. The philosophical fundamentals of different leadership theories and models are commonly characterised by associated assumptions, analytical techniques, value judgment, focal aspects, situations and the humans’ congruent thought processes. Each leadership theory has its own period of recognition and state of development which in some cases are overlapped. The most widespread theories of the last two centuries are Great Man Theory, Trait Theory, Behavioral Theories, Situational and Contingency Theories, Exchange and Path-Goal Models, Charismatic Transactional Theories and Transformational Theories. The modern leadership theories which are evolved during the current integrative era of the twentieth-first century are Constructive Theory, Leadership within Leaning Organisations, Distributed Leadership and the Post-Transformational Theories (Barbuto, J. 2014).

Despite the evident practicality of all leadership theories observed during various leadership evolutionary periods starting from the Great Man Theory (1840s) to Transactional and Transformational Theories (1980s) still, present-day intellects have deep divisions about the predictive elements of leadership (Amanchukwa et al, 2015). After the introduction of new variables in the current multi-dimensional arena of leadership, different building blocks of existing theories no doubts emit diverse interpretations bewildering organisations in their adaptions which consequently, making it further blurred to realise that either leadership is an art or a science or both. Storey, J. (2004) suggests that the leadership in learning organisations has evolved with changing theories of leadership and the leadership development. Indeed, new leadership theories promote the concept of transformation, visionary, charismatic and inspirational leadership. According to Proteus Leadership (Australia) “role of a leader is both an art and a science”.

Our understanding of leadership theories is also kept on changing due to transitional shifts of their fundamental elements such as the art of communication to the science of communication and art of social studies and human behaviour to the sociopolitical neuroscience and emotional intelligence. In addition to these apparent transformations, fast-paced changes, permeable organisational boundaries, complex technologies, multiple decision matrices, multicultural and multipolar contexts, and extensive political influences have reduced the gaps between art and science elements of modern leadership (Kerr, F. 2014). Therefore, firms are now reorganising and redefining old leadership indicators in the new era. Nahavandi A. (2000) recommends that these structural changes and redefinitions require a new look at the role and functions of effective leadership while old theories do not explain all the current changes adequately.


Researchers have struggled for last two centuries in solving the jigsaw puzzles of leadership to form an integrated and cohesive view of the art and science of leadership. Day and Antonakis (2012) argue that leadership is an evolving construct that reflects ongoing fluctuations in this challenging world. Accordingly, elucidations of leadership in the context of art and science also vary. As per USA Military Academy, 1925 “leadership is the art of imposing one’s will upon others to command their obedience, their respect, and their loyal cooperation”. Hodges, D (2015) expresses that leadership itself is an aesthetic concept, not simply a utilitarian one, therefore leaders are artful in their approaches to gaining followers. Depree, M (2004) concludes that leadership is an art, organised with an eye more for aesthetics than for argument in keeping with the title. On contrary, Goldstien et al (2010) clearly stress on the ecologies of innovation navigating leadership towards ‘generative leadership’ based on contemporary practices and novel framework. Nancy, E. (1998) and Anderson, J. (2015) advocate for both approaches through contemplative leadership by using proven principles, shrewd control, effectiveness and rationality.

Every theory and model of leadership illustrates its fundamental instruments and specific driving forces enabling researchers to visualise art and science sides of leadership. The well-known Great Man Theory (proposed by a Scottish philosopher, Thomas Carlyle in 1840) is purely based on the intrinsic lineage of greatness through heroic imageries of world exceptional personalities, especially military leaders (Cherry, K. 2017). This nineteenth century’s theory gives a narrow definition of leaders through its art-side of leadership with key emphasis on masculine characteristics postulating that leaders are born with natural skills and inimitable gifted qualities. The 1930s Trait Theory stresses on specific sets of traits and some patterns of personal characteristics own by individuals which benefit them to stand out and distinguish from non-leaders (Maslanka, A. 2004). The original Trait Theory believes that leaders are either born or are made with certain qualities as identified by an American social physiologist Gordon Allport. However, Stogdill R (1948) claims that no consistent pattern of traits and behaviors could be detected among leaders during his examination of trait studies in the Ohio State leadership studies. Further, the lack of defined boundaries of leadership qualities and the uncertain applications of leadership traits in the changing conditions and growing contests have placed Trait Theory towards the art-side of leadership.

The Behavioral Theory (1950s), Contingency/ Situational Theories (1960s-1970s) offer new perspectives focus on human behaviour, actions and leadership styles in response to the external environment and situations which opens new windows for methodical studies of leadership. With the evolutions in psychometrics and social science, notably the factor analysis, researchers were able to measure the cause an effects relationship and behavioral repertoire (Katherine et al, 2009). These theories have recognised the determinants and styles of leadership so that people can be trained to be leaders for multipart situations critical in the orchestrating changes. The development of these theories helps researchers to categorise similar influential attributes of leadership to integrate important leader styles and behaviors. Allowing for the complexity and situational specificity, studies of these theories brings new possibilities that leadership could be different in every situation (Saal and Knight, 1988). Stump, S. (1995) argues that even the behavioural and situational simulations are practice fields for exploring the implications of new science, however depending on the tasks, styles, behaviors, and skills of the people involved; different solutions emerge for similar issues without any tangible structure. Similarly, some contingencies and decision-making models such as House’s (1971), Vroom-Yetton’s (1973) and Vroom-Jago (1988) provide leaders the necessary directions and guidelines (Krumm, 2011); yet, fail to develop accurate insights of leadership proven on scientific principles and standards. Therefore, Behavioral and Contingency/ Situational Theories and its connected models normally tend to fall into the art-side of leadership rather in science.


The new leadership era of 1980's witnessed the development of modern theories when the notions of leadership further diluted between art and science of leadership. This era represents the most promising phase in the evolutionary development of leadership theories. New leadership theories promote the concepts of emotional, transformational, visionary, charismatic, inspirational and intellectually leadership which acknowledge the reciprocal influence of the leaders and followers (Sohmen, V. 2013). Instead of considering leadership as an influence process, the new theories views leaders as the individual who evaluate and create the meaning by making sense of events. (Parry & Bryman, 2006). The Transactional-Transformational Model truly reflects the complexity of perspective considering logical themes of social neuroscience, cognitive complexity, intuition, emotional intelligence, leader skill maturation and the system intelligence. Bass, B. (1994) found that transactional leaders have economic orientations towards their leadership whereas, transformational leaders raise the consciousness of followers. In both cases, leaders to learn and recognise new leadership principles best suited to their respective local environment.

Unlike the traditional leadership theories which highlight rational processes and unlimited leaders’ attributes, Transactional and Transformational Theories emphasise on emotions, values, and intelligence which also acknowledge the importance of symbolic behaviour (Yukl, G. 1999). Regardless of strengths and weakness of both leadership constructs in practice as explored by Sarros, J. and Santora, J. (2001), these leadership theories demonstrate the definite processes and methods acquiring leadership skills to assess all possibilities through a bird-eye view of internal-external environments. The validity of the Transformational Transactional leadership theories (Bass and Avolio’s full-range leadership model-1994) has also been confirmed by John Antonakis in 2001 and by Charles R Salter in 2014. These new leadership theories, in fact, exhibit a mixed portrait of leadership which simultaneously illustrate both scientific and non-scientific features of leadership in the modern time.

The Transactional and Transformational Theories conclusively reflect the leadership phenomenon on the principles of science and characteristics of art. The structures of these two theories are fundamentally erected on the strong pillars of intellectualism, human psychology and redefining experiences. The core of these theories accentuates the effective use of the leadership’s art through uncluttered leader-follower interactions, human values, personal beliefs, professional aids, ethics and cross-cultures. In parallel, both leadership theories also demand leaders to promote innovation, plan new goals, lead drastic changes and foster the material and psychological respires for information processing, decision-making and delegation strategies to match the mission-relevant environment (Hogg, M. 2003). This component of deployment of human skills to create a transaction or transformation is also based on the philosophies of social science, emotional intelligence and psychological standards. Goleman D et al (2003) expresses that emotional intelligence matters enormously for leaders which offer the essential competencies for resonant leadership to vibrate and upbeat the followers in the same fashion enthusiastically.

Art and science perspectives of new leadership also include human character, spirit, vision, wisdom, partnership, collaboration and learning skills through systematic progressions as well as traditional observations. Without the strong development of leadership skills, practices of the learning organisation would not get off the ground (Anderson, T 1998). Durbin et al (2012) conclude that modern studies do make a difference in leadership effectiveness. Spahr, P (2016) expresses that focusing on results and group organisation; Bill Gates, Howard Schultz and Vince Lombardi have practiced transactional leadership. Transformational leaders such as Gandhi and Ryan White have also played a pivotal role in the precipitating change (Northhouse, 2015). Klanin, G (2004) suggests that leadership is a combination of art and science. An interesting view was expressed by Huan, K. (2014) that contemporary leadership offers both attributes. It is a science when it encompasses universally consistent rules and principles to be applied by leaders to their specific local situations avoiding risks. Whereas recurrently emerging abilities, creatively using self-experiences by desired fine-tuning and production of elegant results make leadership an art. Morton, G. (2017), also echoes that leadership is an art based on the inherited as well as gained qualities through hard work and it is a science by learning new techniques for deriving success.


Leaders are role models for their followers and their organisational associates, and role of the modern-day leaders covers both art and science. The landscape of leadership has been transformed in recent era demanding leaders to acquire and learn newly established skills for their feats against imminent challenges and unexpected crises. Leadership is a complex social phenomenon and a prism refracting various attributes of leaders to exhibit a holistic aspect of the art and science of leadership. Effective leadership is an essential part of present-day organisations to construct, monitor and reinforce result-orientated and team building cultures through desired motivation, robust negotiation and astute dispute resolution. Governing contemporary, productive, and competitive organisations requires outstanding abilities to build long-lasting successful teams (Llopis, 2012) and therefore, being more effective, leaders need to put their efforts into mastering the art and science of becoming a great mentor, coach and manager. The visionary, dynamic and emotionally intelligent leaders create a learning climate of challenges, enthusiasm and inspiration where people feel most innovative, productive and optimistic.

Leadership is a fluid process of different mindsets and the form it takes is ever changing. Beginning from the inheritance, traits, behavioral and situational panaches of earlier leadership and learning through charismatic, transactional, cultural, transformational leadership up to the modern self-fulfilling prophecy period, leadership connotations have been kept evolving. There is not a single perfect formula of a standard approach to become an effective leader. There is not a one size fit model for leadership to follow by all leaders. The single most important element is to be rational to comprehend the universal definition of leadership which certainly in current time highlights multiple features of leadership. The art part of leadership kicks in when leaders place their own interpretation on what they observe, learn and assemble through their personal experiences. The science part of leadership theories in the current integrated social context has already shaped the original contours of leadership emphasising on the urgent need for incessant improvements through the adoption of global standards, settled values and proven principles.

In conclusion, the leadership interpretation lies in the eyes of beholders that how they perceive its functions. It is certain that modern leadership has both elements of art and science however, the tendencies to remain in equilibrium between the art and science depend upon its complexities as well as its simplicities. Through conducting experiments and systematic research, the novelty of leadership models makes it possible to create the definable and replicated results, therefore reshaping leadership more of a science. This side of leadership is fascinating for learning organisations and modern-day businesses to foresee performances, but still, they require the art of conversant leadership to perform these actions.


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Title: Leadership in Contemporary Organisations. An Art and a Science?