A Leadership Development glossary


Ever since leadership entered the agenda of management thinking with full force in the 1970s, the debate has branched out into multiple research and practice streams. Our earlier blog post on leadership definitions broadly categorized the three dominant understandings of leadership

  1. As a trait or a capability, that is something a leader has or something he or she is able to do

  2. As a leader’s behavior or way to play

  3. As something emerging in leader-follower relationships

Extending on those definitions, we have started pulling together a glossary of key terminology relevant for our business design work on leadership development. This list is not exhaustive and we plan to extend and elaborate that list as we go along. If you feel something is missing please leave a comment below. Please check out the Leadership Development Kit and the according Kit Board Canvas for our business design approach to develop leadership in action.


Adaptive leadership – see situational leadership

Authentic leadership – a relational perspective on leadership focusing on the effects of self-awareness and self-regulation in the behaviors of leaders/followers. As per Avolio and Gardner’s definition, authentic leadership development involves the “ongoing processes whereby leaders and followers gain self-awareness and establish open, transparent, trusting and genuine relationships” (see Defining Leadership)

Interpersonal perspectives on leadership – see relational leadership and leader-follower relations

Leader-follower relations – the interpersonal relationships and interactions between leaders and followers, regardless of whether they are peers, or in a formal or informal authority relationship, or whether roles of leader and follower are shifting in the course of the interaction

Leadership behavior – understanding leadership as something leaders do (their ‘way to play’), examining how leaders act and with what outcomes. Behavioral views of leadership allow to focus on leadership patterns (e.g. task-oriented, people-oriented, change-oriented, strategy-focused), leadership roles (e.g. delegating, directing, supporting, coaching, reflecting), or leadership styles (e.g. autocratic, bureaucratic, transactional, laissez-faire)

Leadership definitions – see our recent blog post Defining Leadership

Leadership patterns – see leadership behavior

Leadership process – the view that leadership is a goal-oriented process driven by multiple actors in leading-following interactions (see Defining leadership). According perspectives shift the focus of leadership development interventions away from an exclusive focus on single individuals and formal ranks or roles

Leadership traits – if leadership is understood as being connected to the personal traits of an individual leader, leadership traits are, for example, task competences (intelligence or functional skills) or interpersonal attributes (cooperation abilities, persuasiveness, etc.). From this point of view, leadership (as in good leader performance) is the result of something an individual possesses in the form of certain desirable attributes. And it’s those attributes that differentiate a leader from other people

Leadership roles – see leadership behavior

Leadership skills – in contrast to the concept of leadership stemming purely from a leader’s traits (“what leaders are”), recent research has focused on the importance of certain acquirements or capabilities and relatedly the correlation of skills or capabilities (“what leaders can accomplish”)

Leadership styles – see leadership behavior

Relational leadership – focusing on leadership as something that happens in interpersonal connections like leader-follower relationships – in contrast to both the “leadership as traits/skills” and “leadership as behavior” approaches, which focus on individual leaders. Interpersonal perspectives address the social mechanisms that take place in leadership processes and focus on how leadership has impact, whether it’s in hierarchical top-down/bottom-up or more lateral and integrated structures

Servant leadership – a view of leadership which emphasized the ‘service function’ to organizations and those being lead provided by leaders. Servant leadership “is displayed by leaders who combine their motivation to lead with a need to serve. [It is] demonstrated by empowering and developing people; by expressing humility, authenticity, interpersonal acceptance, and stewardship; and by providing direction” (van Dierendonk, 2010: 1128). Servant leadership has been distinguished from transformational leadership in that “the transformational leader's focus is directed toward the organization, and his or her behavior builds follower commitment toward organizational objectives, while the servant leader's focus is on the followers, and the achievement of organizational objectives is a subordinate outcome.” (Stone et al, 2004: 349)

Shared leadership – the view of leadership as collective, distributed powers, based on empirical evidence that “leadership can be shared by team leaders and team members-rotating to the  person with the key knowledge, skills, and abilities for the particular issues facing the  team at any given moment” and “poor-performing teams tend to be dominated by the team leader, while high-performing teams display more dispersed leadership patterns, i.e., shared leadership.” (Pearce, 2004: 47)

Situational leadership – like streams of leadership research focusing on contingent, flexible, and adaptive leadership, a focus on situational leadership takes further into account the contextuality, the changing requirements of leadership situations, the different people in those situations, and the necessary respective ways leaders must adapt to those circumstances

Transformational leadership – a popular relational leadership perspective focusing on the change so-called transformational leaders bring about in followers, emphasizing the leader’s role in supporting a shared vision, purpose, identity and motivation

Last update: March 8, 2017