Skip to content
Skip to main content

About this free course

Become an OU student

Download this course

Share this free course

Developing leadership practice in voluntary organisations
Developing leadership practice in voluntary organisations

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

5 A definition of leadership

Here is our working definition of leadership:

Leadership is a collaborative, political and participative practice that provides direction, energy and critical engagement on issues that are made to matter.

This is a more radical way of approaching leadership with eight components:

  1. Leadership is approached as a practice rather than a set of personality characteristics. People involved in leadership ask how they can improve the practice, not refine their personal competencies.
  2. Leadership is collaborative because it seeks to bring diverse groups of people together.
  3. Leadership is political because it works with people’s values, beliefs and commitments.
  4. Leadership is participative because it provides a (conflictual and confrontational) arena within which people debate and challenge one another.
  5. Of course, leadership must provide direction to a group or organisation. Providing direction can sit in tension with democratic practice because they seem to prioritise different things. But it is precisely that tension between engagement but also moving forward in a purposeful way that is the source of much of the energy of leadership (Smolović Jones et al., 2016).
  6. Energy is our sixth dimension of leadership: leadership should provide excitement and momentum, a sense that you are together addressing matters of significance.
  7. Good leadership has to be critical. By critical we mean engaging with ideas and propositions with a curious and questioning mindset.
  8. Finally, leadership is about making issues matter. Note the active sense of this last sentence – it is our case that issues do not pre-exist leadership: leadership makes issues matter because it brings certain things to prominence.

Activity 3 Definitions of leadership

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

This week we provided our definition of leadership as: ‘Leadership is a collaborative, political and participative practice that provides direction, energy and critical engagement on issues that are made to matter.’ Now you will develop your own critique of this definition.

  1. Go to the Discussion forum thread for this activity [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , and post a brief critique of our definition of leadership. The following questions may help get you started:
    • Is our definition of leadership something you can sign up to or do you see some problems with our definition?
    • Have we undersold a particular dimension of leadership or over-stated something?
  2. Post your own definition of leadership.
  3. Comment on at least two other people’s posts to keep the discussion flowing.