When I teach piano lessons, I often tell my students that one of the most important things before ever playing a note is to know what you are supposed to play. We generally call this music theory because it allows us to play what we know and explain what we hear. The reality is that effective execution is dependent on understanding quality information. Dr. Jason Clark is the lead mentor in my doctoral program at George Fox University. His objective is clear: if you are going to be one of his mentees, you are going to learn how to think critically…all the time. This may challenge how we have always interpreted information but he wants to know: Can you explain what you think you know?
We should never view theory as unimportant, time-consuming or an intellectual process that is forced upon people. Nohria and Khurana show us that theories form the foundation of leadership because it involves knowing how to behave. When we accept an invitation to an event, one of the first questions we ask is, “what’s the dress code.” We use theories to determine our success and behavior in leadership roles. We continuously label ourselves with leadership terms introduced by conference speakers, teachers and authors without ever hearing a real definition of leadership. Hence, we are still trying to figure out if we have “the right people on the bus” or if we know “the 21 irrefutable laws of leadership.” Ask the average person the definition of leadership and they will tell you, “Leadership is influence.” Your follow-up questions should be…influencing what, who, when, where, how and why.
Redefine the Same Word
We often submit our intelligence to those we deem as leadership gurus because that is our culture. The authors are challenging leadership norms in this book by using theories. This book “tries to reinvigorate research on leadership – in as broad a manner as possible, across a wide variety of disciplines – with the hope that we can stimulate new ideas and thinking about leadership, by the best scholars in our institutions, so that we can respond to society’s urgent need for better leadership and, in turn, fulfill the espoused mission of our own institutions to develop better leaders who can serve society.”
Leadership is not just about a position or influence. While influence is the overarching theme of leadership, that does not explain leadership. In this blog, I will show you how the authors use theories to define leadership, explain the role of leadership and explain when leadership occurs.
What is leadership?
“Leadership is an interaction between two or more members of a group that often involves structuring or restructuring of the situation and the perceptions and expectations of the members.” If this true, then we could make the argument that, a self-employed person (entrepreneur) is not necessarily a leader until they have engaged in an interaction with someone else… (Hire someone). Benjamin Hooks (former director of the NAACP) said it best, if you think you are leading and turn around to see no one following, then you are just taking a walk.”
When does leadership occurs?
“Leadership occurs when one group member modifies the motivation or competencies of others in the group.” One of our challenges is that we focus on people who take the initiative as leaders and miss the most important thing. If your initiative does not modify the motivation of people (influence people to follow), you are not leading. Rather, you are reacting on impulse because leaders need followers.
“It is the role of leadership to turn an organization into an institution, by infusing the organization with values and creating a distinct organizational identity and sense of purpose that is in fact internalized by organizational members as meaningful.” Leadership relies on four things for effectiveness. Firstly, there is self-awareness, which is the ability to recognize our emotions, strengths, limits, abilities and our impact. Secondly, there is a need for self-control, honesty, adaptability, optimism and motivation for excellence. This we call self-management. Thirdly, the need to be pliable in serving customers and employees, sensitivity and empathy is also necessary. This is the existence of social awareness. Finally, there must be relationship management. In this stage, success is fueled by our ability to motivate, influence, develop and do all that is necessary to ensure there is effective teamwork.
There are two ways to interpreting this book. We can view the validity of the writing or we can see this as people who are bitter because they never received an “iconic status and now want to share their wisdom, secure their legacies, or cash in on their success.” I believe there is great substance in this book because we are challenged to ask and answer critical questions in global leadership
 Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana, Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice: An Hbs Centennial Colloquium On Advancing Leadership (Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business Press, 2010), p. 4
 Ibid. 121
 Ibid. p. 121
 Ibid. p. 73
 Ibid. p. 5