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The Language of Leadership (article)

The study of leadership is important because leadership is more than just good or bad. More than a few popular authors, more than opinions that come through our varied experiences, leadership is worth studying if only to move us into the relevant language and terms beyond "good leadership" and/or "bad leadership."


Good Leaders and Good Leadership -- The theories abound on what makes a "good" leader. Servant leadership, transformational leadership, spiritual leadership, participative leadership, and emphasis on leader-follower relationships are just a few examples. Qualities such as empathy, selflessness, people development and investment, and ethical modeling travel at warp speed on our social media memes.

Bad Leaders and Bad Leadership -- The theories also abound on what makes a "bad" leader. Terror leadership, toxic leadership, bullying, the dictator's playbook, and emphasis on why leaders are bad and why followers stay are just a few examples. Qualities such as manipulation, violence, pushing personal agendas, and secret-keeping do not travel as broadly as positive leadership characteristics but are equally as important to know.


Reducing the leadership discussion to only "good" or "bad" leadership can be limiting in our leadership development efforts. Why? Well, there is a vocabulary of leadership beyond the lists of qualities that helps us identify leadership, assess problems, and implement solutions for improvement that impact organizations and companies. Meme posts give us snapshots of leader practice, behavior, and motivation that inspire experience-driven discussions in the comments. What is missing, I believe, is the grounded discussion of leadership theory on the continuum of leadership.


The differences in leadership styles are enough to broaden our discussions of "good" and "bad" leadership. Transformational leadership from the Bass theory, for example, has four wonderful components that can enrich our approaches to leadership development. The 4 I's are Inspirational Motivation, Individualized Consideration, Intellectual Stimulation, and Idealized Influence. A surface look at transformational leadership theory immediately says that transformational leaders do significantly more than bring change! The how and the why matters in transformational leadership.


Toxic leadership includes abusive supervision, petty tyranny, bullying, pseudo-transformational leadership, terror leadership, destructive leadership, counterproductive workplace behavior, and toxic culture. Research studies exist in several contexts to help us weed through the subtleties. Many research studies are easy to understand and analyze for consideration in our varied contexts. There is a method to "bad" leadership and cultivating awareness is a wonderful thing because awareness empowers us with the language to make proper assessments and implement appropriate strategies.


I am a toxic leadership researcher and LOVE to enlighten others on the benefits of studying leadership, especially "bad" leadership. It's not a negative but a strong positive to learn the language of leadership so that we can specifically address workplace concerns and truly build people. Need some toxic leadership or transformational leadership awareness? Message me on LinkedIn and let's talk about the trainings I offer.