Cookie Consent by Free Privacy Policy Generator website Kirsten Schrick – Great Man, Participative, Holistic: What is…
Great Man, Participative, Holistic: What is Leadership?

Great Man, Participative, Holistic: What is Leadership?

Lead­er­ship is a cen­tral task in an orga­ni­za­tion­al struc­ture. It is an orga­niz­ing force that ensures sta­bil­i­ty, but can also con­tribute sig­nif­i­cant­ly to inspi­ra­tion and empow­er­ment. But what makes lead­er­ship successful?

How have lead­er­ship styles been defined so far and what can I, as a man­ag­er, derive from them for myself and for my work?

Divi­sion of labor, com­plex man­u­fac­tur­ing process­es and the orga­ni­za­tion asso­ci­at­ed with it raise the ques­tion of effec­tive lead­er­ship. In the last 60 years alone, we have seen a vari­ety of lead­er­ship the­o­ries and con­cepts. The inex­orable social changes and the eco­nom­ic changes asso­ci­at­ed with it, has brought about and con­tin­ues to bring about new ways of under­stand­ing lead­er­ship. Dif­fer­ent the­o­ries have yield­ed dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives and have thus brought rel­e­vant qual­i­ties of lead­er­ship into the dis­cus­sion. Before we turn to these and clas­si­fy them, it is worth tak­ing a meta-look at the high­er under­stand­ing of leadership.

What is leadership?

Viewed quite sober­ly, lead­er­ship in a com­pa­ny is the con­scious and goal-ori­ent­ed influ­ence of exec­u­tives on their employ­ees to solve work tasks. This includes the for­mu­la­tion of the under­ly­ing goals and the empow­er­ment of those involved to achieve those goals. 

While the out­er dimen­sion is ded­i­cat­ed to the man­age­ment of tasks, the inner dimen­sion reg­u­lates the behav­ior with­in the respec­tive group or orga­ni­za­tion­al unit. When under­stood as an inten­tion­al exer­tion of social influ­ence, lead­er­ship becomes a group phenomenon. 

If you look at both dimen­sions togeth­er, an under­stand­ing of lead­er­ship emerges as an aggre­gate of com­mu­ni­ca­tion process­es, the effect of which, in turn, is intend­ed to ensure that the com­pa­ny achieves its goals. 

What are lead­er­ship styles and how have they shaped the under­stand­ing of lead­er­ship up to now?

How we lead and are led is large­ly respon­si­ble for the suc­cess of a com­pa­ny. The lead­er­ship style comes to the fore in this con­text. This term sum­ma­rizes the behav­ior of man­agers towards employ­ees. As per­sis­tent and recur­ring pat­terns of sit­u­a­tion­al and coher­ent lead­er­ship behav­ior, lead­er­ship styles also pro­vide infor­ma­tion about cor­po­rate cul­ture and the way peo­ple are por­trayed and per­ceived in a com­pa­ny. The devel­op­ment of lead­er­ship styles up to now has result­ed in a wealth of approach­es that we can use and adapt for our own reflection.

Great Man, Participative, Holistic: What is Leadership?

In the 1960s, the Great Man Theory” was accept­ed as the mea­sure of all things with regard to lead­er­ship style. This pow­er-based, hier­ar­chi­cal con­struct was based on a per­fect lead­er­ship pro­to­type”, the born leader”. From today’s per­spec­tive, it is regard­ed as a one-dimen­sion­al approach that took lead­er­ship qual­i­ties for grant­ed and focused main­ly on the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the person.

So it’s no won­der that peo­ple turned towards oth­er approach­es in the 70s and 80s. The new prin­ci­ple was: Every­one has the poten­tial to be a man­ag­er. Lead­er­ship behav­ior mod­els attempt­ed to describe a guide” for effec­tive lead­er­ship behav­ior. They dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed between task-ori­ent­ed and per­son-ori­ent­ed behavior. 

When the con­text around employ­ees and man­agers was includ­ed in the con­sid­er­a­tion, the approach of sit­u­a­tion­al lead­er­ship emerged and pur­sued the dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion between per­son-ori­ent­ed and task-ori­ent­ed behav­ior. The approach also fit­ted into the still hier­ar­chi­cal view of the man­ag­er-employ­ee rela­tion­ship, which was defined by the action of the man­ag­er from above”.

Lead­ing means rela­tion­ship management!

With the approach towards trans­for­ma­tion­al lead­er­ship, the rigid top-down” view of the inter­ac­tion between man­ag­er and employ­ee shift­ed. Accord­ing to this the­o­ry, lead­er­ship should become some­thing two-sided — a rela­tion­al phe­nom­e­non that changed both sides. Meet­ing at an emo­tion­al lev­el and con­vey­ing a shared vision of work moved into the cen­ter of the lead­er­ship style agen­da. Sup­port­ed by a new under­stand­ing about the empow­er­ment of employ­ees, staff were no longer viewed as a homo­ge­neous group, but as indi­vid­u­als with per­son­al strengths and needs. This poten­tial was to be pro­mot­ed and, by means of empow­er­ment, help work towards the com­mon achieve­ment of the (com­pa­ny) visions.

Par­tic­i­pa­tive lead­er­ship was the name of the next evo­lu­tion­ary stage in lead­er­ship style. It took up the idea of​“empow­er­ment” and brought the par­tic­i­pa­tion of employ­ees into the entire deci­sion-mak­ing process. By shift­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty, man­agers and employ­ees should be able to meet on an equal footing. 

The cur­rent view of lead­er­ship sees the orga­ni­za­tion as a liv­ing ecosys­tem and focus­es on self-effi­ca­cy and self-real­iza­tion at work. The sys­temic per­spec­tive focus­es less on the indi­vid­ual peo­ple and things than on the spaces and lanes between them — the rela­tion­ships. Feed­back for­mats and the holis­tic view of busi­ness process­es are trade­marks of a holis­tic approach that also includes cus­tomers, sup­pli­ers and larg­er soci­ety as play­ers in the cor­po­rate organ­ism. In a volatile and rapid­ly chang­ing world, prob­lems can in this way be iden­ti­fied at an ear­ly stage and used as an oppor­tu­ni­ty. Greet­ings from New Work.

A ground plan for lead­er­ship? The lead­er­ship map!

From the many approach­es to lead­er­ship, we can derive var­i­ous aspects of this com­plex top­ic for our­selves. The Great Man the­o­ry directs our atten­tion to the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the leader, while lat­er approach­es focus more on the con­duct and behav­ior of this per­son, or on the sit­u­a­tion-depen­den­cy of lead­er­ship.

More recent approach­es empha­size the rela­tion­ships between peo­ple and focus on self-real­iza­tion.

A ground plan or map can be help­ful for ori­en­ta­tion and sim­pli­fied appli­ca­tion of the pre­vi­ous approach­es. The inte­gra­tion of the dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives on this top­ic leads us to three dimen­sions of lead­er­ship: Rela­tion­ship, atti­tude and craft.

Great Man, Participative, Holistic: What is Leadership?

Lead­er­ship as a relationship

Lead­er­ship does not hap­pen in a vac­u­um. It cre­ates a rela­tion­ship between the actors in dai­ly activ­i­ties on the real lev­el: Orga­ni­za­tion, employ­ee and man­ag­er. Self-man­age­ment plays a cen­tral role here, because a man­ag­er always func­tions as a role mod­el. In addi­tion to clear self-reflec­tion, it should also have sol­id self-organization. 

Per­son­nel man­age­ment is the next build­ing block in this dimen­sion. It is impor­tant to rec­og­nize peo­ple as the most impor­tant resource in the com­pa­ny in the long term and to build a bridge between their needs and the goals of the organization.

Com­pe­tences and poten­tials can be pro­mot­ed by the dis­tri­b­u­tion and orga­ni­za­tion of the work­load. Con­tact and feed­back are the keys to this competence.

Since the effort made is aimed at achiev­ing the rel­e­vant cor­po­rate goals, orga­ni­za­tion­al man­age­ment should not be neglect­ed. This term includes the crit­i­cal why” ques­tion. Set­ting mean­ing will lead to enthu­si­asm and moti­va­tion. Par­tic­i­pa­to­ry approach­es make it pos­si­ble to help shape the orga­ni­za­tion to a large extent and are thus able to bring togeth­er the dif­fer­ent inter­ests of those involved, towards a com­mon direction.

Lead­er­ship as a craft

Lead­er­ship is a pro­fes­sion, not some side­line. This core activ­i­ty of an orga­ni­za­tion pro­vides ori­en­ta­tion and requires tools and qual­i­ty stan­dards. The stan­dards cre­at­ed in this way pro­vide added secu­ri­ty and clar­i­ty to the every­day busi­ness, not only to the orga­ni­za­tion and employ­ees, but also to the manager. 

Prac­ti­cal the­o­ries are to be con­sid­ered the first com­po­nents of the man­u­al reper­toire. They enable the man­ag­er to bet­ter under­stand behav­ioral pat­terns in dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions. In this way, deci­sions can be bet­ter jus­ti­fied. How­ev­er, the the­o­ry should not become a dog­ma; rather, through the knowl­edge of observ­able rela­tion­ships, it should cre­ate aware­ness in man­agers and thus pre­pare them for the appro­pri­ate han­dling of anal­o­gous issues. 

The­o­ry also equips the man­ag­er with effec­tive tools. Method­ol­o­gy used in a man­ner appro­pri­ate for the sit­u­a­tion often deter­mines the healthy func­tion­ing of an orga­ni­za­tion. As a result, man­agers feels able to per­form their tasks com­pe­tent­ly and can also devel­op a clear under­stand­ing of their own role and the behav­ior asso­ci­at­ed with it. This rep­re­sents an impor­tant anchor point for the orga­ni­za­tion and the employ­ees, because sta­bil­i­ty and ori­en­ta­tion can only be trans­mit­ted by those man­agers who can clear­ly clas­si­fy them­selves with­in a company.

Lead­er­ship as an attitude

Lead­er­ship is not a one-off feat” or a project that one has to com­plete. It is an ongo­ing task in the orga­ni­za­tion. It can be equat­ed with the per­son­al atti­tude that is always need­ed and demon­strat­ed when, for exam­ple, a sit­u­a­tion does not allow prepa­ra­tion and man­agers act out­side of their com­fort zone.

Alert­ness is required in order to ade­quate­ly deal with an unex­pect­ed, crit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion. Alert­ness is the con­cen­trat­ed and con­scious absorp­tion of infor­ma­tion from the exter­nal and the inter­nal world. It is the sen­si­tiv­i­ty to rela­tion­ships, feel­ings and con­flicts that can deter­mine the course of, or prob­lem-solv­ing angle in, a situation.

While alert­ness can give us signs of future progress, it is effec­tive­ness that brings the courage to act. Man­agers work in their envi­ron­ment through their actions and thus set impuls­es for shap­ing the con­text of all those involved. 

On the jour­ney to mean­ing­ful work and self-ful­fill­ment in the work­place, hard­ly any com­po­nent is as impor­tant as appre­ci­a­tion. It is the abil­i­ty to rec­og­nize cir­cum­stances in the envi­ron­ment, skills with­in the orga­ni­za­tion or the expe­ri­ences of employ­ees and being able to use them in a tar­get­ed man­ner. With an appre­cia­tive atti­tude, man­agers gen­er­ate mean­ing in their envi­ron­ment and cre­ate space for the fur­ther devel­op­ment and advance­ment of the inter­nal poten­tial of employees.

Lead­er­ship — love for people

How­ev­er, none of the the­o­ries, instru­ments and maps do us any good if we over­look the most impor­tant thing in con­nec­tion with man­age­ment respon­si­bil­i­ty — peo­ple.

You have to love this tour­na­ment if you want to win here. You have to love it in spite of the air­craft noise above you, you have to love it in spite of the hys­ter­i­cal spec­ta­tors, in spite of the con­crete caul­dron and in spite of the ter­ri­ble heat. Just like Jim­my Con­nors loved it for eigh­teen years. If you can’t love it, you bet­ter get out of here.”

(Boris Beck­er, quot­ed by Rein­hard K. Sprenger: Prinzip Selbstverantwortung)

The frame­work con­di­tions will nev­er be per­fect. We will nev­er find a lev­el play­ing field. So if we don’t like and accept peo­ple in all their facets, if we can’t love our­selves and our fel­low human beings, then we should avoid or leave the play­ground of lead­er­ship. The con­se­quences for our­selves and oth­ers can be devastating.

This affec­tion for our own human abil­i­ties, skills, but also inad­e­qua­cies is the basis, the foun­da­tion on which the the­o­ries and tools can be built in the first place. Only through the ref­er­ence and the rela­tion­ship between peo­ple can some­thing emerge that can also help bring about self-real­iza­tion, self-deter­mi­na­tion, thus ensur­ing that cor­po­rate goals are met, now and in the future, when faced with new challenges.


  • Why did I become a man­ag­er? For what rea­son am I leading?
  • What lead­er­ship style fits me best? And on what basis?
  • How do I under­stand my role as a man­ag­er and to what extent does this cor­re­spond to my day-to-day life?
  • How do I imple­ment lead­er­ship in every­day life?
  • What man­age­ment style from my supe­ri­ors” do I pre­fer as an employee?
  • What qual­i­ties do I want to show as a man­ag­er? What qual­i­ties are par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant to me as a manager?
  • Where do I still see devel­op­ment poten­tial in myself?
  • What mea­sures can I use to improve my lead­er­ship style or work fur­ther on my lead­er­ship style?


Ruth Seliger

  • Pos­i­tive Lead­er­ship: Die Rev­o­lu­tion der Führung (Sys­temis­ches Man­age­ment), Schäf­fer-Poeschel Ver­lag, (Feb­ru­ary 242014)
  • Das Dschun­gel­buch der Führung: Ein Nav­i­ga­tion­ssys­tem für Führungskräfte; Carl-Auer Ver­lag GmbH; Edi­tion: 6 (Sep­tem­ber 12016)

Fred­er­ic Laloux

  • Rein­vent­ing Orga­ni­za­tions visuell: Ein illus­tri­ert­er Leit­faden sinns­tif­ten­der For­men der Zusam­me­nar­beit, Vahlen Ver­lag (Decem­ber 152016

Rein­hard K. Sprenger

  • Radikal führen, Cam­pus Ver­lag (Sep­tem­ber 102012)
  • Sprengers Spitzen: 42 unbe­queme Man­age­ment-Wahrheit­en, Han­dels­blatt Fachme­di­en (Sep­tem­ber 122018)
  • Das anständi­ge Unternehmen: Was richtige Führung aus­macht – und was sie weglässt, Deutsche Ver­lags-Anstalt, 3rd edi­tion (Sep­tem­ber 282015)

Fur­ther for­mats on the topic

Individual Coaching

Individual Coaching

Per­son­al­i­ty and career devel­op­ment: These are process­es in which estab­lished pat­terns and beliefs are chal­lenged. It is about bold­ly let­ting go of old ones and build­ing new ones.

Learn more
Hybrid Leadership

Hybrid Leadership

Lead­er­ship is rela­tion­ship work — also hybrid. How you encour­age encoun­ters — even remote­ly — is an inspir­ing expe­ri­ence. Hybrid lead­er­ship needs good prepa­ra­tion, clar­i­ty and atten­tion to the oth­er person.

Learn more