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Understanding Leadership

Although the more recent work of authors such as Abraham Zaleznik and Daniel Goleman has fundamentally changed the way we look at leadership, many of their themes were foreshadowed in W.C.H. Prentice’s 1961 article rejecting the notion of leadership as the exercise of power and force or the possession of extraordinary analytical skill. Prentice defined leadership as “the accomplishment of a goal through the direction of human assistants” and a successful leader as one who can understand people’s motivations and enlist employee participation in a way that marries individual needs and interests to the group’s purpose. He called for democratic leadership that gives employees opportunities to learn and grow—without creating anarchy. While his language in some passages is dated, Prentice’s observations on how leaders can motivate employees to support the organization’s goals are timeless, and they were remarkably prescient.

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