According to Bennis1—an expert in the study of leadership—an important threat facing the world today is the lack of effective leadership of our human institutions. Indeed, Lipman-Blumen2 has called attention to the failure of leadership in government, universities, healthcare and financial institutions. Organisations need competent and effective leaders now more than ever to face the threats and challenges of the modern world.3,4

Long time scholars in the field of leadership, Vroom and Jago5 defined leadership as a ‘process of motivating people to work together collaboratively to accomplish great things’ (p. 18). Accordingly, leadership is a process, not a property of a person. It involves a particular form of influence called motivating, resulting in collaboration in pursuit of a common goal to achieve the great things that are in the minds of both leader and followers.5

Leadership theories

In a recent meta-analysis of trait and behavioural theories of leadership, Derue et al10concluded that much of the research evidence fails to provide an integrated framework for understanding what constitutes leadership effectiveness. They did empirically identify some leader traits and behaviours that represent effective leadership, however. The concept of leadership overlaps with two similar terms, management and administration. The former is used widely in Europe and Africa, while the latter is preferred in the USA, Canada and Australia. Leadership is often of great contemporary interest in most countries in the developed world.11

Some leadership researchers distinguish between leadership, administration and management. They suggest that leadership is synonymous with change, while management and administration are considered as maintenance. All three dimensions are identified as critical functions of organizational activity. Taken together, leadership can be construed as a means of shaping the goals, motivations and actions of others to initiate change or maintain stability.12 Some researchers have adopted a social perspective to conceptualize leadership. Spillane et al,13for example, argued that leadership activity is defined or constructed through the interaction of leaders and followers during the execution of leadership tasks.

The importance of effective leadership

Leadership is a complex multifaceted phenomenon that is widely observed but poorly understood.

Many authors 6,14have argued that high-quality leadership is imperative to the success of organizations. Many researchers have emphasized idealized personal characteristics such as educational visionaries, instructional and curriculum leaders, assessment experts, community builders, public relations experts, budget analysts, facility managers, special programmes administrators and expert overseers of legal, contractual and policy mandates, and initiatives are thought to characterize effective leaders. The preponderance of empirical evidence, however, does not support this trait model of leadership effectiveness.10Although effective leaders can have a positive influence on achievement, poor leaders can have a marginal or even negative impact on success.14

Waters and Grubb14in their study reported three major findings that support the notion that school-level leadership matters in student achievement. First, they found that principal leadership was correlated with student achievement; one SD improvement in principal leadership was associated with a 10 percentile increase in student achievement. Second, they identified several leadership practices or processes required to fulfil a number of responsibilities that were significantly and directly related to student achievement. Third, they found a differential impact of leadership—just as leaders can have a positive impact on student’s achievement, they also can have marginal or, worse, a negative impact on student’s achievement.

Leadership is a complex multifaceted phenomenon that is widely observed but poorly understood. In consonance with the conclusions of others1,10,15 the foregoing review indicates that further empirical work in leadership is required. Given that leadership is associated with employee achievement, successful team functioning and efficient institutional operations, it is critical that an empirically supported comprehensive definition be developed.

Leadership Competencies

Although there is no commonly agreed upon definition of a general theory of leadership,  leadership has been pragmatically defined as a process of motivating people to achieve great things. However, defining the required competencies for effective leadership is complex and poorly understood. One innovative study on this subject was performed by Çitaku et al.15in which a carefully validated questionnaire of 63 items were sent to the key leaders in six countries: Austria, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, UK and USA. This study received a large number of responses and uncovered interesting variations in the valuation of specific leadership competencies. This study also revealed interesting differences in the valuation of specific competencies depending on the sex, native language, and area of specialization of the respondent, especially for the domains of social responsibility, innovation, and justice orientation.

The Çitaku et al study15is considered important because the authors proposed a tool that enables an objective and standardized assessment of perceptions on leadership competencies. Furthermore, this tool was specifically developed to be applied in the health care setting. Measuring leadership competencies is important to guide and tailor the training of current and aspiring leaders. Since the publication of this landmark study, limited research has been performed specifically in the field leadership. Çitaku et al15study indicates that core competencies in leadership can be empirically identified and categorized into five factors: (1) Social Responsibility, (2) Innovation, (3) Self-Management, (4) Task Management, and (5) Justice Orientation that are theoretically meaningful, coherent, internal consistent and parsimonious in explaining the variance of the data. Although there are some between-group differences in the factors, there are no substantive differences by country or language (English vs German language). Accordingly, the competencies appear to be stable and coherent.

Other research outcomes that promise a big improvement in Leadership are the outcomes from the Neuroscience, emphasizing the importance of brain knowledge for leaders. For example the importance of Social responsibility as a key factor in Leadership. These outcomes correlate very well with Çitaku’s Leadership Competency Model since this model at the very top includes the leadership domain social responsibility.

 If we want our leaders to get better, we have to provide them with the newest insights of leadership, gained from robust and reliable research outcomes.


The insights gained from the newest published studies demonstrate that leadership competencies can be learned. Currently, we further witness that there are a lot of courses and programs of management but little research-based courses or programs are offered that are evidence-based in the science of leadership. If we want our leaders to get better, we have to provide them with the newest insights of leadership, gained from robust and reliable research outcomes. Unfortunately, in many courses or programs worldwide, leadership is still being taught from the facilitators, who lack of knowledge of evidence-based leadership. We agree that leadership competencies can be learned, only by qualified teachers that indeed understand the science of leadership.


  1. Bennis W. The challenge of leadership in the modern world:
    to special issue. Am Psych 2007;62:2–5.
  2. Lipman-Blumen J. The Allure of Toxic Leaders: Why We Follow Destructive Bosses and Corrupt Politicians—and How We Can Survive Them. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
  3. Bisbee DC. Looking for leaders: current practices in leadership identification in higher education. Plan Chang 2007;38:77–88.
  4. Zaccaro SJ.

    Traits based

    perspectives of leadership. Am Psych 2007;62:6–16.
  5. Vroom VH, Jago AG. The role of the situation in leadership. Am Psych 2007;62:17–24.
  6. Taylor CA, Taylor JC, Stoller JK. Exploring leadership competencies in established and aspiring physician leaders: an interview-based study. J Gen Intern Med 2008;23:748–54.
  7. Minvielle E. Beyond quality management methods: meeting the challenges of health care reform. Int J Qual Health Care 1997;9:189–92.
  8. Wharton CR. Leadership in medical education: the challenge of diversity. J Med Educ 1987;62:86–94.
  9. Schwartz R, Pogge C. Physician leadership is essential to the survival of teaching hospitals. Am J Surg 2000;179:462–8.
  • Derue DS, Nahrgang JD, Wellman N, et al. Trait and


    theories of leadership: an integration and meta-analytic test of their relative validity. Personnel Psych 2011;64:7–52.
  • Bush T. Theories Of Educational Leadership And Management. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd, 2003.
  • Bush T. Educational leadership and management: theory, policy, and practice. South Afr J Educ 2007;27:391–406.
  • Spillane JP, Halverson R, Diamond JB. Towards a theory of leadership practice: a distributed perspective. J Curric Stud 2004;36:3–34.
  • Waters T, Grubb S. The Leadership We Need: Using Research to Strengthen the Use of Standards for Administrator Preparation and Licensure Programs. Aurora, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning, 2004.
  • Çitaku F, Violato C,Beran T,etal. Leadershipcompetencies for medicaleducation and healthcareprofessions:population-based study.BMJOpen2012;2:e000812.doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2012-00081
Prof. Dr. Fadil Çitaku
Prof. Dr. Fadil Çitaku, PhD, MME (Uni Bern), CEO Professor of Leadership and Emotional Intelligence for PhD, Doctorate, MSc. and MAS programs; Founder and CEO of the Academy of Leadership Sciences Switzerland; Supervisor at the prestigious ETH, Switzerland; Senior Scientist, Advisor and Coach; Keynote Speaker in many reputable international conferences. Contact:


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