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What is a Leader? - Definition, Qualities & Characteristics

Lesson Transcript
Jennifer Wiley-Cordone
Expert Contributor
Lesley Chapel

Lesley has taught American and World History at the university level for the past seven years. She has a Master's degree in History.

In the management context, a leader is defined as someone who performs managerial roles in an organization, such as decision making and implementing plans. Learn about the components of the leader managerial role and other management roles that Henry Mintzberg defines. Updated: 08/18/2021

The Leader in Context

Legendary computer scientist Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper - sometimes called 'Amazing Grace' Hopper - once said, 'You manage things; you lead people. We went overboard on management and forgot about leadership.' Would organizational expert Henry Mintzberg agree? Mintzberg identified ten roles relevant for every manager based on observational research from the CEO level to the first-time supervisor. A particular manager may only slip into each role for less than ten minutes a day, but tasks and responsibilities of the leader role are central to a manager's success. Let's look deeper into Mintzberg's theory to see what he has to say about leaders.

Mintzberg didn't just lump the ten management roles together; he instead highlighted the similarities and differences between groups of managerial roles. Decisional managerial roles are about making choices and implementing plans, while informational managerial roles are connected to receiving, processing, and relaying facts and data. The interpersonal managerial roles, including the leader role, are about developing relationships. Mintzberg agrees that the leader managerial role is focused on people, while at the same time keeping it grounded in the reality of day-to-day managerial functions. Let's find out precisely how.

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What is the Leader Managerial Role?

Mintzberg defines the leader managerial role specifically as setting goals and evaluating employee performance. Mentoring, training, and motivating employees are all leadership activities. To better understand these functions of the leader managerial role, let's take a look at a hypothetical twins-separated-at-birth case study.

Meet Harry and Larry, our twin managers. Both bought similar territories in the sports equipment consignment franchise, Not That Smelly. Both have the same number of stores and the same inventory, as well as similar customer and employee demographics. Let's see how Harry and Larry each take on Mintzberg's leader managerial role.

1. Training

When Linda was hired to manage a new store, Larry provided her with clear and consistent training. Larry had a manager from another store come to train Linda for the month. He met with Linda to address questions or areas in which the two stores differed. They referred often to this year's updated employee handbook. He expects Linda to make mistakes as she takes over the store on her own, but he's looking for her to learn and make different mistakes in the future. If she doesn't occasionally fail, she isn't taking the kind of risks necessary for innovation and profit.

When Harry hired Hannah, the store manager had just quit and Harry was stuck running it at the same time as he was trying to open a new one. Hannah was the first person he interviewed, and after half an hour of describing how he grew the territory from scratch, he offered her a job on the spot. Harry expects all his employees to pick it up as they go; he doesn't have time to provide organized training. Failure is the result of incompetence and stupidity. Employees are quick to blame each other when something doesn't go well, and they're equally quick to grab credit when it does.

2. Goal Setting

Larry has a clear vision for the growth of his territory over the next year, and he shares this regularly with employees. Each quarter, he sits down with every team member to identify SMART goals. SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.

Harry thinks hockey equipment probably has higher margins (makes more money per item), because his kids play and he knows first-hand how expensive equipment is.

3. Mentoring

Larry can see that Linda is working hard, but he's noticing that two junior employees have started arriving late fairly often. During their regular meeting, he asks Linda a series of questions about how she's holding them accountable and offers some suggestions. He talks her through different approaches. Linda confidently leaves knowing that she'll be able to manage a potentially uncomfortable confrontation. When Linda and Larry meet again, she's able to report that the two employees haven't been tardy since she spoke with them. Larry makes a note to keep tabs and writes a quick positive report for Linda's file.

Harry hasn't been able to meet with Hannah for two months. He remembers he wanted to figure out if the hockey items are the most profitable on re-sale. He surprises Hannah on her shift and asks for her inventory sheet, which she is quite proud of because she developed it herself. He scans the sheet and doesn't find it categorized by sport, as he wanted, but by equipment type. As a result, hockey shoulder pads and football shoulder pads are lumped together, as are hockey skates and figure skates. Harry can't tell if hockey is more profitable than other sports. He crumples up the report and tosses it in the wastebasket, telling her to email a manager from another store to get a better inventory sheet.

4. Performance Reviews

Larry schedules a performance review with Linda. Before they meet, he reviews the notes in his file from their regular meetings and looks at the quarterly goals. He asks Linda to do the same. He also schedules meetings individually with the other employees to get their perspectives on working with Linda. He and Linda meet, compare notes, and talk about the ways in which she exceeded, hit, or missed targets. Linda is not surprised by anything she hears in this review. Larry also takes this as an opportunity to get feedback from Linda on how he's doing, and Linda identifies two ways in which he could communicate more clearly with the team.

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Additional Activities

Prompts About Leaders in a Managerial Context:

Graphic Organizer Prompt:

Make a chart, poster, or some other type of graphic organizer that lists and briefly describes three of Mintzberg's groups of managerial roles (decisional managerial roles, informational managerial roles, interpersonal managerial roles).

Example: Interpersonal managerial roles focus on developing relationships.

Presentation Prompt:

Create a PowerPoint presentation that details the five main activities of leaders in managerial roles.

Example: Training is the first step, and new managers should be expected to make mistakes and learn from them.

Essay Prompt:

In one to two pages, write an essay that explains what made Larry a successful leader. Contrast that with what made Harry an unsuccessful leader.

Example: Harry's goals for Not That Smelly were vague, while Larry's goals were SMART. Larry also made sure each employee knew what the specific goals were.

Reflection Prompt:

Choosing one of the five activities of leaders in managerial roles, write a reflection essay of approximately three to four paragraphs about how you would approach that activity if you were in the leader managerial role. What would you do to make the outcome successful for your employees and company?

Example: If leading a company engineering cutting-edge medical technology, you would motivate your team members by communicating with them a lot to find out the types of things they enjoy most about their jobs.

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