Organizational Leadership Definition

Organizational leadership is about management. Leadership by itself is transformative, it is about shifting priorities in workers and creating followers through the articulation of a vision. However, when leadership is embedded within an organization, the definition changes to leadership within, rather than above, the organization and, therefore, becomes management or even better, supervision.


The definition of organizational leadership has three general features. First, setting the direction and the tone of the organization is the most central ingredient. This concerns strategic planning, based around very specific and achievable goals. Second, organizational performance management is equally important, in that the organization, as it changes, must be continually assessed. This means the organization must be constantly supervised and weak points identified. And third, the definition of organization leadership must include the concept of change. Slowly bringing an organization from its inertia to dynamism is an important leadership role, and this requires continually changing roles and the concept of roles within an organization.


Organizational leadership is based loosely around the “structural functionalist model” of leadership, which is bureaucratically based. Each organization, from a club to a firm to the broader society, is seen as being made up of complimentary parts, each assisting the other in creating a smoothly functioning organization. Keeping a watch on this more or less self-regulating mechanism is important, and the ingredient of performance management becomes central. Ultimately, the purpose here is to make sure the roles in the organization continue to work as a system, with as much stress on the whole as on the part.


Modern societies tend towards systematization, bureaucratization and standardization. For better or worse, this is why leadership in organizations is so important. Charisma matters less than institutional experience and competence. When considering the definition of organizational leadership, it is always helpful to contrast it to leadership per se, which does not require bureaucratic management skills. But organizational leadership is all about bureaucratic management.


Regardless of the shortcomings of bureaucracies, they have proven themselves to be an efficient way of solving problems. A smoothly running organization can process issues and problems promptly and with little friction. But this is a realistic scenario only when bureaucratic leadership becomes paramount, and the system is regularly assessed and tweaked to make sure it functions properly, that is, it fulfills the purpose it was created for.


The purpose of an organization is to produce certain benefits--“end results.” Organizational leadership is less concerned with transforming people than with the smooth operation of the bureaucracy. It is a less exalted form of leadership more akin to management. The definition, therefore, is truly about understanding the organization to the extent to which the manager can manage change within the system without disrupting it.


About the Author

Walter Johnson has more than 20 years experience as a professional writer. After serving in the United Stated Marine Corps for several years, he received his doctorate in history from the University of Nebraska. Focused on economic topics, Johnson reads Russian and has published in journals such as “The Salisbury Review,” "The Constantian" and “The Social Justice Review."