team technology

Symbolic Leadership


Sometimes, an individual may act as a figure head for change and be viewed as a leader even though he/she hasn’t set any new direction.  This can arise when a group sets a direction of its own accord, and needs a spearhead in order to express it.

In prison, Nelson Mandela was an example of symbolic leadership.  Although his ability to take action was limited, he continued to grow in power and influence (as the symbolic leader for the anti-apartheid movement).  This power came from the mass movement, from the group that are nominally viewed as the followers.  Following his release from prison, he demonstrated actual leadership by leading South Africa into a process of reconciliation rather than retribution.

This illustrates the complexity of the relationship between leaders, followers, and context.  A leader’s power often comes from the followers.  For example, in democratic government, leaders are elected because of the direction they offer - e.g. for economic growth or social development.  However, if they subsequently pursue a direction that is different from the expectations of the electorate, they may lose the next election, or even provoke civil unrest beforehand.

Next page: Leadership Styles

By Steve Myers (author verified by Google)

Take the test
Become a better leader

©2013 Team Technology. Further articles/resources that may be of interest include: Personality Test, Personality Type Descriptions, Myers Briggs overview, The Basics of Team Building, What Career is Right for Me?, and Career ideas.