Is Leadership an Art or Science?

This question is widely raised in corporate training workshops, academic conferences, online discussions, and classrooms. The question is does it make any difference, whether it is an art or science?

Yes. It makes a difference!

The understanding that leadership is art or science will help individuals in leadership positions develop strategies for improving their leadership skills. It will help corporate trainers, consultants, and professors in preparing future managers and leaders.

Researchers will be able to cultivate a theoretical framework for explaining the application of art and science in developing leadership skills.

What is art?

Art is human skills, imagination, expression, communication, emotions, and more.

What is science?

Science is the process of understanding how an environment works through observation and experimentation. In business, it is the understanding of social, physical, economic, technological, and political environments.

Art is a one-way street, and science is a two-way street (Ahmed, 2012).

Several leadership theories exist in leadership literature, and most of the theories focus on art.

An organization is not a theater, and leaders are not actors in an organization (Ahmed, 2012)..

Emerging Leadership Theory

The Emerging Leadership Theory (Ahmed, 2012) states that leadership is both art and science.

The first step in leadership is to build a foundation using the four pillars (4 Cs) of leadership: character, culture, communication, and charisma. The second step is to develop the emerging skills needed to lead an organization.

According to the Emerging Leadership Theory (ELT), successful leaders learn, unlearn, and relearn based on field experiments. The ELT suggests that leadership skills emerge as a result of continuous observation and experimentation. Continuous observation and experimentation occur because leaders lead, operate, and make decisions in uncertain and risky environments both inside and outside of an organization.

The role of leadership is to set a company’s vision, inspire, influence, motivate, build culture, and formulate strategies to achieve company goals. We are in the age of Big Data. Leadership constantly analyzes internal data to learn how to inspire, influence, and motivate people with a multicultural background, changing demographics, and a level of knowledge. Leaders also analyze external data to determine whether their vision is going to lead the company in the right direction, their mission is achievable, and their strategy will help in accomplishing the company’s goals.

Leadership and Value Creation

When a company hires an individual for a leadership position, one requirement in the contract is to achieve a target market value of the company within a specified period of time. In the past, companies have fired leaders if they were not able to realize the target market value of the company in a timely fashion. This requirement suggests that leadership is not just about inspiring, influencing, and motivating but includes making decisions that will lead to value creation.

To create value, leaders have to make decisions in the areas of marketing, finance, operations, human resources, and technology. These five basic functions in business are considered both art and science. In each of the functional areas of the business, leaders analyze the data and use observation and experimentation to formulate strategies. If leaders are making business decisions, they have to possess art and science skills.

The understanding of leadership as an art is acceptable in an economy with a mindset of “if we produce they buy.”

We are part of a global- and knowledge-based economy and changing workforce and technology. Leaders have to constantly observe and experiment to develop the emerging leadership skills for successfully leading their company.

Leadership skills are not reserved solely for the top management in a knowledge-based economy. In this economy, organizations are adopting a flat organizational structure, and leadership skills and knowledge is needed at all the levels of the organization to be successful in the marketplace.

If we believe that leadership is just an art, it means we are not preparing leaders for the challenges of the new global economy (Ahmed, 2012).

Leadership training, workshops, or classroom teaching must include both the art and science of leadership. A consultant should use the art and science of leadership to prepare their clients. A researcher needs to develop a framework of leadership that includes art and science to make the leadership theory applicable in today’s business environment. The Emerging Leadership Theory framework includes both art and science.

© 2017 Mohammed R. Ahmed
Ahmed, M.R. (2017). Is leadership an art or science?
Published in Linkedin