In class, a number of profs came up with the following (approximated) definition of leadership.
Leadership is getting people to do what you want them to do under the impression that they are the ones who want to do it
I found this particularly fascinating, having myself been somewhat a fan of scifi, cyberpunk, and other utopia/dystopia literature. In a book like 1984, this is exactly what we have. We have people who think that they are doing what they want to do, when everything, even their thoughts are being fed to them. The Matrix is also another great example of good leadership under that definition.
I will grant the profs the benefit of the doubt that they wouldn't hook our brain stems up to computers if it gave them power :-), but is this not the presumption of the Philosopher-King?
But I assume that we have read enough history to know that the Philosopher-King is not uncompromisingly able to see the eternal, unchanging truth, or that the Philosopher-King's love of knowledge will be, as Plato hoped, a perfect guide to what is true and good. Yet academically-focused people (myself included) have this habit of assuming that since we are questioning, thoughtful people, we are better at arriving to good goals than others. The 20th century perhaps has taught us differently.
Interestingly, we live in a democracy. But we live in a democracy where people have forgotten the idea of a democracy.
In a properly-run organization that follows any standard parliamentary code (Roberts, Sturgis, Jefforson, Parliamentary Common Law), the person with the least power is the chair. The chair is someone who relinquishes political power so he/she can be a coordinator, a facilitator to help the people express their goals, debate their goals, come to a common conclusion, and enact those goals. Most usually a chair should not vote, should not express opinions on an issue, etc etc.. Thus, the ideal chair is someone who the most people think is most likely to be serving the needs of the organization.
Democracy turns the idea of a leader on its head under the assumption that an interested, caring group is better at making and carrying out a decision than a single person. And yet the chair retains all the symbolic power of the leader. He *is* the organization, precisely because he has given up power to be a medium through which the organization can express itself.
This is the democratic ideal. I have seen it happen properly, but it most often fails. Why? Because a democratic system requires interested, educated, thoughtful members. In practice, the chair or the body don't understand or agree with the ideas of parliamentary procedure, and chaos reigns. Democracy is a fragile system.
In government, we get plurality voting, which results in political parties and elected officials who the majority may not want. In government, we also get people who feel more loyalty to a party than to the organization or the office. The government also does not follow standard parliamentary organization,so they can get away with things.
Also, in government, the existing parties have made it very difficult for anything other than a dual party system. This is another sad result of the plurality vote system. What we need is a preferential voting system similar to that proposed by the Guy de Condorcet.
And yet I find it interesting that independent-thinking types would tend toward a system of leadership which encourages conformed thinking under the guise of independent thought (i.e. getting people to do what you want them to while they think they have self-actualization.
One of the groups pointed out the role of followers. In the last few hundred years, the role of followers has changed. Particularly in places where the basis of democracy is understood, followers expect to have rights to speak their ideas, to debate, to influence the organization, etc.
But most of what I have said relates to organizations in which there is equality. Many leadership situations don't involve equality.
I suspect that the definitions we are most likely going to find are going to be for relationships where the parties are not equal. In the classroom, the professor/teacher is higher than the students. In a family, the parents are higher than the children (imagine giving a 3 year old the right to vote!).
Other settings could involve people who are not equal, but for whom none is inherently higher than the other (we're not talking office at this point, since I am not assuming any given structure, and there are structures in which the offices are higher, lower, or at the same level as the members at large, if members at large exist). People may, for example have different skills, different roles, different assets, and thus be unequal (in a strict sense) while being considered as valuable and important to the organization (if it's an organization).
....etc....etc...etc. I will stop rambling now.