Leadership is a complex and highly debated topic; we have many theories, concepts and views about leadership. In an effort to understand students' perceptions of leadership a study was carried out by Greenhalgh and Maxwell.They asked 1,918 freshmen enrolled in Management 100: Leadership and Communication in Groups to select or design an image that represented leadership.
In a recent report called, Images of Leadership: The Story Emerging Leaders Tell, Greenhalgh and Maxwell discuss the students' responses. First, the students selected what Greenhalgh and Maxwell called the "sort of images we might expect" -- namely, images of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, John F. Kennedy, Nelson Mandela.
While the study confirmed that male and female students agree on many word choices, Greenhalgh and Maxwell discovered some subtle, although important, differences between the sexes. Among their key findings:
Female students show sensitivity to gender when selecting adjectives and nouns.
The verbs used by males and females to talk about leadership action are largely transformational rather than transactional. Transformational verbs such as lead, make, follow, inspire, achieve, believe and become are more prevalent in the students' essays than transactional verbs such as take, order and give.
According to Greenhalgh, transformational leadership reflects "leadership with the capacity to direct others to undertake new tasks, as opposed to transactional leadership, which we tend to associate with top-down hierarchies. Transformational leadership is more of a pull; transactional leadership is more of a push."