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Performance Management Reference Materials

The 9 Natural Laws of Leadership

by Warren Blank; American Management Association, 1995

What is leadership? According to Dr. Warren Blank in his book The 9 Natural Laws of Leadership, defining leadership is not a simple matter - a leadership strategy that works in one particular situation may not work again at another time under the same conditions. Instead of providing a simple definition, the author presents leadership in terms of nine natural laws that offer an integrated portrait of leadership.

Nine Natural Laws of Leadership

  1. A leader has willing followers. No leader exists without gaining the support of others. This first natural law recognizes the collegial role of followers.
  2. Leadership is a field of interaction - a relationship between leaders and followers. Leadership is not a person, a position, or a program but a relationship that develops when the leader and the follower connect to create one, undivided whole.
  3. Leadership occurs as an event. Leadership exists as relationships between leaders and followers, with these alliances being transitory events. People who are viewed as great leaders generally have had a series of successful leadership events and work at maintaining a core of loyal followers.
  4. Leaders use influence beyond formal authority. Managers rely on the influence and authority of their position to get things accomplished. The difference between leaders and managers, according to Blank, is that leaders rely on the influence gained through the web of interactions they have with their followers. Managers rely on institutional authority.
  5. Leaders operate outside the boundaries of organizationally defined procedures. Managers provide direction while leaders chart direction beyond that prescribed by existing procedures. The author quotes Sun Tzu in The Art of War: "Don't follow where the pathway goes, lead instead where there is no path and leave a trail."
  6. Leadership involves risk and uncertainty. The reality of leadership requires that someone accept the risk that is part of the territory when acting outside the prescribed procedures.
  7. Not everyone will follow a leader's initiative. This is one of the most critical limits of leadership. No leader, even the best known, such as Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, or Dr. Martin Luther King, will have the support of all their potential followers.
  8. Consciousness - information processing - creates leadership. Leaders think differently. They perceive opportunities and ways of overcoming obstacles that others do not. Leadership occurs when a person influences others to recognize his or her direction as useful - when they can sell others on their idea.
  9. Leadership is a self-referral process. Leaders and followers process information from their own subjective, internal frame of reference. Every leader sees the world through his or her specific lenses, and followers identify with a leader because the leader fits the followers' self-referral image of what a leader should be. Compare the non-violent approach of Dr. Martin Luther King with the cruelty of Adolf Hitler - two completely different leaders with completely different types of followers.

Performance Management and Leadership

Although this book is not written specifically about performance management, we feature it here because the nine natural laws of leadership include important aspects of effective performance management. Good performance management techniques can help develop managers into leaders. Communicating clearly and honestly with employees, setting expectations, providing feedback, developing employee skills, and recognizing good performance create relationships between supervisors and employees that help supervisors become leaders with willing followers - not merely authority figures.

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