The word Führer in the sense of "guide" remains common in German, and it is used in numerous compound words such as Oppositionsführer (Leader of the Opposition). However, because of its strong association with Hitler, the isolated word usually comes with stigma and negative connotations when used with the meaning of "leader", especially in political contexts. The word Führer has cognates in the Scandinavian languages, spelled fører in Danish and Norwegian which have the same meaning and use as the German word, but without necessarily having political connotations.
Führer was the title demanded by Adolf Hitler to denote his function as the head of the Nazi Party; he received it in 1921 when, infuriated over party founder Anton Drexler's plan to merge with another antisemitic far-right nationalist party, he resigned from the party. Drexler and the party's Executive Committee then acquiesced to Hitler's demand to be made the chairman of the party with "dictatorial powers" as the condition for his return. It was common at the time to refer to leaders of all sorts, including those of political parties, as Führer. Hitler's adoption of the title was partly inspired by its earlier use by the Austrian Georg von Schönerer, a major exponent of pan-Germanism and German nationalism in Austria, whose followers commonly referred to him as the Führer, and who also used the Roman salute – where the right arm and hand are held rigidly outstretched – which they called the "German greeting". According to historian Richard J. Evans, this use of "Führer" by Schönerer's Pan-German Association, probably introduced the term to the German far right, but its specific adoption by the Nazis may have been influenced by the use in Italy of "Duce", also meaning "leader", as an informal title for Benito Mussolini, the Fascist Prime Minister, and later dictator, of that country.
One day before the death of Reichspräsident Paul von Hindenburg, Hitler and his cabinet decreed a law that merged the office of the president with that of Chancellor, so that Hitler became Führer and Reichskanzler – although eventually Reichskanzler was quietly dropped. Hitler therefore assumed the President's powers without assuming the office itself – ostensibly out of respect for Hindenburg's achievements as a heroic figure in World War I. Though this law was in breach of the Enabling Act, which specifically precluded any laws concerning the Presidential office, it was approved by a referendum on 19 August.
Hitler saw himself as the sole source of power in Germany, similar to the Roman emperors and German medieval leaders. He used the title Führer und Reichskanzler (Leader and Chancellor), highlighting the positions he already held in party and government, though in popular reception, the element Führer was increasingly understood not just in reference to the Nazi Party, but also in reference to the German people and the German state. Soldiers had to swear allegiance to Hitler as "Führer des deutschen Reiches und Volkes" (Leader of the German Realm and People). The title was changed on 28 July 1942 to "Führer des Großdeutschen Reiches" (Leader of the Greater German Realm). In his political testament, Hitler also referred to himself as Führer der Nation (Leader of the Nation).