What is leadership?
Leadership is hard to pin down
Leadership means something different to everyone. Leadership is fluid. Leadership is a social construct. Leadership is what it needs to be at the time. Leadership is the execution of a set of values. Leadership has lots of different moving parts.
Though I’ve tried, I can’t find a way to define leadership. It’s too big. It’s too grey. But, I think it’s an important thing to do because if there’s one thing the world needs it’s more leaders and how do we develop leaders if we can’t define what leadership is.
A few years ago I learned a couple of neat little tricks for defining the seemingly undefinable from one of my mentors. First, he said, and I’m paraphrasing years of teaching and discussion here, that describing what something looks like can be more valuable than defining it.
Second, he said that when defining a thing is too difficult, try defining what that thing is not and what it is becomes clearer.
In this post, I’ll attempt to do both of those two things as a way of trying to define leadership.
Leadership is not…
Leadership is not being a boss.
Leadership is not being a manager.
Leadership is not being in charge.
Leadership is not being an authority.
Leadership is not a title or a position.
Leadership is not what most people think it is.
So much of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to work. — Peter Drucker
Using this logic, I suppose we could also try to define a leader by what they don’t do.
A leader doesn’t…
A leader doesn’t panic.
A leader doesn’t yell.
A leader doesn’t get angry.
A leader doesn’t act out of spite.
A leader doesn’t act in self interest.
A leader doesn’t hide information.
A leader doesn’t give orders.
A leader doesn’t motivate.
A leader doesn’t rely on old ways.
A leader doesn’t settle.
He who has never learned to obey cannot be a good commander. — Aristotle
Now that we know what a leader is not, and what a leader does not do, we can describe what a leader is and what a leader does do ie. what leadership looks like.
Leaders are compassionate.
Leaders are tough.
Leaders overcome fear for the greater good.
Leaders understand people and psychology.
Leaders understand human relationships and group dynamics.
Leaders have high levels of energy.
Leaders have humility.
Leaders have integrity.
Leaders are accountable.
Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm. — Publilius Syrus
Leaders are respectful.
Leaders value diversity.
Leaders obsess over mastery.
Leaders are honest.
Leaders are collaborative.
Leaders are people focussed.
No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, or to get all the credit for doing it. — Andrew Carnegie
A leader supports and guides people.
A leader sees the big picture.
A leader get’s their hands dirty.
A leader communicates effectively.
A leader is creative.
A leader shares power.
A leader uses logic and gut instinct at the same time.
A leader focusses on solutions.
A leader is always learning.
A leader solves problems.
A leader makes other people better.
As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others. — Bill Gates
A leader thinks laterally.
A leader listens more than they talk.
A leader gives frank and fearless advice.
A leader is approachable.
A leader asks for forgiveness, not permission.
A leader eliminates the need for small decisions.
A leader makes the big decisions.
A leader takes risks.
A leader takes the bull by the horns.
A leader adapts and overcomes.
A leader finds new and better ways.
A leader strives for excellence, always.
A leader is a good follower.
A leader sets priorities.
A leader connects the dots.
A leader is consistent.
A leader values results rather than process.
A leader uses data, research and best practice.
A leader challenges data, research and best practice.
A leader takes criticism.
A leader creates a vision.
A leader admits when they are wrong.
A leader mentors.
A leader performs at a high level.
A leader performs consistently at a high level.
A leader builds teams.
A leader builds culture.
A leader creates change.
A leader inspires action.
A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit. — John Maxwell
Finally and critically, I believe a leader produces two very important outcomes.
A leader creates impact.
A leader creates more leaders.
A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent. — Douglas MacArthur
Leadership is hard to pin down. Leadership means something different to everyone. Leadership is fluid. Leadership is a social construct. Leadership is what it needs to be at the time. Leadership is the execution of a set of values. Leadership has lots of different moving parts.
Leadership is hard to define, but it’s not impossible to describe what it looks like.
A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. — Lao Tzu