August 28

Leadership: What is the best definition?

We’ve heard from the experts, but how do you define leadership?


Academics would tell us that leadership is “a process of social influence in which a person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task”.
Peter Drucker believed “The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.”

The Dean of Leadership Gurus, Warren Bennis stood by his “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”

I think we can all agree with JM Burns; “Leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on Earth.”

In the ocean of information about management, there is little agreement on what it actually means. But maybe the better question is if you need to have a definition of leadership. Conventional wisdom may suggest that you need to know what being in authority is before you can determine if you are a good leader. However, there are as many theories on being in power as there are philosophers. We see that today in the growing number of resources available for developing leaders. It is estimated that there are currently 20,000 books on leadership in print.

The complexity of the field and the vast knowledge about leadership are overwhelming. I find these directorship gurus provide clarity in the search for my own definition of leadership;

  • John Maxwell: “Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.”
  • Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner take the position that “Leadership is not about personality; it’s about behavior—an observable set of skills and abilities.”

If superiority is about “influence”, and there are certain “skills and abilities” as Maxwell and Kouzes & Posner suggest, then the only question you have to determine is how you can develop your influence, skills, and abilities.

Challenge Questions:

  • How have I been investing in myself and what kind of return has that produced?
  • If I became a great leader, how would that affect me personally, my job satisfaction, and my career opportunities?

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