Monday, August 25, 2014

Defining Leadership

There are seemingly as many definitions of leadership as there are Leadership gurus.  We hire for it, train for it, strive for it... all without truly having clarity over what 'it' is.  I often am told by 'Leaders' within corporations that although they may not be able to clearly articulate what Leadership is, that they 'know it when they see it'. However, this nebulous target does not prove helpful for those seeking to develop and strengthen their leadership abilities.

Turning to the dictionary for help we find this definition of Leadership...
"Act of leading a group of people or organization"
Not a particularly helpful definition when you consider that it is attempting to define a term through the use of the same term.  If I don't understand what Leadership is all about, I likely don't understand the term leading. I do, however, like the inclusion of others in the definition.

Warren Bennis once defined leadership in this way...
" Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality"
I like the thought that leaders help to clarify a vision, to help turn it into something more tangible and achievable.  Leadership is purposeful.  However, clarifying the vision is not enough.  If people don't act upon that vision then gaining clarity has not proved 'enough' in truly benefiting an organization.

So far then we know that Leadership involves others, that it doesn't happen in a vacuum.  Additionally, we have determined that Leadership is necessary for shifting us from where we are, to where we want and need to be.  Another component I feel is an integral part of true leadership is highlighted in the following quote, by Bill Bradley...
"Leadership is unlocking people's potential to become better"
The important element to consider here is that true Leaders aren't simply using the existing skills of those around them, in the achievement of a goal, but are also developing and growing them.  Leaders help others thrive.  Often, some make the mistake of assuming that Leadership is a function of position, that a formal title immediately bestows upon the wearer the mantle of Leadership.  Take the following quote from Chester Bernard for example...
"Leadership is the ability of a superior to influence the behavior of a subordinate or group and persuade them to follow a particular course of action"
True Leadership though has nothing to do with position, title or seniority within an organization.  It does, however, have a great deal to do with influence.  You can use your positional power to direct the actions of others, but they are merely doing as they have been told.  Leaders use their influence to inspire the actions of others such that they choose to follow the desired course the leader has set.  Managers will use their positional power while Leaders will influence and inspire.

In establishing our definition of Leadership we have thus determined that..

  • Leadership involves others
  • Leadership helps to clarify a vision, it is purposeful, with an intended outcome
  • Leadership helps to unlock the potential of others, maximizing their efforts
  • Leadership uses influence and not position to motivate and inspire
Taken together we are left with the following definition...
"Leadership is the art of influencing others in such a way as to maximize their efforts toward the achievement of a specific vision"
Right now... this is working for me.  It seems to include the critical elements highlighted above but... your thoughts and input are always welcome.  Share with me below your comments about the article or your favourite Leadership quote!

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