What is Leadership?

"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader."
John Quincy Adams (6th President of the USA from 1824 – 1829)

What then is leadership? There are almost as many definitions as there are leadership gurus, and who has the final say? For any definition of leadership to be useful in businesses and organisations in a fast-moving world, it needs to be simple and easily applicable – a core set of principles that you can apply in any situation and that you can use as a quick and meaningful check. At Leadership Evolution, we know leadership is a big topic, so we have organised our thinking into three realms:

  • Organisational Leadership - This realm of leadership is about taking the organisation in the direction it needs to go – including setting a vision, strategy and structure, building organisational values and engaging with the community and stakeholders.
  • Personal Mastery – This realm of leadership is about personal leadership skills including communication, interpersonal skills, building relationships, rapport, public speaking, coaching skills, confidence, self/time-management, and emotional intelligence.
  • Authenticity – This realm of leadership is about being sublimely in tune with who you are and what you are about, includes internal alignment of goals, values, beliefs and behaviours, deep self-insight, clarity around your life path, generosity, forgiveness, abundance, responsibility and contribution. Being true to all that you can be.

Leaders know that all three realms are interdependent and important – sometimes at different times across a career, an organisation, or a context. Where are you on your leadership journey? What sort of Leader are you?

"Control is not leadership; management is not leadership; leadership is leadership. If you seek to lead, invest at least 50% of your time in leading yourself—your own purpose, ethics, principles, motivation, conduct. Invest at least 20% leading those with authority over you and 15% leading your peers."
Dee Hock, Founder and CEO Emeritus, Visa

Leadership is also:

  • applicable at any level in the organisation, because leadership can happen at any level.
  • independent of personality. Leaders may be exuberant and gregarious, or they may be shy and retiring, but they all make a difference.
  • ‘ecological’. By this, we mean that it is good for the people who do it, for the organisation that they do it in, and ultimately for the rest of the planet.

"All of the great leaders have had one characteristic in common: it was the willingness to confront unequivocally the major anxiety of their people in their time. This, and not much else, is the essence of leadership."
John Kenneth Galbraith

Taking this approach means putting aside ideas such as personal charisma being of prime importance for leadership, or technical excellence being enough to exercise effective leadership. Both have proven in practice to be insufficient and in some cases unnecessary. Charisma is impossible to measure and archives are littered with records of people who were supremely competent in their field, but who scored zero in terms of leadership. Likewise, complex multi-dimensional grids of leadership competencies will have to wait until you can spend a day or two to understand them!

"Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others."
Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric and author of “Winning”

The following two guidelines provide a simple and effective check to see if leadership is happening.

You are exercising your choice to lead: Choosing to lead, for example, means that:

  • You are willing to “go first”, you are “stepping up”, you are “not playing small”
  • You have a vision that you feel is so compelling that you are prepared to bring in change as a consequence of your vision and that you will continue at all times to pursue your vision until it becomes reality. There is a special kind of tenacity required as a leader, both to stay focused on your goal, and to maintain your positive influence in the face of indifference or opposition.

"The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can't blow an uncertain trumpet."
Theodore M. Hesburgh, renowned Priest and human rights activist
"There's nothing more demoralizing than a leader who can't clearly articulate why we're doing what we're doing."
James Kouzes and Barry Posner, Authors “The Leadership Challenge” 

You have followers who follow you: Having people who willingly follow you means that:

  • That you have communicated to and engaged people in your vision through inspiration and conviction.
  • You have built relationships with those around you through trust, honesty and authenticity. It is only through others that the full impact of your vision can be realised.

"To lead people, walk beside them ... As for the best leaders, the people do not notice their existence. The next best, the people honour and praise. The next, the people fear; and the next, the people hate ... When the best leader's work is done the people say, 'We did it ourselves!'"

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Margaret Mead, Cultural Anthropologist, author and speaker


Do any of the above ideas about leadership make sense to you? Would you and the other leaders in your organisation benefit from these concepts? Please give Alison Jardie a call on 0400 340 171 to discuss how Exeuctive Coaching and Leadership Development can expand and support your leadership evolution. 

"The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why. The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it."
Warren Bennis, Professor, Consultant, Author on leadership