Leadership: What it Really Means

Leadership is the ability of a person or a group of people to influence and guide supporters or other members of an organization. In its simplest form, Leadership influences other people to follow it. Therefore, anyone who has the power to influence people to follow them has leadership qualities. But what does leadership really mean? Let's look at how some of the most respected business thinkers of our time define leadership and consider what's wrong with their definitions. Peter Drucker famously said that “Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” Really? This example of tautology is so simplistic that it is dangerous.

Take for example a New Army Captain who takes Command of 200 Soldiers. He never leaves his room or utters a word to the men and women in his unit. Perhaps routine orders are given through a subordinate. By default, your troops have to “follow orders”.

Is the captain really a leader? Commander yes, leader no. Drucker is, of course, a brilliant thinker of modern business, but his definition of a leader is too simple. Warren Bennis said that “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality”. Every spring you have a vision of a garden, and with a lot of work, carrots and tomatoes become reality. Are you a leader? No, you're a gardener.

Bennis's definition seems to have forgotten “others”. John Maxwell said that “Leadership is influence - nothing more, nothing less”. This definition includes “others” and empowerment is a good thing. But for what purpose? I have seen many “others” empowered in my life, from mutinous vandals to Google workers who were so out of line with the rest of the company that they found themselves unemployed. Bill Gates said that “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence”.

Gates' definition lacks parts about goal or vision. I like minimalism but this reduction is too much. A thief with a gun has “influence on his victim”. A manager has the power to fire team members, which provides a lot of influence.

But does this influence turn a thief or a manager into a leader? Maxwell's definition omits the source of influence. Finally, what makes this definition so different from many of the academic definitions that exist is the inclusion of “maximize efforts” by John Kotter: “Leadership is about creating an environment where people can work together towards common goals and objectives while maximizing their efforts”. Most of my work focuses on the area of employee engagement, and engaged employees make a discretionary effort. Leadership is the ability to inspire a team to achieve a certain goal. It's usually discussed in the context of business, but leadership is also the way you, as an individual, choose to lead your life. The definition of leadership is influencing, inspiring and helping others to become their best selves, develop their skills, and achieve goals along the way.

You don't need to be CEO, manager, or even team leader to be a leader. Leadership is a set of skills, and a certain psychology, that anyone can master. By mastering your own leadership skill set, you can not only nurture yourself to get closer to your purpose, but also encourage those around you to harness their own skills. You can even use leadership skills as an entry-level associate when training new employees or leading a meeting. Leadership, although widely spoken of, has been described as one of the least understood concepts in all cultures and civilizations. A less authoritarian and more consultative approach to leadership is likely to be more effective in this scenario; Transformational Leadership is a particularly useful model. For example, leadership performance may refer to the professional success of the individual leader, the performance of the group or organization, or even the emergence of the leader.

Management professor Michael Useem argued that, rather than taking a traditional top-down approach, leadership is more effective when it also comes from below. This is the result of the interaction of leadership style and situational favorability (later called situational control). A team leadership approach examines action-oriented environments, where effective functional leadership is required to achieve critical or reactive tasks by small teams deployed in the field. Here, leadership combines the analytical side of vision creation with a passion for shared values, creating something that is meaningful to the people it leads. A common misconception about leadership is that it's something you're born with; that the best leaders in the world were born with an innate magical quality that allows them to lead better than others. In other words, there is no single definition for what makes someone an effective leader; rather there are many different types and styles depending on context and situation. Leadership occurs at all levels within organizations and society; not just among those working in defined leadership positions. Katie and Lynn learned these valuable tips at Leadership Academy; an event they found so beneficial that they attended two years in a row. In this style; leadership is outsourced from the leader who serves as the guardian of the methodology and server or service provider to the team they lead. Too many talk about the leadership of a company; referring to the organization's top executives. But true leadership occurs at all levels within organizations and society; not just among those working in defined leadership positions. By mastering your own leadership skill set; you can not only nurture yourself to get closer to your purpose; but also encourage those around you to harness their own skills.


Leadership isn't something you're born with; it's something anyone can learn with practice and dedication.

It's not just about being CEO or manager; it's about inspiring others around you and helping them reach their goals while achieving yours. . .

Edna Freemon
Edna Freemon

Freelance coffee lover. Friendly pop culture buff. Music maven. Professional twitter maven. Unapologetic zombie junkie. Lifelong food lover.

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