Defining Leadership

people Jun 05, 2022
Defining Leadership

This week, I was asked by someone to define leadership.  In addition, they asked if leadership was something that could be taught.  So let's look at each of these questions, one at a time.

There are three essential elements to leadership:

  1. A leader is someone who guides, influences, and manages people by influence, not authority or power.  Therefore, leadership has nothing to do with your title, position, or pay grade.  Anyone can be a leader.
  2. Good leaders inspire and motivate others.  For there to be a leader, there must be followers. 
  3. Leaders work with others to determine a shared vision and then work side-by-side with them and encourage them to achieve it.

Depending on who you ask (or where you search), there can be anywhere from four to ten different leadership styles.  These range from "hands-off" (just put the team together and let them do their part) to authoritarian (barely a leader according to our definition).  The hands-off style works best with high-performing teams.  Authoritarian leadership often occurs when there is a dominant expert with a less accomplished team. The remaining styles fall between these two. One of the challenges of leadership is to find a style that fits both you and your team.

Before answering the second question, it's important to understand how leaders obtain their influence.   Once again, there are many ways, but the three primary ways that come to mind are having integrity, being trusted, and acknowledging people.  The first two attributes go hand-in-hand. All of these also take time to acquire.

Some people are natural leaders.  They exude charm and charisma.  But leadership can be learned as well.  It's possible for someone to learn how to build trust and integrity, along with the other skills necessary to motivate and guide. It may take time, however, since learning requires retention and deliberate practice to put into use.  Watching a 10-minute video on leadership, while it may be a good refresher, is not the best way to learn and retain new knowledge.  And it may take time to be in the position to be able to practice your skills.

How do you get started? Perhaps the most important step is to fully understand yourself through some critical questions:

  • Why do you want to be a leader?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses? 
  • What is your current leadership style like?
  • Can you make a commitment to continuous learning?

Once you have a better understanding of yourself, seek out training for the leadership skills you need and are likely to be called upon to practice.  These may include topics such as self-management, building trust and influence, motivation, conflict resolution, dealing with people, and negotiation.  Work with your manager to determine appropriate assignments where you can exercise and continue to build these skills.

Do you have other ideas about leadership to share?  If so, please let us know in the comments below.


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