What is your definition of leadership? Does it have something to do with leadership traits or characteristics? Can our potential for leadership be developed? Or is leadership an innate skill?
Why ask such questions?
Simply put, the clearer we are about what leadership means the more likely we are to improve our own leadership skills.
A Definition of Leadership
Leadership is a function of knowing yourself, having a vision that is well communicated, building trust among colleagues, and taking effective action to realise your own leadership potential. – Warren Bennis
Therefore I present a brief exploration of the different definitions, perspectives and viewpoints on leadership.
4 Different Approaches to Leadership
In Leadership: A Very Short Introduction Keith Grint introduces a four definitions of leadership: leadership as position, leadership as person, leadership as result, and leadership as process.
Whilst other commentators use different definitions I think these forms of leadership, although not universal, do cover most perspectives. What’s more, bear in mind that each definition need not be mutually exclusive.
Leadership as Position
Position-based leadership assumes it is where people operate that makes them leaders. This view usually takes the form of authority in a formal hierarchy. For instance, the general or CEO. This definition implies that the character of the leader is less important than their position. Do people follow or do as they’re told?
Chef doesn’t mean that you’re the best cook, it simply means boss. – Tom Colicchi
Leadership as Person
This definition of leadership emphasises the importance of the person’s character. Person-based—or character-based—leadership says it is who you are that makes you a leader. But what does this mean? That great leaders are heroic or charismatic? Do people follow because there is an emotional relationship between leader and follower?
The capacity and will to rally men and women to a common purpose together with the character that inspires confidence and trust. – Field Marshal Montgomery
Leadership as Result
With this definition of leadership we look at the results of leadership. Results-based leadership focuses on what leaders do. The dilemma here is this: Is success the result of something leaders do or is it the successful organisation that propels the leader forward?
Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality. – Warren Bennis
It seems that results-based leadership can embody many definitions of leadership: Leadership as change, leadership as influence and so on.
Leadership as Process
The process-based definition of leadership considers the relationship between leader and practice. It is what leaders do that matters.
My Definition of Leadership
I have come to a conclusion that leadership cannot be given a single definition.
The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers. – Ralph Nadar
Moreover, it is clear that anyone can develop leadership ability. Indeed I believe the following combinations define leadership.
Leaders think. They think because they are leaders. They are leaders because they think. – Paul Parker
2What you need to do—performance—is about results accomplished by groups.
3What you need to know—knowledge—is about creating confidence in others. Our technical and professional knowledge is an essential part of our development as a leader.
Authority flows from the one who knows. – Proverb
4How you develop yourself—growth—is the process of personal leadership discovery and development.
Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning. – Benjamin Franklin
5How you develop others—service—is to lead by serving. An approach to leadership that promotes a self-leadership environment where everyone is empowered and working toward the good of the whole. This means growing leaders at all levels of the organisation.
Leaders in all realms and activities of life knew that the power they had come to hold existed because they were responsible to serve the many, thus power was position of service. – Vanna Bonta
6How to lead others—wisdom—is the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgement. Wisdom is at the very core of what we mean by leadership.
Wisdom is the power that enables us to use our knowledge for the benefit of ourselves and others. – Thomas J. Watson
Have Your Say
What is your personal definition of leadership? Please join the discussion.
Creative Commons image courtesy Dimitra Tzanos.