Defining leadership

Day 3 of our discussions. Now we need to define leadership

There are more definitions of leadership, the attributes of leadership and the behaviours of leaders than you can shake a stick at.

Wikipedia states leadership as “organizing a group of people to achieve a common goal”. The leader may or may not have any formal authority. Students of leadership have produced theories involving traits,situational interaction, function, behavior, power, vision and values, charisma, and intelligence, among others. A leader being somebody whom people follow: somebody who guides or directs others.

The Teal Trust (a Christian Leadership organization) have an interesting way of defining leadership. They look at what others say and then discuss from there. Some of the Teal Trusts initial definitions are:-

Leadership Definition : The Collins English Dictionary. (© 1998 HarperCollins Publishers) leadership (n) 1. The position or function of a leader. 2. the period during which a person occupies the position of leader: during her leadership very little was achieved. 3. a. the ability to lead. b. (as modifier): leadership qualities. 4. the leaders as a group of a party, union, etc.: the union leadership is now very reactionary.

This dictionary definition of leadership focuses on the position (singular or collective), tenure and ability of leaders. As such, it misses key points about the purpose and hallmarks of effective leadership.

Leadership Definition: Peter Drucker: The forward to the Drucker Foundation’s “The Leader of the Future” sums up leadership: “The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.” To gain followers requires influence (see John Maxwell’s definition below) but doesn’t exclude the lack of integrity in achieving this. Indeed, it can be argued that several of the world’s greatest leaders have lacked integrity and have adopted values that would not be shared by many people today.

Leadership Definition: John C Maxwell: In the 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell sums up his definition of leadership as “leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.” This moves beyond the position defining the leader, to looking at the ability of the leader to influence others – both those who would consider themselves followers, and those outside that circle. Indirectly, it also builds in leadership character, since without maintaining integrity and trustworthiness; the capability to influence will disappear.

Leadership Definition: Warren Bennis:  Warren Bennis’ definition of leadership is focused much more on the individual capability of the leader: “Leadership is a function of knowing yourself, having a vision that is well communicated, building trust among colleagues, and taking effective action to realize your own leadership potential.”

Leadership Definition: Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester:  For the purposes of the Leadership Development Process of the Diocese of Rochester, their leadership definition is “the process of influencing the behaviour of other people toward group goals in a way that fully respects their freedom.” The emphasis on respecting their freedom is an important one, and one which must be the hallmark of Christian leadership. Jesus influenced many diverse people during his ministry but compelled no one to follow Him.

Leaders and leadership, in the way I see them, are fairly easily defined. For me a leader is someone who creates the situation where others are drawn or compelled in one way or another to follow them. There are numerous definitions of styles of leadership and we know them when we see them. In this book we are primarily concerned with business leadership.

So what makes people follow a leader? Is it the person’s ideology, the person’s reputation, the person’s celebrity, the person’s credibility, blind faith, the need to have someone to follow, the need to have something to believe in, the person’s objectives, the person’s personality, the person’s behaviours, the person’s power of persuasion, the person’s beliefs, the person’s values, the person’s talent, the person’s magnetic charisma or some other thing or a mixture of some or all of the above?

We will explore all these attributes as we move forward. What do you think makes a leader and the art or science of leadership? I’d be interested in your thoughts.


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