Defining Leadership

A couple of weeks ago, I was at a client site tossing around the word leadership. At one point, I stopped and asked these two senior executives to define leadership. They both stopped and thought. Neither one of them had an answer. Then one of them asked me the same question.

Now, I read a lot. I read a lot about leadership. (That picture is from my bookshelf.) So I feel I have a good handle on some of the traits I believe a leader should have, and I know some of the traits I believe are not exemplary of leadership. But I, like my cohorts, couldn’t put it into words. And if we aren’t able to define what leadership looks like in our organizations, we can’t hold our people accountable for “behaving like a leader.”

So I’m digging into a self-study on Defining Leadership. I’m a firm believer that if you’re not learning, you’re losing, and my purpose in life is to teach and inspire others. So, combined with a challenge from my marketing strategist to communicate with my client base more often, I’ve decided to invite you along with me while I dig into defining leadership. My hope is that together we will uncover some truths about our own leadership views that will help us become the effective leaders we were designed to be. Plus, it’ll be more fun and enriching if we explore this topic together!

I’ve decided to use the Connected Leadership Journal as a guide through this adventure. If you want to purchase a journal and work along with me, you can order one here. I’m using the 1st edition, but the 2nd edition will work just as well. (Enter the discount code jcbc2018 to save on handling fee.)

To start, let’s explore what makes someone a leader. What are some of the traits and characteristics of a strong leader? When I ask this of my students or audience, I usually get responses like: good communicator, honest, approachable, confident, trustworthy, and provides feedback.  Indeed, these traits fall under what Stephen M. R. Covey calls “character” in his book “The Speed of Trust.”

Covey also says that one who invokes trust has “competence.” In other words, we must know what we’re talking about in order for people to trust us as leaders. Jim Collins, in “Great by Choice,” defines Level 5 Leaders as having humility. John Maxwell, in “How Successful People Lead,” says the best leaders are those who build relationships and help others grow. My friend Paul Huszar, who is a retired Army Lt. Col., says that leadership is getting others to follow you because they want to.

With so many great minds offering so many great ideas, it’s understandable that we have a hard time defining leadership. Maybe it’s because it’s different for each person in a variety of situations – a theory called Situational Leadership.

And while I believe in Situational Leadership, I also believe that there are certain undeniable traits that every leader (whom I would follow, anyway) must have. So I will do my best to define leadership as I believe it to be, knowing that about two minutes after I publish this article I’ll want to change it. (But hey, that’s part of the journey!)

When do I feel like a leader? I am a leader when I learn from others while teaching them, when I speak truth even when it’s hard, when I ask what I can do differently to create a better outcome, when I am the same person saying the same things no matter whom I’m speaking with, when I accomplish results with others, when I focus on giving, when I am patient, authentic, and curious of others. I believe that leadership is person-based, not position-based. I believe that anyone can be a leader.

Leadership for me, then, is to inspire partners for results and growth through open, authentic, and respectful communication.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. What would you add or subtract? Please share your definition of leadership in the comments.


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