Leadership: It Is About You

There seems to be an ongoing attempt to recycle, re-package, re-label and microwave new leaders into  existence. Yet that approach must be important, fascinating, or both, because it’s a huge moneymaker. Look at this:

Leadership books at Amazon: 72,587  vs. 26,086 for Nutrition & Diet. There are twice as many authors and publishers banking on people wanting to become leaders than paying attention to staying alive long enough to get there.

Google the word “leadership” and you can spend the rest of your lunch break reading your choice of 160,000,000 results. Want to know the definition of “leadership”? No problem. There are 9,650,000 search results for “leadership definition”. That one got me thinking: “If we have so many people concerned about leadership (a good thing), what happens if they all define it differently (a potentially confusing thing).

Pause for just a moment. If you were asked by a “leader” how you define that role, what would you say?

Leadership Definitions From Four Experts:

  • Peter Drucker: “The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.”
  • John C. Maxwell: “leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.”
  • Warren Bennis:  “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.”
  • John W. Gardner: Leadership is the process of persuasion and example by which an individual (or leadership team) induces a group to take action that is in accord with the leader’s purpose, or the shared purposes of all.”


Can You Find the Similarities?

One striking similarity for me is that none of the definitions includes rank or title. Three of the four are explicit about influence and persuasion. Two of the four state or imply process and potential vs. “I’ve reached it!”

But my personal favorite is Drucker. He’s saying “Look over your shoulder. If you don’t see anyone, you’re not leading.” More importantly, if you have followers, you better recognize that you’re leading!

Some food for thought:

  • If it’s really that simple, then why do you and I, along with thousands of others, meditate on the deep meaning of “leadership?”
  • Do individual definitions vary so much that leaders simply can’t win when employees are surveyed?
  • Could part of the problem be that you and I won’t let someone lead because we refuse to be followers? (Instead of arrogant, “sucky” leadership, perhaps we have some arrogant, “sucky” followership.
  • If it’s all about influence and being influenced, what gets in the way?

Leadership, stripped bare, involves two elements:  the boldness to stand up and lead, and the humility to stand up and follow. I’m wondering if the bigger leadership challenge may actually rest with the second.


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Steve has designed and delivered leadership and communication programs for some of the world's largest organizations, and has more than 30 years in training, development, and high-level executive coaching. His Roesler Group has created and delivered leadership and talent development internationally for corporations such as Pfizer, Minerals Technologies, Johnson & Johnson, NordCarb Oy Ab, and Specialty Minerals--Europe. Steve is currently involved in the latest update of his Presenting With Impact program, a cross-cultural presentations workshop that has been delivered on five continents to more than 1,000 participants representing nearly 60 nationalities.


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