What is Leadership?

One of the peculiarities of leadership is that there is no “one size fits all” definition for it. This has made its definition very flexible and adaptable to various situations and circumstances. It also differs from sector to sector and from industry to industry. It cuts across all aspect of life and affects us all in one form or another. Whether you are leading anyone today or just walking alone, the fact remains that you are a leader because the first person you must lead is yourself. Although your current state of living may not tick any leadership box according to the term, the fact that you are alive and well enough to go about your life is an indication that somehow, you are leading yourself.

Let us examine some common definitions of leadership.

1. Leadership is defined as a process of social influence in which one person enlist the aid of others to achieve a common goal.

2. Leadership is the act of leading a group of people or an organization, or the ability to do so.

3. Other definitions:

  1. Peter Drucker: “The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers.”
  2. Warren Bennis: “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”
  3. Bill Gates: “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”
  4. John Maxwell: “Leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.”

 From the above definitions, it is very clear that leadership is as diverse in its meaning and interpretation as human exposures and experiences itself.

In summary, leadership is about harnessing, coordinating and directing the ability, strength and experiences of other people through influence towards creating a new purpose or realizing a goal. It is having a vision, planning the vision, sharing the vision to the point where others can find their unique places and fulfillment in that vision so much so that they would make a quality decision to forsake other options to be part of fulfilling that vision. When a vision is strong enough and the visionary is passionate enough and has become the embodiment of that vision, its fire will catch up on others around him that they will reposition themselves to be part of it. Failure is a loner but success have many relatives. People like to associate with a “where the action is” rather than be in a company of failures.

 One of the fundamentals of leadership that I have found out over the years is that it is not difficult to lead people. In fact, everybody is looking up to somebody and when they find someone that embodies what they are looking for or would like to emulate or become, they naturally follow that person. The choice to follow is usually on the part of the followers and not the on the leaders’ side. All that the leader needs to do or be is the best in whom they are or what they are doing, and people will see what they need to see or would like to become and follow the leader.

People don’t get committed to an organization per say, rather they commit spirit, soul and body to a leader who in turn is leading the organization. Leadership is personal, people will follow a leader to the degree to which they believe first in the leader, then his vision, message and direction in that order. Leadership is a relationship which is both mutual and reciprocal. True leadership is based on serving and giving to others rather than waiting to be served and taking from the followers. As a leader, it is imperative to recognize that people are following you because they recognize that you are in tune with their needs, aspirations, anxiety, fears and desire. In the true sense of it, a leader must recognize and value their followers in the same way they recognize and value their customers. The biggest medium of exchange between a leader and both categories – followers and customers is mutual trust and loyalty.

Followers are customers in a different guise. A leader must therefore identify them, inquire about their needs, find out how to meet those needs and deliver them but also must look out for or demand for their feedbacks in order to improve on serving them. There is no amount of rhetoric that can substitute for feelings and experience. Leadership is though intangible, it is still an art, and encounter or experience that followers feel and when the feeling is right and comfortable, leading becomes easy, smooth and responsive.

A signs of good leadership is recognising that the followers are doing so of their free will and choice based on their experience of an encounter with the leader. Hence it is important to always be at one’s best because at different times and places, you are leaving behind a signature, landmark or foot print of who and what you are. These traits are the bases upon which people would decide whether to be influenced by you or not. Remember that the heart core of leadership is influence.


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